India faces a major crisis of water as we move into the 21st century. This crisis threatens the basic right to drinking water of our citizens; it also puts the livelihoods of millions at risk.
Why have we reached this point? I suggest that it is our approach to water, which has lost its necessary anchoring in the best science, that is mainly responsible for what is palpably a man-made crisis of water. 21st century India calls for a new paradigm of water management based on the principles of multi-disciplinarity and balance.
I argue the following propositions and based on this understanding, propose the kinds of institutional and policy reforms urgently required to be undertaken in India today:
- We cannot continue to try to control and manipulate rivers without understanding the science of river systems, as also the monsoon cycle;
- We cannot continue to extract groundwater without understanding the science of hydrogeology;
- We cannot continue with hydro-schizophrenia, divorcing groundwater from surface water and drinking water from irrigation;
- We cannot afford to continue to destroy river catchments ignoring the relationship between health of watersheds and river flows.