New Delhi: Amid growing concerns over the quality and availability of water, the government is giving final shape to a policy that will allow citizens and other stakeholders to access hydrological information at the click of a mouse and also participate in informed decision-making.
The draft Hydro-meteorological Data Dissemination Policy 2013 formulated by the water resources ministry is expected to be given final shape next month and implemented by June.
The policy deals with ground water and surface water data obtained by the Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB). It also deals with classified data relating to cross-boundary rivers such as the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra and delineates the procedure for obtaining such information.
A senior official of the water resources ministry said the comprehensive availability of data will aid researchers in hydrological analysis, assist project developers in their design and planning tasks and enable citizens to know about the quality and quantity of ground water.
"Putting out hydrological information in an easy-to-access format will serve an important public purpose. It will create awareness about water, which is getting increasingly scarce," a senior official, who could not be named as per government rules, told IANS.
He said students and researchers have to struggle for information as it is scattered and is sometimes beyond their reach. "Once the policy comes into force, they will get comprehensive information on the click of a button. Citizens can click on their district in the map and know about the ground water situation and water quality. The policy will also facilitate rational debate and allow for better decision making," the official pointed out.
He said the information will be available on IndiaWRIS (Water Resources Information System) website in a standardized national GIS (Geographic Information System) framework.
"With several states locked in disputes over water, the policy will allow stakeholders to get information on the ground water situation and reservoir storage and enable them to form informed opinion on whether a state is in a position to release surface water or not," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The draft policy has classified the hydro-meteorological data into three regions, given the sensitivities attached to information relating to cross-boundary rivers.
Region-I includes the Indus basin and other rivers and their tributaries discharging into Pakistan. Region-II includes the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin and other rivers and their tributaries discharging into Bangladesh. Region-III includes the remaining Indian rivers and their tributaries.
The policy states that data of Region-I and II is classified, while that of Region-III is unclassified.
It also classifies users into three categories: Indian commercial users, Indian non-commercial users and foreign users.
The draft policy states that classified data will be released for specific purposes only and will be non-transferable. The request for classified data needs to be accompanied by a secrecy undertaking.
It also notes that a representative of the external affairs ministry will be invited to meetings of the Classified Data Committee if requests for such data are received from foreign agencies.
Indian non-commercial users will be supplied classified data free of cost, except the cost of printing and photocopying, as in the case of RTI (Right To Information) queries.
Indian commercial and foreign users will be supplied classified data on payment of Rs 75,000 per site per annum.
The policy states that unclassified data not on the website can be obtained free from the CWC without any secrecy undertaking.
The CWC and the CGWB will be the implementing agencies for the new policy.
The CWC compiles data on parameters such as river water level, river discharge, sediment flow and water quality. It also observers selected meteorological parameters including rainfall, humidity, solar radiation, maximum-minimum temperature and wind velocity.
The CGWB has around 15,600 observation wells in the country that collect data about water level and water quality. The board categorises blocks as safe, semi-critical, critical, over-exploited and saline.
The hydro-meteorological data dissemination policy flows from the National Water Policy 2012, which states that all hydrological data, other than those classified on national security considerations, should be in the public domain.
The official said it was vital to create awareness as India is "water-stressed" with per capita availability estimated at 1,545 cubic metres. According to a global benchmark, sub-1,700 cubic metres per capita availability makes a country "water stressed".
"Several parts of the country also face a problem of depletion of ground water and its contamination through fluoride, arsenic, iron, nitrate and heavy metals, apart from salinity. High concentration of pollutants in ground water can cause severe health problems," the official said.
The official said that 85 percent of of rural water supply in the country depends on ground water as the source.
The water resources ministry has invited suggestions from all stakeholders, as also from states, on the draft policy by the end of March.
"The policy will be given final shape by April. Another month or so will be required to place the data on the web in the required format. We will be able to implement the policy from June," the official said.