India’s first water body census released - GulfToday

India’s first water body census released

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Illustrative image.

Illustrative image.

The Indian Union Ministry of Jal Shakti (India’s water ministry) has released the report of India’s first water bodies census, a comprehensive data base of ponds, tanks, lakes, and reservoirs in the country. The objective of the Census of Water Bodies is to develop a national database for all water bodies by collecting information on all important aspects of the subject including their size, condition, status of encroachments, use, storage capacity, status of filling up of storage etc.

According to the government press release, for this census, water bodies are defined all natural or man-made units bounded on all sides with some or no masonry work used for storing water for irrigation or other purposes (e.g., industrial, pisciculture, domestic/drinking, recreation, religious, ground water recharge etc.). These are usually several types known by different names like tank, reservoirs, ponds etc. A structure where water from ice-melt, streams, springs, rain or drainage of water from residential or other areas is accumulated or water is stored by diversion from a stream, nala or river will also be treated as a water body.

Approximately 1.1 million (45.2%) of the 2.4 million water bodies surveyed across all states and union territories have never been repaired, as per the census report. Another 15.7% of the water bodies were repaired before 2009. The report underlines that the proper repair and upkeep of water bodies are required for their optimum utilisation, as reported by Mongabay-India.

The Mongabay-India analysis also points out that there is significant performance variation among the states and union territories on several indicators. For instance, Uttar Pradesh, which accounts for nearly 10% of the total water bodies counted in the census, has the maximum number of non-maintained water bodies, non-functional and encroached water bodies. West Bengal, which has the highest number of water bodies in the country at 30%, did not have a single non-maintained water body.

Of the total 2.4 million water bodies surveyed, 59.5% (1.4 million) were ponds, 15.7% (0.38 million) tanks, and 12.1% (0.29 million) reservoirs. Most of the total enumerated water bodies, 97%, are in rural areas, while the remaining 3% are in urban areas.

The census launched in 2018-19 also pointed out that 400,000 (16.3%) are not in use because they have either dried up or there is construction, siltation, industrial effluent, destruction beyond repair, salinity or other reasons. Half of these non-functional water bodies are ponds, while the rest are tanks and lakes. Encroachment, meanwhile, is not a major concern, as is commonly perceived. A minor 1.6% of enumerated water bodies – 38,496 out of 2.4 million — had been encroached upon.

The Mongabay-India report states that experts have flagged certain concerns, such as no recognition for ecosystem services and inconsistencies in data. They add that the survey is confined to five or six categories of water bodies while excluding rivers, streams, springs, waterfalls, canals, etc. Pointing out that most of the water bodies in the survey were less than 0.5 hectares (about the size of five Olympic-sized swimming pools), experts also said that this makes monitoring of water bodies challenging.

Given that about 85.8% of the water spread area of water bodies is one hectare and below, most of the surveyed water bodies are not eligible for the funds under the scheme which provides central government’s assistance for comprehensive improvement and restoration of water bodies to increase tank storage capacity, groundwater recharge, increased availability of drinking water, improvement in agriculture/horticulture productivity, etc. Ownership pattern is another reason that make it challenging to monitor water bodies, experts said, according to Mongabay-India. A little over a half, 55%, of the surveyed water bodies are found to be under private ownership, whereas 45% are under public ownership. Of the public-owned water bodies, panchayats own 62% and state water resource departments or state irrigation departments own 23%. Out of all privately-owned water bodies, 79% are with individual owners, and 16% are with groups of farmers.

However, as reported by Mongabay-India, many experts did say, though, that it is a good start and want this report to translate into a better action plan for the protection and management of water bodies. They point out that while there are inconsistencies in data collection and interpretation, it is crucial that the government continues such nationwide censuses of a vital resource with modifications. This first edition provides some important findings, which must be translated into an actionable plan, especially in rejuvenating water bodies.

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