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Nothing left to tap into

The depletion of groundwater has seriously impacted the drinking water situation in the country. Judicious use and recharge are the only ways to top up our depleting water reserves.

india Updated: Mar 01, 2009 22:02 IST
Hindustan Times

The recent reports on the degradation of the Aravalli range, which borders Delhi — thanks to mining and attendant problems like the depletion of groundwater resources — are symptomatic of what is happening in many parts of India. Almost 50 per cent of India falls in the ‘critical’ bracket when it comes to groundwater depletion. In fact, all those areas that have been mined for years have shown groundwater depletion of 20-30 metres in the last two decades. This is because mining clears an area of its green cover and this ensures that the rainwater runs off without recharging the parched aquifer. Worse, some parts of the country have even started tapping ‘fossil water’, groundwater that has remained in an aquifer for millennia.

This depletion of groundwater has seriously impacted the drinking water situation in the country. According to one estimate, between 2005 and 2007, the drinking water coverage has dropped from 95 per cent to the 1995 level of 77 per cent. Come to think of it, there are 19 million ‘private owners of groundwater’ (and expanding) because of an archaic Indian Easement Act of 1882, which says that the owner of the land is the owner of the resource. From 2002, the government did try to use fresh legislations to control the use of groundwater but even those were not effective. But sadly while on the one hand, it was trying to control overuse, on the other, it opened up large parts of India for mining. A disastrous move, no doubt, because these mineral-rich areas are also home to our forest wealth, our catchment and recharge zones. The mining companies are also doing their destructive bit: instead of filling the mined areas with sand and soil as required by law, in many cases they are simply plastering them over, thus foreclosing any chance of recharge. The social costs of this depletion of water are grave: the rural areas of Hyderabad are up in arms because water from their areas is being diverted to ensure a steady supply in the city areas.

The only solution is finding the political will, a new water governance regime, recharge and reuse and traditional rainwater harvesting. Barmer, the world’s most populated desert town, only gets about two-and-a-half hours of rain in a year but has never been abandoned for want of water. Moral of the story: judicious use and recharge are the only ways out if this mess.