India’s neglected groundwater crisis
Mains Paper: 3 | Environment
Prelims level: Water Crisis
Mains level: Issues related to groundwater conservation methods
India’s over-exploitation of groundwater is
contributing to as stated by NITI Aayog “the worst water crisis in its
Groundwater is one of the most important water sources
in India accounting for 63% of all irrigation water and over 80% of the
rural and urban domestic water supplies.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Water Development Report states that
India is the largest extractor of groundwater in the world.
Fifty-four percent of India’s groundwater wells have
declined over the past seven years, and 21 major cities are expected to run
out of groundwater by 2020.
Thus, India faces a dual challenge: to regulate the
growing demand for groundwater while replenishing its sources.
Factors responsible for ground water crisis
Subsidies on electricity are thought to play a central
role in the Indian groundwater crisis.
The vast majority of groundwater pumps are unmetered,
and if charged, are billed at a flat, non-volumetric, and highly subsidized
This flat rate is responsible, at least in part, for
inefficient usage and excessive withdrawal of groundwater.
The government encourages farmers to produce
water-intensive crops like rice and sugarcane through increased minimum
support prices (MSP).
MSP has led to assured incomes, it has also led to
groundwater depletion, income inequality and unsustainable agriculture.
NITI Aayog Composite Water Management Index (CWMI)
report stating that the majority of states have scored less than 50% in the
source augmentation of groundwater resource index .
Challenges for the government
We require policies that promote judicious use of
groundwater. Although there are a number of potential interventions in the
area of groundwater conservation, there are hardly any rigorous evaluations.
In absence of rigorous research, such as randomized
evaluations, which can establish the causal impact of an intervention.
It is a challenge to identify solutions that are
The researchers could draw lessons from existing
solutions, and use them to design interventions that could later be
One of the proposed ways to reduce groundwater
extraction is by reducing electricity subsidies.
Across 370 districts in India found that a reduction
in electricity subsidy was correlated with a decrease in groundwater
On average, a 10% reduction in electricity subsidy
generated a 6.7% decrease in groundwater extraction.
However, reducing electricity subsidies for farmers
could be politically unpopular.
What needs to be done?
One possible way to overcome this challenge is by
limiting the electricity subsidy offered to farmers and compensating them
with a direct cash transfer for every unit they save.
This provides farmers an incentive to use groundwater
judiciously without any additional cost to the government.
Another way of efficiently using groundwater is by
encouraging farmers to adopt micro-irrigation techniques such as drip
irrigation and micro-sprinklers.
According to the CWMI report, adopting
micro-irrigation techniques can save roughly 20% of the groundwater used
annually on irrigation in India.
key challenge is to convince farmers to adopt such
Creating sustainable change would require a bottom-up
approach by empowering the local community to become active participants in
The central government in its 12th five-year plan
proposed a policy of participatory groundwater management (PGM), which
involves a collaborative approach among government departments, researchers,
NGOs and community members.
The plan involves training community workers to carry
out aquifer mapping and implement innovative ways to use groundwater
conservatively with the local community.
The PGM has been implemented in different states,
albeit with some variations, such as the Andhra Pradesh Farmer Managed
Groundwater Systems (APFAMGS) programme in Andhra Pradesh and Pani
Panchayats in Maharashtra .
There is almost no research study evaluating its
While this void is disconcerting, it also presents an
opportunity for researchers and policymakers to design and test different
interventions ranging from awareness campaigns to training programmes that
effectively mobilize and equip the local community to work towards
Groundwater has helped India overcome food shortage in
the 1960s by playing an instrumental role in ushering in the green
The NITI Aayog CWMI report is a timely reminder of the
need for policymakers and researchers to come together and conduct rigourous
evaluations in order to understand what works and what doesn’t work for
Unless we take urgent measures to avert this crisis,
we may find ourselves faced with an environmental catastrophe of our own
Q.1) Which of the following can be a threat to the
biodiversity of a geographical area?
2. Addition of species
4. Global warming
Select the correct answer using the code given below.
(a) 2 and 3 only
(b) 1, 3 and 4 only
(c) 1 and 4 only
(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4
Q.1) Systematic analysis of groundwater conservation methods must be conducted
to forestall the water crisis. Analysing the statement in the context of water
conservation system in India.