Tech Plug for Water Wastage: Malini V Shankar

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Malini V Shankar

Technology will keep an account of water and prevent future fights, says Malini V Shankar in an interaction with Kartik Sharma of ENN.

Please give an overview of your department’s operations.
Water resources department has two main operations, one is the planning and development of the water resources and the other is its management. Our department looks after irrigation and non-irrigation water use. Projects are primarily for irrigation but non-irrigation water use has increased in recent years and is one of the challenges for our department. The Irrigation Development Corporations have geographical jurisdiction based on river basin boundaries which are responsible for planning and development of new surface water schemes for irrigation/ multi-purpose use, construction of ongoing projects and management of existing schemes.

One of the key initiatives taken in an e-governance project for water was ‘e-Jalseva’ in 2012-13. So basically the issue is management of assets, we are managing so much water but at any given point of time we do not have the information of how many assets do we have. All the three sectors are on human resources. 45,000 posts have been sanctioned but we have no idea about where they are, what they are doing and how much they are earning. IT tools come handy in such situations.

Another part is financial which is common to all departments. Then follows the operations part which means accounting for the water resource. We need to know how much water is being pilfered and what revenue we get by selling water, especially to non-irrigation areas. This was a fairly neglected area. In the last one year, we have given our focus to this sector.

How do you manage to keep track of the water for non- irrigation purposes?

This is all a part of e-governance data and management of information system. We are also looking at developing software which will look at the water accounting and is another part of river basin management.

One initiative that we took in Krishna water basin is of flood management, so all the information relating to flood management of the Krishna River is procured from there. But if we are looking at Godavari basin, it doesn’t have frequent flood problems, especially on the western side. The Vidarbha side has flood issues but in Nashik there’s drought.

To prevent future fights on the issue of water we are looking to use technology to account water so that everybody is aware about the amount of water they are entitled to and if there is water shortage then, it should be shared across the basin.

Previously, it used to be people from downstream who had the water access as there were no dams 50-100 years back. Now, with the dams present, upstream people have more access as opposed to downstream.

There has been the question of environmental flow which has been the topic of debate for Government of India, International agencies and experts on river management. They’ve been mentioning that a river has to keep flowing; and how do you know whether river can actually be kept flowing unless you know where the water is going.

Our final part is to reach the people. We have developed a model, which is in testing phase, where we are planning to get people to register their water demands online. It has been established to know the demands of citizens and whether they can be met.

Will schemes like Aadhaar be able to help you in allocating water resources?

It is little premature at the moment but I do not see any application right now as ours is a community oriented sector. Now with farm holdings becoming smaller and participating irrigation being the norm today the farmers have to move from water user associations as water is a bulk entitlement to the association. But who knows that in future this bulk supplier can be looking at Aadhaar to deliver water to farmers. But I think this might not be the top priority for other applications.

How do you respond to the challenge of increasing non- irrigation water supply and drought management?

The challenge will be for all the non-irrigation users, especially for those for whom water has been reserved, it should be 100 percent metered and priced. Pricing for water is like electricity metering. If an individual is using more than his share then it would be signal for him to cut down the usage. He has an option. Similarly, it would be a signal for them to economise their water usage, otherwise everybody would waste it.

In rural areas, access to quality water is a big issue. So, metering should be taken into account in cities. Maybe, 50 years ago, cities were not consuming much water, but now much of the non-irrigation water is actually consumed by urban areas. Installation of meters would help finding solution to the problem.

Second thing would be the quality. If I live in an urban area and I am assured that I do not have to buy a water bottle and I can have my drinking water direct from the tap then I would probably be willing to pay a little more. But for that I need to know what is supplied to me. If I don’t know then I tend to trust a water bottle even though quality would be lower.

“Pricing for water is like electricity metering… If an individual is using more than his share, then it would be signal for him to cut down the usage”

How important do you think is public-private partnership?
When we talk about public-private partnership, private organizations want some kind of assurance that they will get their returns because they are not here for charity. Moreover, they feel that the profit should be from the general public in terms of collection. They say they won’t be able to collect from every single family as there is a feeling that government is doing away with the primary responsibility.

There have been initiatives in other countries, where they assure private sector that they would get the money. In addition there is this incentive bill which makes private players entitled to incentives in case of improvement in coverage ratio. At present the government is not able to follow this process. But there have been initiatives where private organisations have been included for system improvement that helps in increasing revenue and coverage as well. It is working in 3-4 cities with mixed results.

One of the key things in this kind of partnership is formulation of the terms and conditions for private and public as contract management itself is a very big topic. Government officials are not very knowledgeable on managing the contracts. So this can be another problem in public-private partnerships.

Your message to water users?
Please conserve precious water reserves, as we need to leave it for our future generation, too.

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