A Step in the Right Direction

NITI Aayog’s water index for ensuring perennial water supply

According to NITI Aayog, the demand for water in India is likely to far outstrip supply by 2030. It is also expected that 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater by 2020. This highlights the gravity of the country’s existing water situation. In light of this imminent crisis, NITI Aayog introduced a composite water management index (CWMI) in June 2018 to assess and analyse the water management efficiency of states.

The index seeks to address one of the biggest challenges in the provision of civic services – the management of freshwater resources and its adequate supply. Poor water management has resulted in incorrect prioritisation, improper resource allocation and excessive exploitation of groundwater resources. This first-of-its-kind water management index has been designed as a tool to gauge the performance of states in terms of managing water resources. It is expected to help water supply departments/utilities at both the state and city levels improve their efficiency, reduce losses and meet the growing water demand in a sustainable manner.

Key objectives

The key objectives of this data-centric index are as follows:

  • It has been established to provide a clear baseline and benchmark for state-level performance analysis based on key water indicators.
  • It functions as an analysis tool tracking performance of states over time, thereby identifying high- and under-performing states.
  • It will aid central ministries and state departments in formulating and implementing suitable strategies for better water management and identifying areas that require urgent attention and investment.

Development technique

The index has been developed by compiling data of 24 Indian states on several water indicators. These indicators comprise nine broad segments which are further categorised into 28 key performance parameters. The segments are groundwater augmentation, source restoration, irrigation management, participatory irrigation practices, watershed development, on-farm water use, rural and urban drinking water supply, and policy frameworks and governance.

For the purpose of analysis, the states are divided into two categories – non-Himalayan states and north-eastern and Himalayan states – to account for the different hydrological conditions across these groups.

Based on the indicators stated above, states have been scored on a scale of 0 to 100 and have then been classified as underperformers (with a score of less than 50), medium performers (between 50 and 65) and high performers (more than 65). This has been done through a first-of-its-kind water data collection exercise carried out by NITI Aayog in partnership with the Ministry of Water Resources, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, as well as all the states and union territories. The states for which data is not available are out of the ambit of the index. NITI Aayog has also developed an online portal for information dissemination. Through this portal, state departments will be able to update data on a regular basis.

Key indicators

In order to assign scores to states based on their water management performance, weights have been given to nine broad segments. For instance, groundwater source augmentation, major and medium irrigation, and policy and governance have the highest weightage of 15 points each, while others such as urban water supply and sanitation, rural drinking water, sustainable on-farm water use practices, participatory irrigation practices, and watershed development have 10 points each. Source augmentation and restoration of waterbodies has the lowest weightage of 5 points each.

Each segment is further categorised into performance parameters based on which the states have been given scores. For instance, groundwater source augmentation includes parameters such as the use of geographic information systems for mapping overexploited groundwater areas, the extent of groundwater recharging, the development of recharging structures and initiatives taken to increase the water table. Under the water supply and sanitation segment (rural and urban), the percentage of population with access to water and the percentage of wastewater being treated are included. Moreover, water quality issues in rural areas are also taken into account. Source augmentation only includes one indicator that measures the area irrigated by restored waterbodies. Further, under medium and major irrigation systems, indicators such as irrigation potential of assets and their actual usage besides the maintenance of irrigation assets are taken into account.

For scoring watershed management practices, indicators such as the proportion of area under rain-fed agriculture (higher being worse), and geotagging of water harvesting structures and their construction are included. Parameters such as the establishment of legal frameworks (water user associations) and the levy of user fees, among other indicators, are factored in for scoring participatory irrigation management of states. Further, sustainable on-farm water use practices are usually gauged by cropping patterns being followed and the use of micro-irrigation systems.

The last segment – policy and governance – focuses on legislation for the protection and restoration of waterbodies, frameworks in place for water harvesting in buildings, the pricing mechanism being followed for urban water supply, and the existence and validation of integrated data for water in the state.

Key findings and analysis

Based on the index and an analysis of the data collected for 2015-16 and 2016-17, NITI Aayog summarised its key findings in a report, Composite Water Management Index, released on June 14, 2018. The report has ranked Indian states on the basis of water management initiatives and has highlighted the areas that need immediate attention.

State-wise analysis

  • Gujarat has topped the CWMI, scoring above 75 per cent and has been termed as highly efficient in water management. The key factors responsible for the state’s success are a comprehensive state water policy, a strong institutional structure for water governance, participatory irrigation and accurate data collection and maintenance.
  • It is followed by Madhya Pradesh (69), Andhra Pradesh (68), Karnataka (56) and Maharashtra (55).
  • In the north-eastern and Himalayan states, Tripura has been adjudged the top state, followed by Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Assam. Most of the other states in the category have very low scores. This is despite the high availability of freshwater resources in these states.
  • About 60 per cent of states (15 out of 24) including Jharkhand (35), Bihar (38), Haryana (38), Uttar Pradesh (38), Meghalaya (26) and Uttarakhand (26) have achieved scores below 50 which is a cause for concern as these states are home to about 50 per cent of the country’s population.
  • In terms of incremental change in the index (over the 2015-16 level), Rajasthan tops in the general states category and Tripura holds first position among north-eastern and Himalayan states.

Status of water supply and sanitation in urban areas

With regard to water supply and sanitation coverage in urban areas, the report states that on an average non-Himalayan states provide drinking water to only 75 per cent of the population. The best performing state, Gujarat provides water to its entire urban population and charges water tariff to about 87 per cent of the population (non-revenue water accounts for only 13 per cent of the total water supply). In Bihar, on the other hand, only 20 per cent of the urban population has access to safe drinking water. The state also lacks a proper water pricing mechanism. In contrast, states accounting for the largest urban population – Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala – recorded poor performance with 53 per cent to 72 per cent of the population having access to drinking water.

In the north-eastern and Himalayan states category, Tripura and Meghalaya have been able to successfully serve more than 80 per cent of their urban population. On the other hand, states such as Assam and Nagaland provide water to only 20 per cent of their urban populations.

The index effectively brings out the need to tackle the gap in water supply services such as inadequate water supply coverage, high non-revenue water and irrational user charges. The gap results in illegal extraction of groundwater leading to a decline in water table levels.

Status of wastewater treatment

The index also brings out the current wastewater treatment scenario. On an average, only about 30 per cent of wastewater was treated by states in 2016-17. Further, the states vary significantly in terms of their existing treatment capacity, ranging from 25 pre cent to 95 per cent of the total wastewater generation. Haryana as the best performer treats about 95 per cent of the wastewater generated, whereas Chhattisgarh is the worst performer, treating a meagre 3 per cent. Rajasthan has recorded significant improvement, treating 71 per cent of wastewater in 2016-17, up from 42 per cent in 2015-16.

Sikkim also recorded significant improvement in wastewater treatment, increasing to 81 per cent in 2016-17 from 60 per cent in 2015-16. In contrast, Tripura treated only about 25 per cent of wastewater.

Other indicators

Source augmentation (restoration of waterbodies): About 50 per cent of states have taken steps to restore their waterbodies. Some of the best performers among non-Himalayan states are Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, while Nagaland has scored well among the northeastern states. The poorest performers such as Meghalaya and Sikkim can gain by prioritising the restoration of waterbodies that have a high irrigation potential.

Groundwater source augmentation: The water table of about 54 per cent of India’s groundwater wells is declining due to increasing extraction and negligible recharging. Further, only 50 per cent (12 of 24) of the states have constituted a regulatory framework for the management of groundwater resources.

Major and medium irrigation: The majority of the states (11 of 21 that have reported data) have performed moderately in irrigation management. However, asset maintenance is a major challenge mainly due to the lack of financial capacity of state governments.

Rural drinking water: Most of the non-Himalayan states reported that 70-90 per cent of rural habitations had access to drinking water sources. Himalayan states are also picking up pace with Himachal Pradesh registering a 21 per cent increase over 2015-16. However, water quality remains a major issue.

Policy and governance: Of the states, 70-80 per cent have enacted legislations for protecting waterbodies and the promotion of rainwater harvesting. However, the lack of rational pricing mechanisms and data management remain key issues.

Conclusion

Though the development of the CWMI by NITI Aayog is a laudable step, collaborative efforts by both central and state governments will help ensure long-term results. Interventions in the form of favourable policy frameworks and fiscal incentives are desirable. To ensure sustainable water availability, there is need to inculcate the practice of recycling and reusing water. Going forward, successful water conservation models across the world can be replicated to bring the desired results.

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