National Water Policy

by | Dec 27, 2023

National Water Policy

Water policy in India denotes a structured framework regulating water resource management, distribution, and conservation. Introduced post-independence, it aimed to address pressing water-related challenges. 

Initially, the focus was on ensuring water availability for agriculture and domestic needs. Major reforms evolved to encompass broader concerns, including environmental sustainability and equitable distribution.

Modern India’s water consensus gradually developed, emphasizing structured governance in resource management. Ancient India had advanced water management practices. These practices were showcased through sophisticated irrigation systems. One example is the elaborate canal networks of the Indus Valley Civilization.

India’s approach to managing, conserving, and distributing water resources is guided by various policies. These policies are based on ancient wisdom and contemporary needs. 

Water Policies in Modern India

India is one of the highly populated countries having over 1.3 billion inhabitants and it experiences severe water stress. Eighteen percent of the world’s population lives in India. However, India has only 4% of the world’s water resources. This makes it one of the most water-stressed countries globally.

Major River Systems and Water Resources

There are 12 major river systems that India relies on. The water is mostly used for agriculture (85%), domestic use (8%), and industry (7%).

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In addition, the country is almost wholly dependent upon monsoons which increases a severe water crisis in the nation.

Water Governance and Policy:

Sustainable development in India is associated with water governance. The government has been very active in dealing with these water problems. Different governance structures have also been put in place.

The National Water Policy intends to develop and manage water resources. Therefore, it sets out guidelines for this purpose in India.

Some of the key policies and initiatives include:

1. Atal Bhujal Yojana:

The world’s largest groundwater management program is community-led. It helps villagers understand their water availability and usage patterns.

2. Groundwater Conservation:

The World Bank is addressing groundwater depletion in India. This is a huge issue mainly in the state of Punjab. Highly used tubewell irrigation greatly depletes underground water to save the environment.

3. Water Pollution:

Water pollution is being tackled in India. Water resources in the country are significantly affected by this problem.

4. Modern Sanitation Policies:

India has adopted modern sanitation policies. However, these policies must be implemented properly and optimized as per different requirements.

5. Challenges and Future Outlook

  • There are still major problems with India’s water shortages. Water availability will be stretched by climate change. This will happen because floods and droughts will become more frequent and intense.
  • For the sake of a promising tomorrow, the government has embarked on water conservation and management programs. Modern water policies in India have come a long way.
  • Much more needs to be done in this direction to achieve optimum results. India can also ensure a healthy future for its citizens by conserving groundwater resources. 

National Water Policy of India

The National Water Policy of India was introduced in 1987. It was revised in 2002 and 2012. It seeks to evaluate how far people are in terms of accessing or having water and then outlines various measures that might span over a long period.

This refers to a policy regarding sustainability in water management. It encourages demand-side management and principles of conservation. Therefore, it is important to involve stakeholders.

Key Features of the National Water Policy

1. Conservation, development, and management of water resources:

The policy suggests creating yearly water balances and accounts for the site and basin. it also goes ahead to recommend for development of hydrologic balance for such water systems. 

This section also explains about benchmarking in gauging and evaluation of performance.

2. Annual water balances and accounts:

The policy suggests creating yearly water balances and accounts for the site and basin. it also goes ahead to recommend for development of hydrologic balance for such water systems. 

This section also explains about benchmarking in gauging and evaluation of performance.

3. Equitable distribution of water:

The policy aims to ensure fair water distribution. Additionally, it endeavors to minimize water loss.

Sometimes, these disputes rise to an extent that they need to be settled in courts.

4. Community participation:

The policy promotes community involvement in managing water resources projects. 

Private-sector participation is also allowed through public-private partnerships.

5. Capacity building:

The policy grants funds to states for technology, design, planning, and management.

Implementation and Challenges

The Indian government has launched initiatives to address the water crisis. The National Water Mission is included. Also included are Atal Bhujal Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana. 

These initiatives have the goal of conserving water. They also want to minimize wastage. Moreover, they ensure that the coming generation will have enough water. However, some problems arise when adopting such policies. 

The most difficult factor is a lack of political will. Another issue emanates from a lack of institutional capacity. It is also arduous for policies to perform functionally as regards implementation and control since these obstacles make them almost unmanageable.

Accordingly, the National Water Policy of India presents a basis for the sustainable management of and conservation of water. Lastly, it entails maintaining correct water resources management so as not to deplete them. However, such policies will only succeed when well executed. 

The success of the implementation can only be experienced if every stakeholder works as a team. These stakeholders consist of government departments, municipal governments as well as the private sector.

State Water Policies

The state water policies cater to the specific requirements of a state. They address various important issues that the central water policies may fail to recognise. Let us have a detailed look at some of the key features of state water policies

Key Features of State Water Policies:

1. Regional Adaptation:

State water policies are customized to suit the particular needs, priorities, and challenges faced by each state. 

2. Focused Solutions:

These policies often focus on specific issues in the state. They look for development:

  1. Irrigation infrastructure
  2. Improvement in the conservation of water
  3. Maintenance of groundwater recharge
  4. Upholding local water standards.

3. Community Involvement:

Many state policies focus on community participation by involving local stakeholders such as farmers and local bodies.

4. Legal Framework:

State water policies typically create legal frameworks and regulations for specific regions. They set standards on the use, allocation, and distribution of water amongst various users.

5. Integrated Approach:

Some states promote an integrated approach that combines water management with other sectors like agriculture, urban development, and industry.

Examples of State Water Policies

1. Maharashtra:

The ‘Jalayukta Shivar Abhiyan’ aims to increase groundwater levels by rainwater harvesting.

2. Rajasthan:

The state’s ‘Mukhya Mantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan’ focuses on three main areas. Rainwater harvesting, revival of traditional water bodies, and efficient use of water in agriculture are the three major areas.

3. Karnataka:

The ‘Integrated State Water Plan’ aims to efficiently manage water resources to irrigate and serve different sectors.

4. Tamil Nadu:

The state’s policies focus on efficient irrigation practices. They also prioritize crop diversification. They also participate in ‘kudimaramathu’ initiative that promotes to recharge of groundwater.

Administration of Water in India

The six main acts at the national plus state levels comprise the existing water law structure of India at its center and states. The following national laws apply to water:

  • Entry 17 of List II (State List)
  • Entry 56 of List I (Union List) 
  • Article 262
  • Article 48A and Article 51A (g)
  • Directive Principles of State Policy

The Constitution of India gives a lot of importance to water policies. The provisions for water policies in Entry 17 of List II of our constitution. This mentions water as a state subject. 

Entry 56 of List I declares the central government’s ownership of interstate rivers. Disputes over inter-state rivers come under Article 262. 

Articles 48A and 51A (g) talk about environmental protection and citizens’ duty to conserve resources. 

Water policy is also supported by provisions like Article 39(b) and (c). These provisions are directive principles that outline state and central responsibilities. They aim to ensure fair water distribution and conservation.


The water problem in India continues despite the efforts to solve it. Issues like floods and dry seasons would also fall under climate change problems. 

In addition, there is a need to allocate large funds towards activities that will conserve and keep the water sources sufficient enough to support the growing population in future years.

The national water policy has come a long way in addressing the water issues of the country. Yet, many more steps will be needed to achieve a sustainable state policy. 

If the government ensures proper water governance; protects groundwater; and embraces sustainable agriculture policies, then future generations in India will have enough water supply.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the policies of water in India?

The government of India has launched various policies and initiatives to tackle water problems nationwide:
1. National Water Policy
2. Atal Bhujal Yojana
3. Namami Gange
4. National River Conservation Plan
5. National Water Mission

2. What is the National Water Policy of India 2012?

National Water Policy 2012. This National Water Policy (NWP) is a sectoral document to govern the planning and development of water resources and their optimum utilization. 

3. What is the water Regulation Act in India?

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act was enacted in 1974 to prevent and control water pollution. The Act also aims to maintain and restore the quality of surface and groundwater.

Bhuwan Bhatia

Bhuwan Bhatia

Bhuwan Bhatia, an engineering graduate with a diverse background, has been passionate about entrepreneurship since age 13. Founder of edtech startup Technoshaala, Bhuwan now focuses on leading his innovative water management startup, FLOTAA, in Kanpur to create sustainable solutions.
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