The presence of harmful material in water in sufficient concentrations weakens or destroys natural ecosystems that support biodiversity and conversely the food chain. Water-borne diseases kill millions, particularly the more susceptible under-five strata. As against 45000 million litres per day (MLD) of waste water generated in urban areas, municipalities have the capacity to treat just about 26 per cent (R M Bhardwaj, 2012, Issue 73, GnY). By 2051 the waste water generated in cities and towns will be 116000 MLD and rural India too will generate 50,000 MLD. However the waste management plans do not address the pace of wastewater generation. Of the 284 sewerage treatment plants established as per the records of the Central Pollution Control Board 2012, not all but 231 are operational. Also those that are operational are not operational in full capacity. As very large volumes of sewerage are being discharged directly into our water bodies, surface and groundwater is turning highly polluted. In fact India’s 14 major, 55 minor and several hundred small rivers receive millions of litres of sewage, industrial and agricultural wastes on a daily basis.
A report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India titled ‘Performance Audit of Water Pollution in India’, for the year ended March 2011 observed that the Ministry of Environment and Forests along with a number of states did not undertake complete inventorisation of rivers/lakes and keystone species associated with them; did not carry out identification of existing pollution levels in rivers and lakes in terms of biological indicators; did not identify and quantify contaminants in rivers, lakes and groundwater; were yet to identify and quantify human activities that impact water quality; had not adopted the basin level approach for control of pollution and also had not developed water quality goals and corresponding parameters for each river/lake. With regard to implementation of programmes for control of pollution of rivers, lakes and groundwater, CAG observed that the current programmes were insufficient; institutional set ups were inadequate and enforcement of set norms poor. The Audit Report also mentioned that inclusion of rivers and lakes into National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) and National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP), respectively, were flawed and performance of projects undertaken under NRCP unsatisfactory. Over 82 per cent of the projects were completed after the scheduled date of completion; 28 projects costing Rs 251.27 crore were constructed but not utilised as states implementing projects cited problems in land acquisition, requisite permissions from forest departments, dealing with technical staff and contractors etc. Also, NLCP as a programme was deemed to be ineffective in achieving the objective of conservation and restoration of lakes in India. Only two of the sampled 22 projects had been completed and the rest either continued beyond the sanctioned date of completion or were abandoned.
In a yet another recent revelation, the Ministry of Water Resources formulated the National Water Policy, which was adopted by the National Water Resources Council headed by the Prime Minister on 28 December 2012. The salient features of the Policy outlines an emphasis on the need for a national water framework law; provision of safe drinking water and sanitation; maintaining the ecological needs of the rivers; evolving benchmarks for water uses for different purposes; which more or less encompass the spectrum of water related understanding that has been built up in the country. But what is irksome is not policies but the implementation, which in most cases is dealt with such leniency that one can easily conclude that policy making is an academic exercise rather than an executive one.