Groundwater Depleted By 61% In Last 10 Years; Central, Southern India Most Impacted
A recent report by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), hinting at an impending water crisis for India, was presented in the Lok Sabha. Indiscriminate consumption of groundwater resources has led to nearly 61 per cent decline in the groundwater levels in India, between 2007 to 2017, the report says.
The CGWB, a department under the Ministry of Water Resources, cited various factors for the problem, such as a burgeoning population leading to a clear demand-supply gap, rapid urbanisation, industrialisation and inadequate rainfall. It also said that the scarcity of groundwater has reached an alarming stage especially in central and southern states of India, owing to the unfavourable terrain of hard rocks and insufficient rainfall.
MakaaniQ presents some facts and updates on government’s efforts to tackle the situation:
India is highly dependent on groundwater
The report stated that while the amount of groundwater is high in the north and northwestern parts of India, barring Rajasthan, the rate of extraction is even higher. India is a country which is heavily dependent on its groundwater reserves for agriculture and irrigation, especially for the cultivation of paddy. In fact, groundwater fulfills more than half of the country’s water supply requirements. Despite this, there has been no proper system in place to harvest the rainwater. Owing to this mismanagement over the years, the crisis has reached epic proportions with serious socio-economic and ecological implications. Water scarcity has already reached a crisis level in metropolises like Bengaluru and Chennai, while cities like Chandigarh, Mumbai and Puducherry are not far behind. In the CGWB report, Punjab was listed as the highest groundwater exploited state in India followed by Rajasthan, Delhi and Haryana.
Himanshu Kulkarni, Founder Trustee and Executive Director of Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM), recently said that India leads when it comes to extracting groundwater globally and accounts for 25 per cent of the global annual total of groundwater extracted, leaving behind the US and China.
Another reason that has set the alarm bells ringing is the poor quality of available groundwater. The mainstay of rural India, the groundwater is also getting contaminated with high metal content like fluoride with high risk of salinity. A latest UNESCO report revealed that the contamination is also due to improper disposal of human excreta caused from open defecation or soak-pits toilets that infect the groundwater aquifers with E-coli bacteria. The per capita usage of groundwater is set to double up by 2050 which could completely dry up the aquifers if the rate of consumption continues unabated.
What are the options before the government?
The awareness on rainwater harvesting has dawned after much damage has been done to the ecosystem. Better late than never, experts are also contemplating strategies for protecting our alluvial systems with a keen eye on over-extraction of water resources. In India, nearly 50 per cent of the rainwater is still left untapped and allowed to flow into the oceans. India is technologically equipped to handle the crisis, but it is the lack of systematic planning and implementation of policies that have posed great challenges in front of the government. Here are some facts:
*The Union Water Resources Ministry came up with new draft rules for the regulation of groundwater resources in October 2017, to keep a check on over-extraction of groundwater. However, some loopholes have led to confusion. For instance, a new water conservation fee is levied based on the quantum of water extracted but there is no upper limit defined for the extraction. Artificial recharge by industry has been discarded. The states will be responsible for the recharge but without any proper blueprint.
*The Standing Committee on Water Resources focuses repair, renovation and restoration of water bodies. It presented its 16th report which highlighted that most of the water bodies in India were encroached upon by municipalities and panchayats.
*The committee recommends the use of latest technology such as e-GEMS (Ground Water Estimation and Management System), e-SWIS (Surfaced Water Information System) and e-WQIS (Water Quality Information System) for efficient management of the resources.
Himanshu Kulkarni further said that most of the state and central level programmes focus on supply more than demand, with little effort on increasing efficiency of groundwater use. He stressed on laying importance on the scarcity of drinking water as the central goal while also emphasising the need for policy decisions on multiple fronts to focus on the equitable demand for groundwater, its safety and sustainability.
*The CGWB has also devised a master plan for artificial recharge to groundwater in India. This also calls for an area-wide recharge plan for underground aquifers for achieving the desired results.