Water supply and waste water management are the two major areas where the country has to step up its efforts to provide its citizens with clean drinking water and safe sewage disposal. To achieve this, increased private participation is needed. Vincent H Pala, Union Minister for Water Resources, in an interaction with Chandrashekhar Modi, dissects various issues and challenges thrown up by the Indian water sector.
What are the current issues and challenges for greater private participation in the Indian water management sector?
Government of India has been welcoming greater private participation. However, many private players are not very confident of being successful in this area. Moreover different states have different policies which pose a challenge. Change in the climatic conditions and the resulting hydrological data adds an element of uncertainty with respect to the viability of the business.
With growing population and changing lifestyles, the gap between demand and supply of water is widening, especially in the urban areas. Do you think the situation will change in the future?
Yes the situation is surely bound to change. The main areas of focus in the 'National Water Mission' is equitable and efficient distribution of water. Huge water transmission losses is a contentious issue and should be uprooted at the earliest. Cutting edge technology is required to make this happen and I think India is taking steps in this direction. Even if the country is able to achieve an efficiency of 20 per cent, it would be a big step ahead. There is a need for a water literacy drive which will involve not only awareness, but also active participation of the local community. There is a need to increasingly focus on demand-driven approach.
Water tables in major parts of the country are continuously going down leading to a crisis situation. What should be done to avert the crisis?
Government is completely aware of the serious situation and we have a scheme to handle and recharge the water table. On the basis of the depth of the water table, areas are categorised as critical, over-critical and over-exploited. Depending upon the category, the areas are adequately recharged during the monsoon season.
Rivers in India are getting increasingly polluted and their water can be used for fewer applications. What, according to you, should be done to clean the major rivers of India?
Government is extremely concerned of this serious menace and hundreds of crores will be spent for cleaning major rivers like Ganga and Yamuna. This task will be undertaken in close co-ordination with the environment ministry.
Climate change is likely to affect India in a number of ways. What will be the impact on the water sector in India?
This is an impending crisis and in some places there will be floods and in others drought. Water from surplus areas needs to be transported to the deficient areas so as to maintain balance between different regions and the impact of climate change can be minimised. Very recently we had a meeting on this issue and further clarity will emerge in the days to come.
Do you think the sewage system in India needs to be improved? To what extent?
Yes the sewage system needs to be improved to a very large extent and inorder to achieve that cutting edge technology and stakeholders participation is needed. Government has also earmarked substantial funds for JNNURM, which can be utilised for this purpose. Good sanitation and hygienic practices need to be practiced with the active participation of local community.
What kind of investment do you forsee in the XIIth Five Year Plan in the Indian water sector? What percentage of investment is expected to come from the private sector?
It is difficult to mention an absolute figure of investment. But, whoever pursues business in the water sector will have great margins, because the demand is likely to rise much faster than supply.