23 Mar 2017 17:33 IST

We need a rain tax to ensure water supply

It will help change habits and buildings will become more eco-friendly

This morning, I read an inspiring story of AR Shivakumar, an engineer in Bengaluru who has been harvesting rainwater for more than 20 years. Even as he built his house, Shivakumar put in place a system that saved and conserved rainwater.

Within a year, the groundwater table around his house rose to 40ft from 200ft. He and his family are now completely self-sufficient in terms of their water requirement, which is about 500 litres a day for the family of four.

Over the years, Shivakumar shared his expertise with fellow citizens of the IT capital, other cities of the country, and even overseas. He has also been presented with awards for his indigenous methods of conserving this precious resource.

Individuals like him should be widely honoured, and his learning should be shared to make the most of the hype around World Water Day, which was celebrated on March 22. And much like other commemorative days, the issue faces the danger of being discussed only for a day and forgotten for the next 365 days.

We can longer afford that. And there are few Shivakumars in India today, despite the growing shortage of water.

Ground reality

Last summer, 330 districts in the country’s 13 States faced shortage of potable water. It could get worse this summer. As of now, the southern part of the country is the worst hit. A business newspaper report said that live reservoirs in the region were only 20 per cent full of the total capacity, compared with 54 in central and western region, 63 per cent in the east and 29 per cent in the northern region.

It doesn’t need a genius to understand that only rainwater harvesting can save us from the dread of dry days. But surprisingly, few seem to be listening.

It is not that the governments are not doing much. Thirty one of the 29 states and seven union territories, have some or the other kind of legislation that mandates and incentivises government or residential buildings to go in for rainwater harvesting. But nothing much has come out of these as there is little monitoring, and implementation, and maintenance of systems has been poor.

Is it enough?

Take Kerala for instance. Though the State law provides for harvesting rainwater, there has been little success, except for in Thrissur. The Mazhapolima scheme, which helps in recharging the wells by channelling rainwater, has benefited more than 20,000 families in the district. Now, after two failed monsoons last year, the State has taken steps to implement the programme in the rest of the districts.

But is incentivising and giving tax breaks enough to ensure that people start harvesting precious water that otherwise runs off into the sewers? Perhaps not.

Paying for wastage

What if citizens are taxed for the amount of rain water that runs off from their roofs and then gets wasted through the sewers, putting pressure on the infrastructure?

Germany has one such rain tax. According to it, taxes are collected for the amount of impervious surface a house or a building has. Such surfaces prevent rainwater from percolating into the soil and recharging the groundwater. At the same time, people can get reduction by converting these water-resistant surfaces into porous ones.

Nothing gets us as riled as an additional tax, and that might be just the shock we need to shake people into realising the gravity of the situation. The tax will not just alter construction style, which was tilting towards more concrete forms, but will also drill down the importance of saving water.

Just pause for a moment and think about the construction of the apartment, villa or wherever you live. Most of the ground around the house, or within the colony is now laid in concrete, leaving little space for the water to seep into the soil. And most of the rainwater now flows into the sewers.

Rain tax will be an unpopular step, but only initially. Once people start getting assured supply of water, there will be more appreciation. Desperate times call for desperate measures.