‘Groundwater depletion owing to exceptionally high demand in India’
Excess extraction of groundwater is to blame for the 61% decline in groundwater level in wells in India between 2007 and 2017, according to the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), under the Ministry of Water Resources.
“There needs to be a behavioural change as we do not appreciate the cost of water like we do for a commodity like oil,” said P Nandakumaran, member (scientific), CGWB. “Urban areas are facing a threat with cities such as Chandigarh, Puducherry, Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru etc. all facing shortage due to growing urbanisation.”
The main reasons for the decline recorded by CGWB as part of their study submitted in the Lok Sabha include inadequate rainfall, exceptionally high demand versus limited supply owing to rise in population, urbanisation and rise in industries. “It is currently a race against rising population and managing water resources and the key is to conserve through demand management,” said Nandakumaran.
Nandakumaran said groundwater level across central and southern states were the main cause for concern owing to characteristics of the terrain. “There are limited storage facilities owing to the hard rock terrain, along with the added disadvantage of lack of rainfall, especially in central Indian states.
While the amount of groundwater in north and northwest India, except Rajasthan, is high, the extraction, too, is higher for agriculture, mainly paddy. Eastern and northeastern states are doing well on that front,” he said.
The drop in groundwater levels has enormous socio-economic and ecological implications, said hydrogeologist Himanshu Kulkarni, director, Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM), who has also been part of several central government committees on groundwater conservation.
“There is a need for different strategies to protect our alluvial systems, keeping in mind the over extraction of this resource,” said Kulkarni. “Most of the programmes executed both on the state and central level focus on supply more than the demand, with little effort towards increasing the efficiency of groundwater use. Drinking water security should be the central goal. Policy decisions are needed on multiple fronts to focus on equitable demand for groundwater, its safety and sustainability.”
A 2017 study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) Earth Observatory highlighted that excessive withdrawal of groundwater is now a global issue with aquifers (rock which transmits groundwater) in some parts of the world witnessing greater depletion than others. “India pumped out 245 billion cubic meters of groundwater for irrigation in 2011. This equates to 25% of the total groundwater withdrawn globally that year,” the study said.
A Supreme Court advocate and environment lawyer Sanjay Upadhyay said there was lack of coordination between CGWB and state bodies during issuing clearances. “The communication between such bodies needs to be strengthened, as bore well permissions are issued without looking into the availability. Monitoring the status of aquifer recharge or incentives provided in rural areas is extremely poor. Groundwater laws have always been attached to private property in the past. If we go back to our traditional systems of water harvesting and modify them based on technology, we will never reach a Cape Town scenario,” he said.
Central government schemes such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and Prime Minister Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) and states such Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, through state specific schemes, are helping keep the balance for the demand supply issue, said Nandakumaran.