Published on 12/05/2011
First Update 29/03/2017
Water is one of the most essential of all natural resources. The supply of potable fresh water has assumed critical dimensions both in terms of quality and quantity. Large stretches of rivers have no water and are heavily polluted giving rise to grave environmental consequences. Ground water is depleting fast and also being severely affected in terms of quality at places. It is also likely to become a critically scarce resource in many regions of the Country. It is therefore very important that this national resource is managed very cautiously.
The management of water in the country has been regulated by various parliamentary, legislative and judicial interventions. Articles 48(A) and 51A (g) of the Constitution of India make the State and every Citizen responsible for the conservation of environment. The Policy Statement for the Abatement of Pollution,1992, the National Conservation Strategy and the Policy Statement on Environment and Development,1992 and the National Environment Policy of 2006 framed by the Government of India, all point towards an integration of environmental and economic concerns in development planning recognizing fully the importance and imperativeness of a Clean Environment -water included. The sustainable use of land and water resources, the preservation of biodiversity and the prevention and control of pollution are important elements of these policies. Reuse and recycling is the thrust strategy.
The National Water Policy, 2002 recognizes the need for making a judicious allocation of the available water resources giving top most priority to supply of safe drinking water. The policy also contains provisions for developing, conserving, sustainably utilizing and managing water resources based on National perspectives. It aims to address concerns due to water logging, soil salinity and over exploitation of ground water on the basis of common policies and strategies. The policy also includes improvements in existing strategies and the development of new technologies to eliminate the pollution of surface and ground water resources.
The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) act, 1974 was enacted by Parliament with the objective of maintaining the whole someness of water and creating a regime for the prevention and control of pollution of this valuable resource. It prescribes a system whereby new and existing discharges are regulated through a mechanism of “Consents”, which also ensures that the quality of waste waters being discharged into streams, rivers, wells or on land meet the prescribed standards. The standards prescribed by the Central Government cannot be relaxed by the State Governments. They can be made more stringent. It is a strong act which also provides that the State Pollution Control Boards can issue directions to ensure provisions and these directions include the closure of industry, operations or process or suspension of water supply and suspension of power supply. This tool is being increasingly used by the Pollution Control Boards to enforce regulatory provisions.
The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977 was enacted to augment the resources of the State Pollution Control Boards. The provisions of the Act also make it a strong tool for water conservation and maintenance of water quality. Higher rates of cess for water used in processes generating biodegradable and not easily biodegradable wastes and for water uses beyond the specified quantities where prescribed, have been extremely successful in the management of water. The provisions of a rebate on cess dues to compliant users are also an incentive for better Environmental Management. Some very significant reductions have been achieved in the consumption of water per unit of production and have resulted in financial gains to the user also.
Recognizing the impact of industrial waste water on water quality and the need for priorities, the Government of India carried out special drives for control of pollution from 17 categories of highly polluting industries and industries discharging into lakes and rivers classified as Grossly Pollution. The Government of India has also formulated Charters on Corporate Responsibility on Environmental Protection for the 17 category of highly polluting industries. This Charter prepared after due consultations with the industry sectors involved, proposed time bound action plans for ensuring completeness in pollution control systems and bank guarantees to ensure a commitment to the action plans.
The National Ganga Basin Conservation Authority created by the Government of India is an important step in the comprehensive management of water of the river Ganga which flows through Uttaranchal, U.P., Bihar and West Bengal on its way to the sea.
Water quality degradation may be due to the discharge of untreated domestic and industrial waste waters. As per 2006 estimates of the CPCB, 423 class I cities and 498 class II towns of the Country generated about 33000 MLD OF waste water out of which only about 7000 MLD gets some kind of treatment. Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujrat are the major contributors. In many cases the facilities for treatment do not work. C.P.C.B. estimates also indicate that the total waste water generated from all major industrial sources is 15,438 MLD out of which 9000 MLD are being treated. It is the small and tiny sectors industries in congested industrial areas which are a cause of major concern. Both these sources along with agricultural run off contribute to deteriorating quality of surface and ground waters and need to be addressed to.
Pollutants may percolate and leach and find their way into ground waters. Significant pollution of ground water through anthropogenic sources has been observed in areas near Lohia Nagar, Ghaziabad, Nauraiya Kheda at Kanpur, Jajmau Kanpur and other places. Chromium has been found to be the man contaminant with origins due to spent bath discharges or indiscriminate dumping of hazardous wastes.
Standards for discharge into receiving bodies have been fixed on technological consideration. However, the basic assumption is that at least 10 times dilutions is available in the receiving water. With huge withdrawals from surface and ground waters it is essential that minimum flows be maintained. This is an important challenge which makes it imperative that minimum flows be maintained or a progressive reduction or elimination of effluent discharges be achieved. The zero effluent discharges strategy prescribed for distilleries under the Corporate Responsibility for Environmental Protection is an important step in this direction. Increasing regulation, judicial intervention and proactive industry participation has also produced a significant reduction in waste water generation per unit production.
Ground water in many parts of the Country has become a limiting factor for domestic and industrial development. In such cases it is very important that waste water be treated as a resource. The use of distillery spent wash along with press mud in the preparation of bio compost is a good example. The use of treated effluents for irrigation and horticulture needs to be increasingly practiced. The State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority in Uttar Pradesh prescribes decentralized sewage treatment in development projects and also prescribes that treated effluents be reused in horticulture, cooling, flushing etc. In order to minimize pressures on ground water it also emphasizes the use of dual flushing systems. Project proponents have been asked to restrict water use to 86 LPCD in conformity to guidelines of the National Building Code. There is also a need to evolve a system of according clearances on ground water abstraction. The SEIAA as above is making it mandatory to get a clearance but their does appear to be an absence of a mechanism. The presence of Arsenic and fluoride in waste water in many parts of the Country is a major concern. Ground water use in such areas could be minimized and more reliance be given to surface water. Rain water harvesting and augmentation of storage capacities for rain water should be important programmes for such areas. The State Level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority has made Rain water harvesting mandatory in all development projects except where it is not possible on water table consideration.
Ground water can be conserved if treated industrial waste water is recycled and reused. Segregation of waste water streams may assist this. It has been estimated that quantity of effluents from the sugar industry can be reduced from 300 to 50 liters per tonne of cane crushed if recycling techniques are meticulously followed. Continuous fermentation distilleries generate almost half the effluents as compared to the 14-15 liters per liter of Alcohol generated in batch process distilleries. Fiber recovery units in pulp and paper plants have enabled the paper mill effluents to be completely recycled and the waste water to be reduced from 200 m3 per tonne of paper to 50 m3 per tonne of paper. In the reuse of low quality waters for agriculture or aquaculture purposes, due consideration should be given to health and other safeguards.
With water tariffs being extremely low, there is little incentive for conservation of water. There is a need to develop a pricing mechanism not only based on pumping cost of water but also on the environmental and social costs. Augmenting the storage capacities in the lower reaches to trap water during high flows is also necessary to release pressures on ground water sources. There is also a need to document and employ traditional practices for water conservation.
Out of a total of 4000 BCM precipitation reported for India about 450 BCM percolates as ground water flow. Ground water is limited and has therefore to be used judiciously and conserved to the maximum extent possible. Artificial recharging by allowing the rain water to spread over land and remain in large areas for long times allows maximum quantity of water to enter the ground. Recharge wells may also be used to admit water from the surface to fresh water aquifer. Percolation tanks used excessively in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra and Karnataka have been found to be very effective. In an average area of influence of 1.2 km2 average ground water rise was 2.5 meter and the recharge to ground water was 1.5 hectare meters. Watershed management plans for hilly areas have augmented the water availability. Check bunds delay run off and increase seepage. Afforestation also helps in water and soil conservation. About 80% of the water consumption can be reduced by using water sprinklers in scarcity areas and 50 to 70 % by employing drip irrigation methods. Managing growing patterns, selecting low irrigation crop varieties, using antitranspirants to reduce water loss by transpiration reducing evaporation from soil surface by planning water tight moisture barriers, reducing evaporating losses from water bodies by installing wind breaks, minimizing exposed surface, locating reservoirs at higher altitudes and applying monomolecular films has been variously tried and found to be effective in water conservation.
A brief reference to rivers is also important at this stage. An analysis by the Central Pollution Control board has indicated that about 6086 km (14%) river length in the Country is severely polluted with a B.O.D of more than 6 mg/l, 8691 KMS (19%) is moderately polluted with a B.O.D.of 3 to 6 mg/L and about 30242 (67%) is relatively clean with a B.O.D. of less than 3 mg/L Degradation is due to point and non point sources of pollution. Sewage effluents play a major role. The irony is that while the CPCB identified 10 polluted stretches in 1988-1989, the number increased to 37 during 1992-1993 and as of 2006 this was 86. In U.P. the Yamuna between Kosikalan to confluence with Chambal, the Hindon, the western Kali the Buri Ganga,Yamuna, Eastern Kali Nadi, Gomti beyond Lucknow and the Ganga between Kannauj to Kanpur District and Varanasi District have been identified as critical. It does need a check. The Jawahar Lal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission make a provision of improving urban services and the sewage treatment plants will certainly help to improve the quality of water. The availability of sufficient flows has been a major concern and needs immediate redress. This can be accomplished by prudent water augmentation and reuse and recycle policies.
Wetlands are a valuable resource because of their immense economic, ecological and cultural values. Recharge of ground water and flood control are two ecological services that wetlands provide. The economic value of these services is difficult to quantify. In spite of their invaluable use to mankind, wetlands are being increasingly encroached upon. Wetlands in India occupy some 58.2 million hectares with 93 wetlands meeting the criteria under the Ramsar convention. In addition to being increasingly encroached upon wetlands are also victims of increased eutrophication-and salinisation through waste water discharges. It is imperative that these wetlands are managed more efficiently in light of existing laws. Judicial intervention in U.P. has helped in conserving these wetlands. The State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority in U.P. is trying to see that development projects do not infringe on wetlands that if a wetland falls in the project site it has to be restored and maintained as a wetland.
All said and done, water is an invaluable resource getting scarcer day by day. Populating pressures and consequent development needs are affecting surface and ground waters both in terms of deteriorated water quality and available water quantity. Ground water resources are depleting, minimum flows are not available in river systems, and important river stretches are grossly polluted. This requires strategies which aim at reducing pollution at source, minimizing waste water discharges, using waste water as a resource, reusing and recycling, a more efficient resource utilization and most importantly sound population control and poverty alleviation policies because in both these issues lies the root cause of the problem.