India’s water resources are disproportionate to its human resources. With 18% of the world’s population, India only has about 4% of the world’s global freshwater resources. Given the climate crisis and environmental degradation that has affected the subcontinent, responsible management and conservation of our water resources are imperative to ensure sustainability to lives and livelihoods across the country.
Since times of colonial administration, the water resource management in the country has been governed by government instituted authorities, boards and task forces. While state actors formulated policies, it is only the impact of these decisions that are experienced by on-ground, grassroots level stakeholders — the common people. Urban and rural populations, those that use water for domestic and agricultural activities, often do not have a say in the development of policies that affect them the most. This has often resulted in the absence of effective communication mechanisms between policy makers and implementers, where the former have not taken into consideration the on-ground realities, challenges and limitations, and the latter fail to understand the rationale behind much of the policies that seem discongruent with their daily lives and practices.
A way to effectively synthesize this incongruence is to formulate water management policies with a participatory and collaborative approach — to have conversations and raise awareness about policies among people that need to implement it and are most affected by it. As a more democratic and egalitarian approach to resource management, the participative approach involves various governmental agencies, organisations and individuals to gain diverse perspectives on a particular issue. Thus, through the course of planning, design, development and management of resources, decisions taken are holistic, effective and sustainable and each of the stakeholders remain accountable to the provisions of the policy that is developed through this approach.
How can this be done? Participative approaches are not easy. It requires effort and effective communication. Some of the steps that can be taken are creating focus groups with different stakeholders for suggestions, opinions and, most importantly, feedback after the implementation of an initiative. The focus groups should also commit to ensure representation from across groups, communities, genders and other identities to ensure equal opportunity and interest. Ensuring the structural changes within government policy making framework to make different levels of decision making more participative is the first step in ensuring a more impactful and community-centric approach to sustainable resource management in India.
Perhaps most significantly, water is a sacred, holy and culturally significant element in the traditional framework of the country. Our rivers are considered to be religious symbols and have ritualistic significance. There is a great possibility within this framework to focus on water resource conservation and protection of our natural resources. Individual efforts can result in significant change, but community approaches to conservation often have more lasting and accountable impacts; having rain water conservation systems in each household (which have already been mandated in some parts of the country) together with environment conscious urban infrastructural design (such as providing for ground-water drainage) can ensure collaborative responsiveness to the water crisis.