The Parched Tiger: Could Healthy Competition between States Help Solve India’s Water Crisis?

Via Future Directions International, a look at how a new Water Index may foster water efficiency competition and co-operation between states:

The National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, a government-affiliated think tank, released a report stating that India is currently facing the worst water crisis in its history and if steps are not taken to deal with this crisis, it will only worsen. The NITI report estimated that water demand will be double the available supply by 2030, resulting in what would be tantamount to a nationwide drought.

The situation is already dire, as 200,000 Indians die every year due to inadequate access to safe drinking water and a further 600 million face high to extreme water stress. It is commonplace for towns and cities to run out of water during the summer, because of poor infrastructure; the northern city of Shimla is a prominent recent example of this.

Furthermore, the report predicts that if nothing is done by 2030, over 40 per cent of the population will have no access to drinking water and six per cent of India’s GDP will be lost due to the water crisis.

To help prevent this, the NITI has created the Composite Water Management Index, a tool to assess and rank each state’s water management ability.


While rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are part of the reason for growing water scarcity, the NITI report highlights the poor governance of water resources by India’s states as the primary reason for the current water crisis. Water is a state responsibility in India and its relatively loose federation makes it difficult to implement a national water policy. Water management therefore differs greatly from state to state. Co-operation between states on water issues is rare; frameworks for collaboration are limited and water issues are often contentious, with seven major disputes currently being fought over water resources between states.

The NITI’s water index ranks the water management policies of 24 of India’s 29 states, with each state given a score out of 100 and classified as a state with high, medium or low performance. The creation of the index is expected to have two main benefits: (i) to promote competition and co-operation between the states, to improve their performance in water management; and
(ii) to provide data to entrepreneurs, NGOs and policymakers, so they can form innovative solutions to tackle the water crisis.

Alarm bells were raised when the report classified 60 per cent of the states as low performers, including the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana. Nearly half of the Indian population lives in those major food producing states. It is also surprising that Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, all of which have experienced severe droughts in recent years, were among the highest performing states. This suggests that previous water shortages have forced these states to adopt better water management practices in preparation for a recurrence of those shortages.

Interestingly, Himachal Pradesh was marked as a medium-performing state. It is ranked second among the Himalayan states, despite Shimla, its capital, suffering a severe water crisis. The state has shown a large capacity for improvement in water management.

A common problem that NITI noticed was the unsustainable use of groundwater in the majority of states, with an estimated 40 per cent of the Indian groundwater supply used at an unsustainable rate. This is occurring primarily due to the lack of restrictions on groundwater extractions in most states. This has caused wasteful water use, particularly in the agricultural sector, which is responsible for 80 per cent of India’s water use.

Another reason for several states’ poor ranking is poor decisions regarding waste management. These practices have contaminated 70 per cent of India’s water sources by building over water bodies and dumping waste in canals and streets.

On a more encouraging note, 15 states have improved their scores on the water index in the past year. This has mostly been achieved through the restoration of water bodies, conservation activities and improvement in the provision of rural water supply. These measures have most likely been driven by the increase in water scarcity.

It remains to be seen whether NITI’s Water Index will foster competition and co-operation between states, but its report shows that India is likely to suffer from increased water stress and that better water management policies at the state level will help to alleviate the situation.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 27th, 2018 at 2:11 am and is filed under India.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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