The Green Revolution has enabled India to become a food surplus country from a food deficient country. On the other hand, this development has increased the burden on the groundwater resources of the country.
According to NITI Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index, 21 Indian cities, including Delhi, Chennai and Bengaluru, will run out of groundwater sooner rather than later. It also noted that not only there is a quantitative crunch but 70% of India’s water resources are contaminated.
Groundwater Depletion in India
India is the world’s largest user of groundwater. In fact, groundwater contributes to more than 60% of the country’s irrigation resources. This over-extraction of groundwater is non-renewable since recharge rates are less than extraction rates and replenishing this resource can take thousands of years. Moreover, as climate change alters the monsoon, the large stresses on India’s groundwater resources may increase. NITI Aayog has said that the over-exploitation of the resource has caused “the worst water crisis” in India’s history.
Atal Bhujal Yojana
In order to tackle the groundwater crisis, the government has constituted an integrated ministry called Jal Shakti Ministry which has recently launched Atal Bhujal Yojana. The Atal Bhujal Yojana is a World Bank-funded, central sector scheme aimed at improving groundwater management and restoring the health of the country’s aquifers.
The scheme seeks to strengthen the “institutional framework of administering groundwater resources and aims to bring about behavioural changes at the community level for sustainable groundwater resource management”. It will be implemented in seven states — Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh which are over-exploited and water-stressed areas of the country.
The Atal Bhujal Yojana seeks to revive village-level Water User Associations (WUAs). The scheme will strengthen the financial state of the WUAs, including allowing these bodies to retain a significant portion of irrigation fees.
While the Atal Bhujal Yojana is a positive step towards groundwater management, it is not enough. In addition to this, it is important for the government to not overlook the demands of farmers for the irrigation water. In fact, ways must be found to balance these demands while working towards the revival of the country’s aquifers. In order to achieve this, a solution tried out in parts of Punjab can be employed, which involved a gradual reduction in subsidies and offering cash compensation to farmers for every unit of electricity they save. States can also draw inspiration from community water management which is followed in Andhra Pradesh which has already shown how aquifer management and sharing of borewells can ensure equitable distribution of water.
Other than this, the government should promote alternatives to water-intensive crops. For example, Maize requires only one-third of water than paddy. The FMCG industry can participate in this by coming up with more products that use crops requiring less water, as their raw material.