NITI Aayog, the Government of India’s policy think tank, recently released the second edition of the Composite Water Management Index to enable effective water management in Indian states. It warns that the country will lose 6% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2050 because of a water crisis. The annual per capita availability of water is expected to reduce to 1,140 cubic metres by 2050, near to the official water scarcity threshold of 1,000 cubic metres. This was the second year in a row that NITI Aayog set off alarm bells on an impending water scarcity scenario. The country’s demand for water will exceed supply by a factor of two by 2030, the report said.
It is based on in-depth structured questionnaires followed by focus group discussions to generate qualitative information. It represents a major step towards creating a culture of data-based decision-making for water in India, which can encourage “competitive and cooperative federalism” in the country’s water governance and management.
Eventually, NITI Aayog plans to develop the Index into a composite, national-level data management platform for all water resources in India. This is the second edition of the CWMI published by NITI Aayog; the first was published in 2018.
The metrics used in the report span a range of upstream and downstream categories, including coverage of piped water supply for the population on the one hand, and groundwater management and source protection on the other.
The CWMI divides the states into three groups based on their hydrological conditions - non-Himalayan states; North-eastern and Himalayan states; and Union Territories (UTs). The states and UTs have been scored in the index according to nine themes, and there area total of 28 indicators across the nine themes, which are:
- Source augmentation and restoration of water bodies
- Source augmentation (groundwater)
- Major and medium irrigation (supply side management)
- Watershed development (supply side management)
- Participatory irrigation practices (demand side management)
- Sustainable on-farm water use practices (demand side management)
Rural drinking water
- Urban water supply and sanitation, and
- Policy and governance.
The report, however, stated that improvement is not consistent across themes. While states and UTs demonstrated notable improvement on policy and governance, and groundwater source augmentation, there was a decline in source augmentation and restoration of water bodies (surface water), participatory irrigation practices, rural drinking water, and urban water supply and sanitation.
Overall performance on water management remains unsatisfactory
The report indicates that states are displaying progress in water management, but the overall performance remains well-below what is required to tackle the water challenges. “80% of the states assessed on the Index over the last three years have improved their water management scores, with an average improvement of +5.2 points. But worryingly, 16 out of the 27 states still score less than 50 points on the Index (out of 100), and fall in the low-performing category. These states collectively account for 48% of the population, 40% of agricultural produce, and 35% of economic output of India,” the report said.
High-performers continue to demonstrate strong water management practices, but low-performers are struggling to cope up. Top performers such as Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh have further increased their scores over the last three years, with a 4 to 11 point improvement on the Index.
On the other end, out of the 14 low-performing states from 2015-16, only Haryana, Goa, and Telangana have been able to cross the 50-point threshold. Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Nagaland, and Meghalaya continue to be the lowest performers, all scoring less than 40 points.
The average improvement in low-performing category over the last three years stands at 3.1 points, significantly lower than the 5.2-point average improvement observed across states. States that are typically large economic contributors were found to have low-water management scores.
Haryana has shown the maximum improvement and increased nine positions while Chhattisgarh’s rank has reduced by four positions.
Food security is also at risk, given that large agricultural producers are struggling to manage their water resources effectively. None of the top 10 agricultural producers in India, except Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, scored more than 60 points on the CWMI.
India ranks as the third-largest exporter of groundwater through virtual water trade, while 52 percent of its wells are facing declining water levels, as per the report. Quoting a study by ASSOCHAM-PWC, the report said an investment of Rs. 20 trillion will be required to bridge the expected water supply gap by 2030.
Clock ticking in urban India for every drop
The report comes at a time when various various states across the country are facing a groundwater shortage. In mid June, in the middle of a typically warm summer, the sprawling metropolis of Chennai and its suburbs ran out of water. The city’s water deficit was to the tune of 200 million litres a day. Many peri-urban areas are creating pressures on governance systems and public services of metropolises. The NITI Aayog report cautioned that urban hubs are likely to witness severe water shortages in the future. This could risk growth and reduce quality of life for citizens in urban areas.
The way ahead
The report concluded with the statement that the states need to upgrade their water management practices to show outcomes and not just outputs. It said that several disparities exist in water management amongst states.
It added, “States also need to track the overall outcomes of their policy making and water administration, and make sure that improved legal, administrative, and operational outputs are leading to outcomes like increased groundwater levels, rejuvenated surface water sources, and improved piped water supply for rural and urban inhabitants. Without an outcome-based approach, state investments in water management are unlikely to have a desired positive impact on their water situations. Several disparities exist in water management amongst states and improved knowledge-sharing amongst states can enable them to learn and solidify water management practices across the board."