Council on Energy, Environment and Water Integrated | International | Independent

National Water Resources Framework Study

Roadmap for Reforms

Martin A. Burton, Rahul Sen, Simon GordonWalker, Arunabha Ghosh
October 2011 | Sustainable Water

Suggested citation: Burton, Martin A., Rahul Sen, Simon GordonWalker, and Arunabha Ghosh. 2011. National Water Resources Framework Study: Roadmaps for Reforms. New Delhi: Council on Energy, Environment and Water.


This study, submitted to the Planning Commission for the 12th Five Year Plan, provides a detailed roadmap for reforming water management in India. Prepared in collaboration with the 2020 Water Resources Group, it covers reforms needed in the areas of water resources (both surface and groundwater), main system irrigation and on-farm irrigation. It defines the problems to be addressed concerning water management. The proposed course for reform is broken down into individual roadmaps for each component. It comprises identification of the problem, a concept and programme for reform and an action plan (with a logical framework) for implementation of the reform. Each roadmap presents reforms that are needed immediately and over the longer term. It offers a step-by-step action plan for each of the roadmaps. Further, it proposes a vision for the future and an associated route to achieve the same.

The roadmaps are part of the National Water Resources Framework Study that covers the full range of India’s water-related issues.

Proposed organisational framework for water resources management in each state

water resources management india

Source: Author's analysis

Key highlights

Roadmap 1: National Water Management Reform Programme

It proposes a national water management reform programme and underscores the importance of a multi-level approach to water management. It covers reforms at the state level for water resources management, main system irrigation management, and on-farm irrigation management

  • There is a need to separate the water resources development and management functions from the service delivery functions and to build capacity in water resources management.
  • There is a dire need to strengthen water resources management in each state as in the irrigation sector currently is a waste of water that could be used more productively elsewhere.
  • Water is being lost in transmission and through unauthorised abstraction. The polluted wastewater from the industrial sector is posing an increasing risk, both to the natural water environment and to the potential for reuse downstream.

The programme includes the following three components:

1. Water resources management

  • The creation of a Water Resources Department (WRD) is important and the main function of the WRD should include collecting and maintaining records of river and stream flows, water abstractions and wastewater disposal into water bodies etc.
  • A Water Resources Act would cover the use, protection and development of water resources to provide guaranteed, adequate and safe water for the population and protection of the environment.
  • The main purpose of water resources management is to create an institutional and organisational framework capable of handling the challenges being faced by India’s water resources in the 21st century.

2. Main system irrigation management

  • The main purpose is to increase agricultural production and water productivity on ID managed irrigation schemes and to quantify and provide justification for investment in maintenance, repair and capital replacement on irrigation systems.
  • This system incorporated the use of modern technologies to support improved irrigation management, including the use of remote sensing for the measurement of crop areas.

3. On-farm irrigation management

  • The main purpose of this management system is to create a functioning and sustainable water users’ associations (WUAs) efficiently and cost-effectively distributing irrigation water and maintaining canal and drainage networks.
  • It is important to give more responsibility to water users by moving from Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) to Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT). Also, it is important to expand this programme to other states.

Roadmap 2: Ground Water Management

It outlines key elements of reform, such as agricultural feeder separation, rationalised power tariffs, more efficient pump sets, participatory management, and strengthened laws and institutions.

Roadmap 3: Water Utility Management Improvement & Reform

It emphasises the principles for water utilities, increased autonomy and accountability, benchmarking combined with performance monitoring, better delegation to the private sector for access to technology, systems and capital, and improved regulatory capacity.

  • The water sector investment requirements during 2012- 2031 (at 2009-10 prices) were estimated to be around INR 320,908 crore in water supply and INR 242,688 crore in sewerage.
  • Water utility management work should be updated in a way that benefits from specific case studies and experience such as the support being given to business planning of water services in Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
  • There is a need to accelerate and consolidate the water utility performance monitoring scheme roll out so that each state achieves benchmarking in all cities and towns.

Roadmap 4: Water Conservation Strategy for Industry

It proposes a detailed classification system for businesses, performance audits, water reclamation strategies, incentives and penalties, and greater public awareness.

  • When implementing water conservation measures, there are several important issues that must be taken into account. The measures required to reduce waste are often of a capital nature, whilst the savings will be reflected in an operating budget.
  • With the help of the relevant state water council or water services provider, businesses will develop a water conservation programme. The water balance analysis and the water audit will provide an indication of the extent of any water conservation problems and possible interventions.

Key Recommendations

  • Form a State Water Council which should comprise of government and non-government organisations, including representatives of water users.
  • Implement the State Water Resources Management Plan under the supervision of the State Water Council.
  • Separate the Irrigation Department into three branches - the Water Resource Branch (WRB), Irrigation Service Branch (ISB) and Irrigation Development Branch (IDB).
  • Strengthen water resources management in universities and training establishments. Funds will be used to support capacity building of academics and development of course curricula.
  • Develop procedures to measure performance and progress of the WUAs as measured against a limited set of performance indicators.
  • Review, revise and apply improved water management procedures, incorporating conjunctive use of surface and ground water.
The study was undertaken based on the Planning Commission's request for detailed roadmaps to outline a phased approach to reforming institutions for managing and governing India's water resources.

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