Expert Speak

National Water Mission (NWM) A Big Game Changer in the Country

Shri G. Asok Kumar,
Additional Secretary & Mission Director,
National Water Mission,
Department of Water Resources, River Development, and Ganga Rejuvenation


NWM seeks to optimise water use by increasing water use efficiency by 20% through regulatory mechanisms with differential entitlements and pricing under its various programmes. In an interview with Water Digest, Shri G. Asok Kumar, Additional Secretary & Mission Director, National Water Mission emphasised on a holistic water policy and the need for the various state governments and organisations to come out of silos to work towards a common goal. He called for a total end to using potable water for non-potable purposes.


Water Digest (WD): NWM has set a goal focussing on the increase of water use efficiency by 20%. What efforts being made to meet this goal?

Asok Kumar (AK): This is probably the first time that we are addressing the supply side on such a large scale, getting everyone in the country involved in the campaign, much before the start of monsoon so that we are ready to ‘Catch the Rain’ when it falls.

Reports on our awareness campaign indicate that NWM is going to be a major intervention for our target of a ‘Tanker Mukt Bharat’.

NWM was formed in 2011 specifically to address issues related to climate change and its impact on water. Goal 4 of NWM is about raising the water use efficiency in agriculture. This is a very important part because our water use efficiency is very poor, less than 30%. India is probably the only country where 90% of water is used for agriculture and only10% is used for domestic purposes.

There is a lot of water in the agricultural sector. We will be very comfortable if we improve the water use efficiency in agriculture. The water footprint in India is much more than in a developed nation.

An Indian farmer requires 3000 to 4000 litres of water for producing 1 kg of yield whereas a farmer in the USA or even in Thailand requires 800 litres. So, the water footprint for the same product in our country is about four or five times more. That is one of the reasons we extract the largest quantity of water in the world. India extracts about 250 billion litres of groundwater every year. This is much more than the combined water extracted in USA, China and Mexico. The catch is that we fail to replenish this water. This is where we need the ‘Catch the Rain’ campaign. The crux of the campaign is to calculate where and when the rains falls and to replenish the aquifers.

(WD): The agriculture sector is the largest consumer of freshwater. Which existing policies help to achieve an efficient irrigation system?

(AK): According to the baseline studies conducted by NWM, our water use efficiency is less than 30% as opposed to 60% -70% in developed countries and 95% in Israel. There is a tremendous scope for improvement. For that, we have to guide the farmers and other stakeholders about the policies and technology for better water efficiency.

Water being a state subject, the Centre has a limited role in controlling the use and demand of water. We have been writing to state governments on how to improve water usage efficiency by bringing better methods of irrigation. About 70% can be saved with better facilities like sprinkler irrigation or micro-irrigation systems. In other words, we will have to encourage farmers to use better irrigation techniques to save water.

Secondly, our farmers need to use the right crops. Our crops are very water-intensive at many places making our water footprint very large. So, when we are exporting paddy from one place to another, we are actually moving a lot of water.

A classic example is Punjab where 92% of the paddy produced is exported or sent to other states through FCI. In effect, they are extracting groundwater and exporting it.

That is why the National Marshal Water Mission had started the ‘Sahi Fasal’ campaign to nudge farmers to go in for crops that are water-efficient and also give reasonable remuneration to them. So, we are now advocating more income per drop because in a monetised economy, farmers are interested in the money they earn from the crop.

So, the focus should be to increase the income of the farmers, more efficient use of water and using better crop patterns to generate more income for them.

Many states in India offer subsidised electricity, which is one of the biggest dampeners for the water sector in the country. Since electricity is subsidised, farmers get encouraged to extract more and more underground water, not bothering about its quantity. That is one of the major reasons we are very poor in water efficiency. We must have a policy to curtail subsidy on electricity. We should also have the same pricing as a mechanism to control wastewater usage and increase water use efficiency. Apart from this, we should have water regulatory authorities in place, because a plethora of departments involved e.g., urban department, rural development, department of irrigation, water resource department etc. work in silos.

We must have a new holistic water policy. We should work together and come out of the silos. Most importantly, using potable water for non-potable purpose has to be stopped totally.

We have to use the 5Rs recycling, reuse and recover water from waste. A lot of work can be done in wastewater reuse. Some states have done well in recovery of water from the STPs and industrial effluents and using it for non-potable purposes.


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