The latest edition of the ‘National Compilation on Dynamic Ground Water Resources of India, 2022’ was released recently. While the stage of groundwater extraction nationally declined from 63% to 60% between 2017 & 2022, the situation is dire in a few states with the extraction crossing 120%.
‘Water is the driving force of all nature’, said Leonardo Da Vinci. In fact, we are all bodies of water. More than 60% of our bodies are made up of water. Water is the key to the survival of human life.
As the population of the world continues to explode, and as the requirement for a food system grows, the demand for water is expected to outstrip the supply. This puts immense pressure on the existing water resources in the world. Charles Fishman, in his book, ‘The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water’ notes that, ‘we don’t have a good language for talking about water, we don’t have a politics of water, or an economics of water.” This point holds true because water is often viewed as free, and a gift of nature. So, there is misuse, wastage, and defiling around it, until we reach a point of no return.
Even among the major sources of water, groundwater is less talked about, perhaps because of its invisibility to the naked eye. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) describes groundwater as the ‘invisible ingredient in our food’. In fact, the theme for World Water Day 2022 is ‘Groundwater: Making the invisible visible’.
In this context, we look at the assessment of groundwater resources in India. The latest edition of the ‘National Compilation on Dynamic Ground Water Resources of India, 2022’ had been released recently. This story looks at what it entails about the state of groundwater resources in India.
Assessment of Ground Water Resources in India
It is colloquially said that ‘what gets out of sight, gets out of mind’. The same is the case with groundwater, which is invisible. Nearly half of the freshwater supplies for the world are catered by Groundwater, yet the mismanagement of groundwater is rarely spoken about. For a country that is heavily dependent on agriculture like India, groundwater mismanagement is a concern. In certain regions of India, groundwater is being extracted at a rate higher than its annual replenishment due to the country’s growing water needs. A realistic and accurate evaluation of these resources aids in developing plans for the scientific management of groundwater resources.
The Ground Water Resource Assessment is jointly carried out by the Central Water Board and respective State/UT water departments. The outcomes of the assessments are principally summarised in terms of resource availability, utilisation, and classification of assessment units.
Earlier, such joint exercises were undertaken in 1980, 1995, 2004, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2017, and 2020. However, prior to the year 2017, assessments were conducted using the Ground Water Estimation Committee (GEC) 97 Methodology. Starting in 2017, assessments are based on the standards and criteria of the GEC 2015 Methodology. One must exercise caution in comparing the trends as there is a change in the assessment methodology.
State of Ground Water Resources in India
As noted earlier, the assessment provides details on resource availability and utilization. Below are a few key parameters that are assessed.
Total Annual Ground Water Recharge is defined as the sum of the recharge/accumulations during monsoons as well as non-monsoon seasons. This is computed for each sub-unit in the assessment units of the survey.
The Annual Extractable Ground Water Resource is calculated by deducing the Total Annual Natural Discharge from the Total Annual Ground Water Recharge.
The Annual Ground Water Extraction is computed by adding the groundwater extraction for irrigation, domestic purposes, and industrial uses.
The Stage of Ground Water Extraction is calculated as below.
The annual groundwater recharge available in India increased from 433 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2004 to 447 bcm in 2013, while the annual extractable groundwater resource increased from 399 bcm to 411 bcm in 2013. Complementing this rise is the annual groundwater extraction, which rose from 231 bcm in 2004 to 253 bcm in 2013. The stage of groundwater extraction rose from 58% to 62% during the same period.
From 2017 to 2022, the annual groundwater recharge available in India grew from 432 bcm to 438 bcm. Similarly, the annual extractable groundwater resource increased slightly from 393 bcm to 398 bcm, while the groundwater extraction annually reduced from 249 bcm to 239 bcm. The stage of groundwater extraction declined from 63% to 60% during the same period.
‘Over-exploited’ units declined from 2017 to 2022
The assessments also contain the details of the situation of each assessment unit based on the level of water availability and utilization. The 2022 report outlines the criteria for the categorization of assessment units as below.
The percentage of ‘safe’ units fell from 71% to 69% from 2004 to 2013, while the percentage of ‘over-exploited’ units rose from 15% to 16% during the same period. However, this trend reversed from 2017, when the percentage of ‘safe’ units rose from 63% in 2017 to 67% in 2022, while the ‘over-exploited’ units fell from 17% to 14% during the same period.
The percentage of semi-critical units fell from 14% to 12% from 2017 to 2022, while the percentage of critical units reduced slightly from 5% to 4% during the same period. The percentage of assessment units categorized as ‘saline’ increased from 0.5% in 2004 to 1.5% in 2013, thereafter which it further rose from 1.5% in 2017 to 2.2% in 2022.
Decline in Groundwater extraction for irrigation
The total groundwater extraction is calculated as the sum of groundwater extraction for irrigation, domestic purposes, and industrial uses. The data from 2004 to 2022 indicates that the percentage share of groundwater extraction for irrigation purposes declined from 92% to 87%, while for industrial and domestic purposes, the share increased from 8% to 13%.
Punjab, Rajasthan, and Haryana register high increase in ground water extraction
The groundwater conditions, availability and utilization scenario are different in different states. The performance of states also differs based on the measures taken by them in the preservation of groundwater. States like Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh have registered an increase in the stage of groundwater extraction, while states like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu have registered a decline in the stage of groundwater extraction. States with higher extraction rates must undertake significant groundwater management techniques before it becomes too late.
Since water is a state subject, the state governments and UTs must enact legislation to regulate and develop groundwater. To help the States and Union Territories pass appropriate laws for the management and control of groundwater development, the Union Government has distributed a Model Bill to them. The bill was first circulated in 1970 and has since been reissued for enactment in 1992, 1996, and 2005. Another draft titled, ‘For the Conservation, Protection, Regulation and Management of Groundwater, 2016’ was circulated by the Ministry of Jal Shakti in 2016. A masterplan was also prepared to artificially recharge the groundwater in India in 2020. But not much progress has been made in these aspects.
There is an urgent need for the adoption of a law that oversees the conservation and regulation aspects of groundwater. Also, governments at all levels must enact a groundwater governance framework that encompasses the rules and guidelines on groundwater usage by different stakeholders. Robust Groundwater policies are the need of the hour.