NITI Aayog describes India’s overexploitation of groundwater as “the worst water crisis in its history".
Groundwater accounts for 63% of all irrigation water and over 80% of the overall domestic water supplies, both in the villages and the cities.
UNESCO’s World Water Development Report states that India is the largest extractor of groundwater in the world. The satellite data between 2002 and 2016 observed that groundwater in northern India is undergoing severe depletion majorly due to irrigation.
21 major cities in India are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020.
Thus, there lie two challenges before India, to regulate the growing demand for water along with replenishing its sources.
What are the causes behind this looming crisis?
- Subsidies on electricity are thought to play a major role in the Indian groundwater crisis. Majority of the underwater pump are unmetered, and the billing is highly subsidised. This flat rate is responsible to a large extent for the inefficient and excessive withdrawal of groundwater.
- Besides, the government encourages the production of water-intensive crops like rice and sugarcane via increased MSP.
- Northern and eastern India emerge as the major hotspot for this crisis. The central and southern regions showed stability due to water policy changes and increased rainfalls.
- A declining rate of replenishment (naturally) is threatening the sustainability of aquifers in the Gangetic region.
- At the same time, groundwater is also threatened by untreated effluent. This primarily results from a dearth of sewage treatment facilities.
- This threat demands utmost attention especially with respect to water intensive industries like thermal power and mining as poor treatment of industrial waste has repercussions throughout India with respect to contamination.
What is the way out?
- Nevertheless, we do have policy options for addressing groundwater depletion. What is lacking is the political will.
- The mad race of urbanisation contributes heavily to groundwater depletion. Urban development boundaries can curtail careless encroachment of sensitive areas.
- Cities should adopt more of rainwater harvesting programs.
- Infrastructure must be improved to efficiently manage the water that is being extracted. Efforts must be made to minimise leakages and thefts.
- Treatment and reuse of wastewater practice must be improved and scaled up. Intensive treatment measures are the need of the hour.
- In addition to all these, conservation awareness campaign and programmes can play a significant role in arresting groundwater loss and reversing it. Embarking on efficient techniques and training farmers on water conservation practices will also help in curbing the crisis.
- It is also important to limit agriculture subsidies on electricity provided by the state government and rationing of power.
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