In our country, more than 60 per cent of the irrigation requirements and 85 per cent of drinking water supplies are dependent on groundwater. The situation is aggravating as inadequate municipal water supply in rapidly growing urban areas have forced urban residents to rely increasingly on groundwater.
India is the largest user of groundwater in the world. Presently, it is using an estimated 230 cubic kilometers of groundwater per year. However, the groundwater use was in the range of 10-20 cubic kilometres, before 1950. The country is using over 25 per cent of the total global use of groundwater. India has more than 20 million bore wells in comparison to 0.2 million in USA.
These developments have created an alarming situation. Over 25 per cent of the blocks in the country are categorized as either grey or dark zones where the rate of water extraction is higher than the rate of water recharge. In our country, more than 60 per cent of the irrigation requirements and 85 per cent of drinking water supplies are dependent on groundwater. The situation is aggravating as inadequate municipal water supply in rapidly growing urban areas have forced urban residents to rely increasingly on groundwater. Thus, with unabateduse of groundwater, an increasing number of aquifers are reaching unsustainable levels of exploitation and groundwater has become a critical resource.
According to a report of the World Bank if the present trends of groundwater exploitationcontinues, then in 20 years about 60 per cent of all aquifers in India will be in critical condition. This will have serious implications for the sustainability of agriculture, long-term food security, livelihoods and ultimately the economic growth of the country. Aquifers are depleting in the most populated and economically productive areas. Climate changeis the most worrying factor as it is affecting the temperature and rainfall. Climate change will further strain groundwater resources. Groundwater acts as a buffer against the variability of monsoon rains.
Ground Water Storage
In order to augment the depleting ground water resources, it is essential that the surplusmonsoon runoff that flows into the sea, is conserved and recharged to augment ground water resources. In our country, only 29 per cent rainwater is being put to productive use. Ground water storage that could be feasible has been estimated at 214 billion cubic meters (BCM) of which 160 BCM is considered retrievable. Central Ground Water Board has prepared a conceptual plan for artificial recharge of ground water for the country. Out of total geographical area of 3,28,7263 sq. km. of the country, an area of 4,48,760 sq. km. has been identified suitable for artificial recharge. The total quantity of surplus monsoon runoff to be recharged has been worked out as 36.4 BCM.
The sensitivity of depleting groundwater resources and its far reaching consequences onthe Indian agriculture and livelihood has certainly brought this issue to centre stage of the planners and researchers. The Central and state governments have launched number of schemes to replenish this scared resource. The scheme of watershed development of the Central Government has resulted in better management of rainwater with rise in water table and higher productivity in such areas. But, the flagship programme of the Central Government that is Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA ) is emerging as a major achiever. In this mega scheme, the majorfocus is on water conservation, drought-proofing, minor irrigation works, renovation of traditional water bodies, desilting of tanks, land development, flood control and protection and drainage in waterlogged areas.
In MANREGA, out of the 2.7 million works being undertaken in over 600 districts, nearly 80 per cent are related to water, land and forestry. The recent thrust on creating durable and productive assets through convergence of NREGA works with programmes of agriculture and allied sectors are leading to enhanced yields. The works undertaken
under this scheme have resulted in increasing water table in such areas with significant increase in agriculture productivity in many states especially like Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. With the scope of works under NREGA expanded to include lands of small and marginal farmers, it is possible to significantly enhance the irrigation potential in rainfed
areas and drought-proof small-holder agriculture, leading to sustainable, higher yields. Conservation technologies like stress-tolerant and climate-resilient varieties of seeds, drip irrigation, zero-tillage, raised-bed planting, laser-levelling, Systems of Rice Intensification (SRI ), can build adaptive capacities to cope with increasing water stress, providing “more
crop per drop”. Thus, MGNARE GA has helped in achieving the larger goal of rejuvenation of the livelihood base and thereby strengthening resilience of rural communities.
Rainwater harvesting is of course a focus area for sustainable agricultural production but attention should also be paid for efficient management of the available water resources. Several measures for development and management of water resources are undertaken by the respective State Governments with a view to optimally utilize the available resources which include creation of storages, restoration of water bodies, rain water harvesting,artificial recharge to ground water and adoption of better management practices etc. Storage capacity of about 225 Billion Cubic Metre (BCM) has been created so far.
The total estimated storage capacity of the various projects under construction is about 64BCM. Further, the State Governments have identified various other schemes for investigation and planning and the estimated storage for such schemes is about 108 BCM. The Central Government has implemented a scheme since 2008 in which 4,455 million wells will be dug up for recharging groundwater in 110 blocks of the identified states for the benefit of farmers. The Artificial Recharge of Ground Water through Wells scheme was launched keeping in view the concerns of over exploitation of groundwater resources in the country as well as to ensure sustainable water resource management and irrigation facilities in theaffected rural areas.
About 80 per cent of these groundwater stressed areas- over-exploited, critical and semi-critical areas are located in hard rock areas in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu where rapid decline of groundwater levels have been observed on longterm basis. It is a state sector scheme and will be implemented by the respective state government in association with the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI s), the Central Groundwater Board, NA BAR D and NG OS. The farmer who has dug well in their agricultural land in the identified areas is beneficiary for the scheme. The Artificial Recharge of Ground Water through wells scheme was launched keeping in view the concerns of over exploitation of groundwater resources in the country as well as to ensure sustainable water resource management and irrigation facilities in theaffected areas. The scheme approved for a total cost of Rs. 1,798.71 crores with100 per cent subsidy to marginal and small farmers and 50 per cent subsidy to other farmers. The Central Ground Water Board has prepared a Manual and subsequently a Guide on Artificial Recharge to Ground Water which provide guidelines on investigationtechniques for selection of sites, planning & design of artificial recharge structures, economic evaluation & monitoring of recharge facility. These are of immense use to States/ U.T.s in planning and implementation of recharge schemes for augmentation of ground water invarious parts of the country.
As the issue of groundwater management is larger, it has to be tackled at various levels ofgovernance and communities. The international experience of groundwater management indicates that groundwater is highly regulated in countries like Spain, USA , Mexico and China. In Spain, Water Users Associations are formed at the aquifer level. They are responsible for recharging the aquifer and its sustainable use. Similar laws have been enacted in the USA. China, a country with similar development issues, manages to store five times the water that India does per person. In India, there is an urgent need for legislation and administration of groundwater at the level of state governments. Free power to agriculture sector is also one of the contributing factors for the over use of the groundwater and there is need to withdraw or reduce such benefits. In India, out of 85 million hectare area under cultivation, 60 per cent is rain-fed and this accounts for only 40 per cent of total food production.
China, a country with similar development issues, manages to store five times the water
that India does per person. In India, there is an urgent need for legislation and administration of
groundwater at the level of state governments
Regulatory mechanisms by the State governments are also necessary to check theblatant and unscientific use of this resource. Excess digging of wells should beavoided or restricted in severely affected areas. Permission for digging of wells should be linked with construction of water harvesting structures. In urban areas, harvesting ofrainwater should be made mandatory so that the water stored could be used for other than drinking purposes.
The private sector should be enlisted to improve water management in cities, making drinking water more expensive than recycled water, which can be used for gardening and outdoor use. There is need to give emphasis for conservation of natural resources to meet the challenge of climate change. Rainfed farming and efficient water management withcrop intensification could help achieve increased crop productivity and food security. The next green revolution would emerge from improvement in rain-fed agriculture technology aimed at developing systems with low water requiring crops and breaking the crop-yield barriers.
(The authors are Scientists, Department of Mycology and Plant Pathology, Dr. Y. S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Nauni, Solan-173230, Himachal Pradesh, email : firstname.lastname@example.org)