We will tackle new challenges as and when these come up

Updated: Mar 22 2007, 07:22am hrs
The theme of this years World Water Day is Coping With Water Scarcity. The UN has proclaimed 2005 to 2015 as the International Decade for Action Water for Life. India has declared 2007 as Water Year. Despite all the attention, a water-stressed India is on its way to become a water-scarce country, which can dent Indias growth story. Rajiv Tikoo of The Financial Express caught up with Union Minister of Water Resources Saifuddin Soz to take stock of the challenges and the governments response. Excerpts:

The Union cabinet has declared 2007 as Water Year at the behest of your ministry. Though many events have been lined up, we dont see anything in terms of new goals and targets.

The theme helps us put spotlight on water issues. The events create a lot of awareness. At the same time, we are working to tap surface water. Recharging of groundwater is receiving attention. Storage capacity is being enhanced. Flood management is getting a new look. We are looking at new technologies and initiatives. The idea is to have more crops per drop of water.

A model Bill for recharging groundwater has been accepted by all the states except Punjab. Its a great achievement.

Your ministry is for planning and laying down policies on water resources, but implementation is finally in the hands of state governments. How much constrained do you feel

The prime minister will be having a meeting with all chief ministers where we will put all our priorities and concerns on the agenda. It will create some kind of harmony. Chief Ministers have to be on board. After all water a state subject.

We will tell states to take up projects, but without being overambitious. Otherwise money gets thinly spread and achievement is low. So, its better to give attention to fewer things and let them fructify. We will tell them to seek our guidance, technical help and funds wherever available.

Though water quantity is under spotlight, its quality is not.

When we talk of water quantity, the element of quality is inbuilt. When we talk about water, its about usable and drinkable water.

How serious is our water crisis

We dont have a crisis of the nature many countries have. But at the current rate of consumption our per capita availability of water availability will fall. Its all the more a cause of concern because it will impact our food security.

We must sustain a level of water, which makes our country water secure. It can be done through water harvesting and recharging of groundwater.

At the same time, we must look at participatory management of water resources. People must be involved. Users associations must be formed. At the tail end farmers must join heads and hands together and have the ownership and use water properly.

What about privatisation and industrys role in being part of the solution

A committee is looking into it. But I wont say that its on the anvil and tomorrow we will start working with the private sector.

Water is precious. Its a natural asset. So, its important that the responsibility rests with the government. The government is committed to people. Its answerable to people through parliament. The private sector cant be responsible the same way.

Indian industry too has a high stake. If there is water scarcity, it will impact growth and profits.

As I said there is a committee, which is looking into how much the private sector can be accommodated. We will wait for the recommendations. You see water availability is being ensured. At the same time tariffs will be examined. The question is how best we can do it without creating tensions. As of now, water is being used as if its free.

While old issues like the Cauvery dispute and the Sardar Sarovar Project controversies are yet to be resolved, new challenges are emerging. For example, the shift to biofuels is expected to exert more pressure on water resources. How are you preparing

There will be differences and these will get resolved. The constitution provides for redressal of disputes. Our democracy allows it. As long as people operate within the system, there is no worry. So, let us see how things take shape. I am not much worried because ultimately disputes will get resolved.

Similarly, we will tackle new challenges as and when these come up. We will cross the bridge when we come to it.