New Delhi: India will have a new water policy by March that will spell out plans to increase the efficiency of water usage, mainly for irrigation of crops, by 20 percent in the next five years, Water Resources Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal has said.

Bansal, who was given the portfolio again in the cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, said he intended to improve the efficiency of surface water use in irrigation as it accounts for 83 percent of the country's water requirement.

“The present efficiency of water use is about 35 percent and we want to take it up to 42 percent in the next five years. This is important for conservation, preservation and augmentation of water,” Bansal told the agency in an interview.

He said the country largely practices flood irrigation and there is need to work on alternatives such as piped and drip irrigation.

Bansal said his ministry was holding consultations with various stakeholders about the new water policy which would be released by March next year. The last national water policy was released in 2002.

'That is the outer limit. We intend to unveil the policy before that,' he said.

Water resource ministry officials said the new policy will look at the challenges of reducing per capita availability of water, deterioration in quality, over-exploitation of ground water resources and lower efficiency of water utilization.

They said the new policy is likely to incorporate provisions relating to rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge and issues related to disaster management.

The officials said the country has already entered a water-stressed condition with per capita availability of water declining from 5,177 cubic metres in 1951 to 1,625 cubic metres in 2010. Per capita water availability of less than 1,700 cubic metres is termed as water stressed condition.

The officials said annual precipitation (average rainfall, snowfall and glacier melt in terms of volume) of about 4,000 billion cubic metres (bcm) was the main water resource for the country.

More than half of annual precipitation was however lost due to factors such as evaporation and availability was about 1,869 bcm, they said, adding even this cannot be fully used due to topographical constraints and hydrological features.

The amount of water available for utilisation was about 1,123 bcm, comprising 690 bcm of surface water and 433 of replenishable ground water.

The officials said the demand for water resources is expected to rise to 1,447 billion cubic metres in 2050 which is about 30 percent higher than the water which can be put to beneficial use at present.

Of this projected demand, around 1,072 bcm will be required for irrigation.

The National Water Mission, which was approved by the cabinet in April this year, has also set a goal of improving water use efficiency by 20 percent.

Concern over inadequate efficiency of water in irrigation has been expressed by both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Vice President Hamid Ansari.

Speaking at the 83rd foundation day function of Indian Council for Agricultural Research earlier this month, the prime minister said irrigation efficiency needs to be raised to 50 percent which could contribute considerably to raising agricultural production.

Ansari had said at a lecture in April this year that improving water use efficiency in irrigation was critical for the country's water management. He said year-wise performance evaluation studies for each large irrigation system should be put in the public domain.

(Agencies)