The national capital is at the very bottom of the list, in a ranking based on tap water quality study by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for the Union Food and Consumer Affairs Ministry.

  • It showed that even in urban areas, which are connected to the piped water network, there is no guarantee that the water is safe for consumption.

About the tests:

  • The BIS standard involves 48 different parameters. Samples are being tested under 28 parameters so far, leaving out parameters related to radioactive substances and free residual chlorine.
  • While it is mandatory for bottled water manufacturers to meet quality standards, the BIS standard is voluntary for the public agencies which supply and distribute piped water.
  • Sustainable Development Goal target 6.1 calls for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water. 
  • India is now a signatory to the 2010 United Nations (UN) declaration of water as a right.


What is BIS?

  • BIS is the National Standard Body of India established under the BIS Act 2016 for the harmonious development of the activities of standardization, marking and quality certification of goods.

Significance of BIS

  • BIS is working towards ‘One Nation, One Standard’ to remove multiplicity, duplicacy of efforts and to bring more clarity among consumers, manufacturers and to facilitate trade.

Bureau of Indian standards (BIS) Act 2016 

  • The Act establishes the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) as the National Standards Body of India. 
  • The Act has enabling provisions for the Government to bring under compulsory certification regime any goods or articles of any scheduled industry, process, system.
  • Enabling provisions have also been made for making hallmarking of precious metal articles mandatory.

Water crisis in India

  • The country has 16 per cent of the world's population and only 4 percent of the world's water resources at its disposal.
  • India ranks 120 among 122 countries on the Water Quality Index released by WaterAid.
  • In the 'Composite Water Management Index' report, the NITI Aayog pointed out that nearly 70 percent of India's water is contaminated.
  • In states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha, the coverage of clean drinking water is less than five per cent.
  • Nearly 600 million Indians faced high to extreme water stress and about 2,00,000 people died every year due to inadequate access to safe water. 
  • Twenty-one cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people, the study noted.
  • Currently, less than 20 per cent of rural households have access to piped water; hand pumps are their main source of potable water.
  • If matters are to continue, there will be a 6% loss in the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2050, the report says. 
  • Deteriorating water quality is stalling economic growth, worsening health conditions, reducing food production, and exacerbating poverty in many countries," says the World Bank’s report, called 'Quality Unknown: The Invisible Water Crisis'

What our Constitution says?

  • Waterfalls under the state list of the Constitution and participation of states is crucial to make the mission of providing clean drinking water a success.
  • Article 51A of the Indian constitution states “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and have compassion for living creatures.”
  • Article 21 of the Indian Constitution assures the citizens of India the right to a healthy environment which includes clean drinking water.

Water management authorities in India:

  • ‘Jal Shakti’ ministry: The new ministry has been formed by merging the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. The new ministry will encompass issues ranging from providing clean drinking water, international and inter-states water disputes, to the Namami Gange project aimed at cleaning Ganga and its tributaries, and sub tributaries.
  • The Central Water Commission (CWC) was established in 1945, is in charge of surface water and creating storage structures such as dams and medium-scale reservoirs.
  • The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has objective of managing groundwater resources. 
  • At the state level: The state legislations are enacted with a single objective of providing and regulating water supply in the state or with a dual objective of water supply in the state and the setting up of corporations or Jal boards for the same. The acts also empowers Jal boards to monitor functioning of local authorities in charge of water supply.

Effects of water contamination: 

Endangers economic growth: When Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) – A World Bank report found that when Biological Oxygen Demand — an index of the degree of organic pollution and a proxy for overall water pollution — crosses a threshold of 8 milligrams per liter, GDP growth in downstream regions drops by 0.83 percentage points, about a third for the mean growth rate of 2.33 percent used in the study.

Diseases: Cholera, Minamata, itai itai, Blue Baby Syndrome, Skeletal, Fluorosis, Black foot disease, Sick building syndrome (SBS) etc.

Reasons behind the water contamination in India

Image result for groundwater contamination the hindu

http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/file/water in india.pdf

Unregulated groundwater extraction and Groundwater contamination

  • India is the third largest exporter of groundwater -- 12 percent of the global total. 
  • Aquifers in as many as 16 States in the country are contaminated by uranium, whose presence in drinking water has been linked to chronic kidney disease. Also uranium doesn’t figure on the list of contaminants monitored under the Bureau of Indian Standards’ drinking water specifications.
  • The main source of this contamination is natural, but groundwater depletion by extensive withdrawal of water for irrigation and nitrite pollution due to the excessive use of nitrogenous fertilisers may be exacerbating the problem, 

Saltwater Intrusion: In India, the coastal aquifers are faced with degrading water quality due to various anthropogenic activities. 

Water pollution: Every day, almost 40 million litres of wastewater enters rivers and other water bodies with only a tiny fraction adequately treated

Faulty Agricultural Practices: It results in agricultural pollution which refers to biotic and abiotic byproducts of farming practices that result in pesticide leaching occurs when pesticides mix with water and move through the soil.

Industrial Pollutants: For example Kanpur tanneries have been releasing toxic wastes in River ganges.

Waste Management (Landfill sites): The plastics waste in landfill sites leaches through the ground contaminating the groundwater.

Mining & Extraction of Resources - eg; CBM, Shale Gas  also pollute the surface and groundwater.

Government initiatives:

Flagship Jal Jeevan Mission, the Centre aims to provide safe piped water to all households by 2024.

National Rural Drinking Water Programme is a centrally sponsored scheme aimed at providing every person in rural India with “adequate, safe water” for drinking, cooking and other domestic basic needs in a “sustainable manner”, according to the ministry of drinking water and sanitation website. 

National Water Policy: The Centre plans to come out with an updated version of the National Water Policy,2012 with key changes in water governance structure and regulatory framework, besides setting up a National Bureau of Water Use Efficiency.

Ministry of drinking water and sanitation’s 2011-2022 strategic plan: one of the goals is that every rural Indian would have access to 70 lpcd within his or her household premises or at a horizontal or vertical distance of not more than 50 m.

Issuance of directions under Section 5 of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to industries and under Section 18(1)(b) of Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974;

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess (Amendment) Bill 2000: According to the Union ministry of environment and forests, the amendment would go a long way in checking groundwater contamination caused by the industry.

National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA) and State Coastal Zone Management Authority (SCZMA) for enforcement and monitoring of the CRZ Notification.

National Water Quality Monitoring Programme (NWQMP):  The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in association with State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) / Pollution Control Committees(PPCs) is monitoring the quality of water bodies at 2500 locations across the country under National Water Quality Monitoring Programme (NWQMP) which indicate that organic pollution is the predominant cause of water pollution.

National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-systems (NPCA) : National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP) and National Wetland Conservation Programme (NWCP) for conservation and management of identified lakes and wetlands in the country which have been merged into an integrated scheme of National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-systems (NPCA) to undertake various conservation activities.

The National Water Mission (NWM), a part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), identifies the threat to water resources in India due to climate change in terms of the expected decline in the glaciers and snow-fields in the Himalayas;

Model Bill for ground water management for the states: Water falls under state list of the Constitution meaning only the state governments can frame a regulatory law. In 2011, the central government published a Model Bill for ground water management for the states.

The composite water management index: The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog has developed the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) to enable effective water management in Indian states.

New National Water Policy: The Union Water Resources Ministry has finalised a committee to draft a new National Water Policy (NWP) chaired by Mihir Shah.

Concerns with policies:

According to the Composite Water Management Index of the Niti Aayog, 75 percent of households do not have drinking water on premise and about 84 per cent rural households do not have piped water access.

  • Water governance is fragmented: Under Indian Constitution, the subject “water” is in the state list. However, the Centre has the mandate to resolve conflicts over use of inter-state rivers,  plan water allocation and provide technical support for large projects in generation of power, irrigation and drinking water. It leads to inconsistent water policy between the Union and states.
  • National Rural Drinking Water Programme : Piped water schemes in rural areas have been dogged by problems of infrastructure maintenance. In most states, the panchayats were not provided with the informational know-how to operate the expensive piped water systems. 
  • Wastage of water: India captures only eight per cent of its annual rainfall - among the lowest in the world.  About 80 per cent of the water reaching households in India are drained out as waste flow through sewage to pollute other water bodies including rivers and also land.
  • Law regulating groundwater: It is a curious case but the Easement Act of 1882 that gives every landowner the right to collect and dispose of groundwater and surface water within his/her own limits is still in operation.
  • The “dry pipe problem” – non availability of water despite the existence of an asset–and especially the seasonality, in that many villages depend on tankers
  • Decreasing water quality due to poor waste management laws
  • Growing financial crunch for development of resources and scarce safe drinking water. 
  • The lack of water availability and poor management practices have also manifested in poor sanitation facilities
  • Loopholes in draft National Water Policy, 2012: Absence of a commitment towards Right to Water. 
  • Lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation can be related to economic, political and social power imbalances; discrimination against certain groups or communities.
  • Population Growth: Considering the projected population growth in 2025, the per capita water availability can further decrease to 1,000 cu m, which would then be termed a 'water scarcity' situation
  • Urban Development: The increasing population means that the urban settlements not only face the challenge of meeting the water requirement but also of adequate sanitation facilities.
  • Water Loss: There are issues of leakage losses, water pricing and metering of water. Lack of proper maintenance of existing infrastructure causes further losses of almost 40 per cent of piped water in urban areas.

Way forward: The management of water resources, accompanied by upgrading the existing water infrastructure, is therefore the way forward. 

Mihir Shah Committee report: How to solve water crisis

The Committee recommended that the CWC and CGWB should be restructured and unified to form a new National Water Commission (NWC).  It reasoned that a unified body will help in the collective management of ground and surface water.  


The NWC will be responsible for water policy, data and governance in the country.  It also recommended creation of following divisions:


Irrigation Reform Division:  

River Rejuvenation Division

Aquifer Mapping and Participatory Ground Water Management Division

Water Security Division

Urban and Industrial Water Division:

Water Quality Division

Water Data Management and Transparency Division:  

Knowledge Management and Capacity Building Division

Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT)

Participatory ground water management

Rejuvenation of rivers:  


  • There is a need to update the National Water Policy of 2012 in the light of new challenges, especially the adverse effects of climate change.
  • The Centre’s approach of naming and shaming through a system of NITI Aayog rankings, may not fetch results. It should be legally binding on agencies to achieve standards and empowering consumers.
  • From Swachh Bharat to Sundar Bharat via Swasth Bharat: Environmental and water management issues need to be incorporated in SBM for sustainable improvements in the long-term.
  • Organic and natural farming techniques including Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) can improve both water use efficiency and soil fertility.
  • Treatment and reuse of wastewater: About 80 per cent of the water that reaches households, leaves as waste and pollutes our waterbodies and environment. 
  • Need to renovate existing infrastructures, such as water treatment plants, water networks and reservoirs. Public-private partnerships can be the way to go, where the public 
  • A rights-based approach to water: Ensuring right to water means that the obligation to guarantee that everyone has access to safe clean water rests with governments.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that an individual requires around 25 litres of water daily for meeting his/her basic hygiene and food needs. 

The rest is used for non-potable purposes like mopping and cleaning. Thus, for economic efficiency and environmental sustainability, water must be treated and supplied according to usage.