Census, Government of India, Stories, Water

Data: Water Bodies Census Indicates That More Than 30% of all Water Bodies in India Are in West Bengal


The Ministry of Jal Shakti recently released the report on the first-ever census of water bodies conducted across the nation, covering more than 24 lakh water bodies. The exercise has been carried out with the objective of developing a national database for all water bodies. 

The Ministry of Jal Shakti recently released the report on the first-ever census of water bodies conducted across the nation, covering more than 24 lakh water bodies. The exercise has been carried out with the objective of developing a national database for all water bodies by including important information on most parameters related to the subject such as size of the water body, usage, status of encroachments, storage capacity, status of filling up of storage, recovery works, and other details. There are two volumes to the census, one which provides all India figures and the second which contains state-wise reports. 

The census was launched under the centrally sponsored scheme, “Irrigation Census” in convergence with the 6th Minor Irrigation Census to meet the objective mentioned earlier. This has been done following the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Water Resources in 2015 and 2016 to make such data available on public domain.  

Water bodies which have a bounded storage have been included in the Census

For this census, water bodies have been defined as ‘all-natural or man-made units bounded on all sides with some or no masonry work used for storing water for irrigation or other purposes like industrial, pisciculture, domestic/drinking, recreation, religious, groundwater recharge, etc.’ 

These water bodies are typical of various types and known by different names such as tanks, reservoirs, ponds and bundhies, among others. A structure where water from ice melt, streams, springs, rain, or drainage of water from residential or other areas is accumulated or water is stored by diversion from a stream, nala or river has also been treated as a water body. 

However, some water bodies have been excluded from the census. These are oceans, lagoons, rivers, springs, waterfalls, etc. which are free-flowing without any bounded storage. Water tanks and temporary water bodies created for household usage, cattle, and factories have also been excluded. 

A traditional methodology was adopted for the census of water bodies by employing paper-based schedules for rural and urban areas. Three schedules, namely, ‘Village Schedule’, ‘Urban Schedule’ and ‘Water Body Schedule’ were canvassed in the census. Additionally, a smartphone was used to capture latitude, longitude, and photographs of water bodies. 

Huge disparity across number of water bodies in urban and rural areas is seen

The Census was conducted in 2017-18 across the country in 33 States/UTs except Daman & Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, and Lakshadweep. A total of 24,24,540 water bodies have been enumerated for the Census, out of which 97.1% (23.5 lakh water bodies) are in rural areas and only 2.9% (69,485) are in urban areas, clearly indicating an overwhelming disparity across regions. Further, 55.2% of water bodies are owned by private entities whereas 44.8% of water bodies are in the domain of public ownership.

According to the data based on the census from Dataful, of the 24.2 lakh water bodies enumerated, nearly 31%, about 7.47 lakh water bodies are in West Bengal. Uttar Pradesh has the second most number of water bodies with 2.45 lakh water bodies accounting for more than 10%. Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Assam have over 1.7 lakh water bodies each. The five states together account for more than 63% of the total. Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu also have more than one lakh water bodies each. About 90.5% of the water bodies are in 13 states. 

6 in 10 water bodies enumerated are Ponds

Over 14.4 lakh water bodies enumerated in the Census are ponds, accounting for 59.5% of the total. Tanks make up 15.7% (3.8 lakhs) and reservoirs constitute 12.1% (2.92 lakh). Water conservation schemes/percolation tanks/check dams constitute over 9.3% (2.26 lakh). Other water bodies make up 2.5%. Only less than 23,000 water bodies were lakes. 

In terms of number of ponds and reservoirs, West Bengal tops the list with 1 in 3 ponds and nearly 96% of the reservoirs. Andhra Pradesh has the highest number of tanks and second most number of water conservation scheme projects or check dams while Maharashtra has the greatest number of such water conservation scheme projects, about 40% of the total. Tamil Nadu has the highest number of lakes as per the census. 

India is among the most water-stressed countries in the world and water availability is projected to drop further

India is among the most water-stressed in the world. It sustains about 18% of the world’s population but has only 4% of its freshwater resources. More than 80% of water in the country is consumed for agriculture while the rest is used for domestic and industrial purposes. The average annual per capita water availability in the years 2001 and 2011 was assessed as 1816 cubic meters and 1545 cubic meters respectively which is projected to fall to 1367 cubic meters in the year 2031. Pollution of the available finite water resources coupled with exploitation is adding to the stress. Further, climate change is also likely to exacerbate the pressure on the country’s water resources while the frequency of occurrence of extreme weather events such as floods, heatwaves, and droughts is on the rise. It is at this time that the Ministry of Jal Shakti has come up with comprehensive data on water bodies in the country with details on encroachment, repairs, irrigation, etc. which gives critical insights into the country’s water resources. 

Report has comprehensive data useful for planning and management of water bodies

The report highlights that there are about 3.56 lakh water bodies in the district of South 24 Parganas located on the southern part of the Ganges Delta in West Bengal, the highest for any district. In fact, the district has more water bodies than any other state and accounts for nearly half of the water bodies in the state of West Bengal. The predominant usage of these water bodies is for pisciculture and only 7.8% are used for domestic consumption. Despite the presence of so many water bodies, the majority of which are ‘in-use’ in the state, the district is faced with severe water scarcity for human consumption. This highlights that the mere presence of many water bodies is not enough, but proper management is also necessary. 

The census is a welcome move by the government and the information provided in the census is critical for effective planning and policymaking to prevent pollution & exploitation, and to encourage judicious use, conservation, and restoration of these water bodies.

This story is the first in a series of stories based on the Census report on Water Bodies. The subsequent stories will cover state-level data in greater detail. 

Featured Image: Water Bodies Census


About Author

A bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in social science, she is driven by ardent desire to work with this unique combination to create her own path instead of following the herd. Having served a stint as the college union chairperson, she is a strategist who is also passionate about nature conservation, art and loves solving Sudoku.

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