Gurugram water table falls 3 metres in 5 years, extraction at 308%
In five years, from 2014 to 2018, the groundwater table in Gurugram district reduced by two-and-a-half metres, shows data obtained from the agricultural department’s groundwater cell. The figures for Gurugram city are most ominous, with the groundwater table falling by almost three metres in this period. This, experts said, was alarming, but not surprising.
In 2014, the district recorded an average groundwater level of 26.3 metres (below the ground). By 2018, this level had dipped to 28.9 metres across four monitoring blocks of Gurugram, Sohna, Pataudi and Farrukhnagar.
The department of agriculture also found that in 2018 the district overdrew on its groundwater reserves by 226%. Gurugram city alone overdrew its supply by 308%. Neighbouring Faridabad district overdrew by 75%, Palwal by 80% and Mewat by 85%.
Experts and officials all pointed to a singular cause for these heavy losses: a vicious cycle of real estate and population growth.
In 1974, before the city began developing, the water table stood at just 6.6 metres below the ground. “Over 45 years, Gurugram has seen a steady loss of 0.5 metres of groundwater annually,” said district hydrologist VS Lambha, laying the blame squarely on human activity. “Urbanisation, development, industries… these things require water, and they are taking it out of the ground,” he added.
“We have 63 observation wells in these areas, which are used to record average groundwater levels twice a year. Pre-monsoon levels are recorded in June and post-monsoon levels are recorded in October,” Lambha said. In 2018, the post-monsoon level was at a record low of 36.8 metres in Gurugram city, as opposed to 34.1 meters in 2014.
In certain areas such as Baliawas, Chakkarpur, Kasan and Kherki Daula, the rate of depletion was found to be well over 2 metres every year. In Chakkarpur, the water table has already dropped to over 68 metres below ground level. Other sensitive areas include Gurgaon village, where the water table has dropped to more than 40 metres and Wazirabad, where it has fallen to about 48 meters.
“Water is one of the first casualties of development,” said Shashank Shekhar, assistant professor of geology at Delhi University.
“In Gurugram, particularly, realty development and condominiums continue to be a big drain on this natural resource, using both legal and illegal borewells to feed the lifestyle of a growing population,” he said, adding that the situation is particularly bad in Gurugram as it does not have a major source of surface water, such as a river, so one has to extract it from the earth.
Not only does the depleting groundwater level threaten the water security of residents in the national capital region (NCR), it also has adverse ecological, and thus economical, impact.
“Soil moisture is lost, so it becomes loose and susceptible to erosion, leading to desertification,” Shekhar said, adding that this fallow land threatens agricultural productivity.
“Loose topsoil gets carried away by wind, leading to air pollution. Loss of water also takes away the natural cushioning of the soil, making buildings prone to collapse in case of earthquakes. The whole system works in totality. Loss of water has ramifications in all spheres of life,” he said.
Rapid urbanisation, as Gurugram has witnessed, also leads to more concretisation of the earth’s surface, thereby reducing the capacity of rainwater to percolate into the ground. “Not only are we overexploiting what exists, we have also concretised all our effective recharge zones, such as Badshahpur drain, Ghata jheel bed and the Nathupur drain,” said city-based activist Vaishali Rana Chandra.
In certain areas such as Gwal Pahari, which do not have canal water supply, residents are solely reliant on groundwater. Chandra estimated that a single condominium in Gwal Pahari, with about 5,000 residents, extracts about 3,85,000 litres water every day.
“Though the Badshahpur drain has been concretised, it had to be done for safety reasons. The lost recharge capacity can be mitigated by restoring other water bodies and creating rainwater harvesting pits,” GMDA chief engineer Lalit Arora said.
Lambha, also pointed out another reason for depletion of natural water reserves. A major source of recharge, he said, was the Sabi river which enters Haryana from Rajasthan during the monsoon, and passes through Farukhnagar and Pataudi, which are important recharge zones and affect the health of the entire water table.
“Due to construction of large dams in Rajasthan, the river barely carries water anymore,” he said. Moreover, agricultural communities living along its course have switched to growing rice (a more profitable crop) instead of wheat and barley, leading to more exploitation of water, he explained.
In 2013, Gurugram was labelled a ‘dark zone’ by the Central Ground Water Authority, prompting the district administration to create a vigilance team of 22 people, who sealed 1,040 illegal borewells. However, according to a 2011 survey by the Centre for Science and Energy, there are at least 30,000 borewells in city.
Activist Sarvadaman Oberoi, who has closely followed the issue of water security in Gurugram, estimates that as many as eight new borewells are dug in the city every day.
While Gurugram deputy commissioner Amit Khatri said various authorities, such as GMDA, MCG and others, were working in individual capacities to tackle the issue, he accepted that “inter-departmental co-ordination between them can be improved”.
“We have not achieved our objective of stabilising the groundwater levels. In the coming months, we will be setting up a body to ensure seamless communication and better co-ordination between separate agencies,” he said.