Are we water-secure or water-starved? – National Water Policy

By Esha Singh Alagh


Recent news reports suggest that Cherrapunji, once the wettest place on earth is now water starved in the summer season. While the population of India constitutes around 17% of the entire world’s population, its water resources comprise of only 4% of world’s renewable water resources.

Accepting the importance of protecting our water resources as well as regulating it, Ministry of Water Resources came up with a draft National Water Policy (NWP) in January 2012 and after many external deliberations and consultations published a revised draft in June 2012. Under the Indian Constitution, water comes under the State List (Item 17 in List II of the Seventh Schedule or the State List). There has been an increasing debate about studying water in a holistic manner with a national perspective in mind. The Ministry has stressed that the water policy consists of overarching principles of water which will be framed in close collaborations with its state counterparts.

Current Status

As of December 2012, the revised draft of the National Water Policy has been adopted by the National Water Resource Council which is governed under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Union Water Minister, Harish Rawat has assured the states that the water framework law[i] will be drafted only after close discussions with the stakeholders to ensure that the powers of the state are not curtailed.

Outline of the NWP

The Draft National Water Policy suggests that water be treated as a common community resource held by the state under public trust doctrine. Another basic principle it stresses on is that water be treated as economic good after certain pre-emptive needs for safe drinking water, sanitation and high priority allocations for domestic needs such as agriculture, ecology and needs of animals are met. Other than these the NWP lists down various aspects relating to Integrated Water Management, steps for Clime Change Adaptation, Water Pricing, Demand Management, Water Infrastructure, Institutional Mechanisms and Groundwater Management.

Merits and de-merits

(a)   Does it account for climate change: The NWP has incorporated many forward thinking principles relating to climate change.

(b)  It moves from supply-based management to demand based management: It has also concentrated on demand management more than the commonly discussed supply management.

(c)   Dam safety: With the construction of large dams across the country, NWP recommends a legally empowered dam safety service.

(d)  Inter-state water disputes: It takes a step further to propose setting up of permanent water disputes tribunal at the Centre and make implementation of projects including clearances time bound.

Is water a community-resource for everyone, or an economic good which everyone should pay equally for?

The earlier draft of the NWP had proposed that various dimensions of water use are to be considered as an economic good including “basic livelihood support to the poor and ensuring national food security” and suggested a water-pricing module for “maximizing value from water”.

This would affect the poor the most especially farmers who might be forced to pay for water similar to say commercial projects like withdrawing water for a cricket field. It could also lead to preferential treatment as commercial projects are more profitable than cultivation. It has since been revised to adopting differential pricing for high priority uses “to achieve food security and to support livelihoods of the poor” reiterating the significant nature of these usages.

This revised approach to the NWP has placed emphasis on water as a community resource and has simultaneously stressed on treating it as an economic good. This dichotomy will have to be addressed very carefully and in detail in the draft Framework Law to ensure that there are no biases in terms of access economically and otherwise.

Depleting groundwater resources

The NWP also lists out the importance of groundwater. Groundwater is generally treated as private/individual property and there are no rules regulating the amount of water which can be withdrawn ignoring the question of sustainable use. The revised NWP suggests “groundwater levels in over exploited areas need to be arrested by introducing improved technologies of water use, incentivizing efficient water use and encouraging community based management of aquifers”. While it does not mandate community based management of groundwater but rather ‘encourages’ it, this might lead to questions over ownership in the future which will have to be addressed. It might also affect agricultural usage of groundwater which is extremely high in India.


The revised National Water Policy has accepted many recommendations from stakeholders and accepted them in its draft but as expressed above there are a couple of issues which might need more deliberation and clarification. While the policy is a forward thinking document, the apprehensions of the state could potentially delay its implementation.


  1. “Draft National Water Policy (2012) as recommended by the National Water Board in its 14th meeting held on June 7, 2012.” Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India.
  2. Balani, Sakshi. “Report Summary: Draft National Water Policy”. PRS Legislative Research. 24 August 2012.
  3. Ramesh, S. “Revising the Draft National Policy.” Infochange Water Resources. September 2012.
  4. “Not The Farmers, Not The Environment: Draft National Policy 2012 Seems to Help Only Vested Interests.” Press release by SANDRP.
  5. “National Water Resources Council Adopts National Water Policy (2012).” Press Release, Ministry of Water Resources, India. 28 December 2012.
  6. Dharmadhikary, Shripad. “Better, but needs more work.” India Together. 25 July 2012.

[i] “Framework law is an umbrella statement of general principles governing the exercise of legislative and/or executive (or devolved) powers by the Centre, the States and the local governing bodies.

3 thoughts on “Are we water-secure or water-starved? – National Water Policy

Add yours

  1. Why should a farmer not pay water just like water for a cricket field? Who are we to judge what is more important. We have 85 million tonnes of rotting food grain in our granaries and few sporting medals. I think this farmer centric argument is meaningless and evil. Who are we to judge the relative importance of use sitting in our own protective bubbles. Pricing is the best way of allocating scarce resources.


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