India's New Five-Year Plan Proposes Audits, Corporate Water Disclosure

NEW DELHI, India

India's draft 12th Five-Year Plan, released last week, includes a set of measures to improve water use efficiency in industrial activities. The proposed measures include regular water audits, mandatory corporate disclosure of water usage and higher charges for water use and incentives for conservation.

The proposals are aimed at bringing down the overall water footprint of Indian industries, as conflicts among competing water users grow.

The Planning Commission, India's main planning body, released the draft plan for 2012-17 on December 27. The commission is also developing benchmarks for specific water use in different industries, and said it would ensure they are applied as part of permits for industrial projects.

The federal government wants regular and comprehensive water audits for industrial users, and also wants companies to provide details of their overall water footprint in theit annual reports.

The water audits proposed as part of the plan will consider both quantity and quality. The starting point will be large units in water-intensive industries such as paper and pulp, textiles, food, leather (tanning), metal (surface treatment), chemical/ pharmaceutical, oil and gas and mining, according to the plan document.

The Planning Commission expects industrial users to reduce freshwater consumption by adopting water-efficient technologies and processes. It encourages water reuse and wastewater recycling for use in secondary activities. Some of these measures will be voluntary, but the government is also looking to make some of them mandatory.

The new five-year plan also calls for a re-examination of charges for water use and incentives for water conservation. Currently, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act of 1977 is the only instrument to impose a fee for wastewater discharge from industrial units.

This fee is based on the total amount discharged from the industry and is used to augment the resources of the Central and State Pollution Boards. However, the charges imposed through the Water Cess are not enough of a disincentive for industries to reduce their water footprint, the Planning Commission said.

"It is important to examine this act and other provisions and options to increase the charges imposed on water use and effluents substantially. This is particularly important where industries use groundwater and do not pay municipalities, water utilities or even irrigation departments for water use,” the draft plan said. “The importance of water pricing as an instrument for change is critical and must be actively used to incentivize industry.”

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