Groundwater - Nation’s water lifeline suffering multiple crisis – A presentation by Himanshu Thakker

This presentation by Himanshu Thakker, South Asia Network on Dams Rivers and people (SANDRP) deals with key groundwater policy concerns - framework and equity issues, the emerging realities and responses. It begins with a description of the basic characteristics of groundwater and how the resource has become a private property resource by use and legal situation.


This has been followed with a discussion on issues of quality and quantity. The importance of groundwater in India’s water sector is highlighted. The presentation discusses how an increase in overall irrigated area, in spite of decrease in contribution from big dam irrigation projects was possible due to the steep increase in groundwater irrigated areas.

The presentation provides the following agenda for action on three broad fronts –

  • Protection of existing groundwater recharge systems: local water bodies (lakes, tanks, johads, ahars, pynes, kuhls, guhls, tankas, bawdies), wetlands, forests, rivers flowing with clean water
  • Creation of more recharge systems
  • Regulation of groundwater use
    • Community driven regulation is the only option
    • Siting policies for water use activities
    • Water footprint calculations and policies and incentives to reduce water footprint

The steps taken by the government and the various options available with it have been discussed –

  • Government has declared a monopoly for itself in water sector in general: No role for the people, no democracy in water sector;
  • Government cannot exercise monopoly over groundwater due to the nature of decentralised resource that can be used by anyone who owns a piece of land. There are over 17 million groundwater extraction units in India today, growing steeply even now;
  • However, government action and inaction in water sector has huge impacts on groundwater recharge and use;
  • Government has been providing huge incentives for groundwater use in various forms: loans for wells, motors, electricity subsidies, incentivizing cropping patterns, industrial activities and residential uses;
  • There are some success stories in India where people and ecosystems are given priority over everything else. Here the improved decision making through multi-stakeholder planning processes on water services have delivered sustainable solutions rather than tradeoffs;
  • It is possible to cater to the justifiable demands of the people over large areas spanning over several districts, through hundreds of small projects;
  • These projects have much more equitable, sustainable benefits and there could be unexpected spin off benefits, as against unexpected, spin off losses in large projects;
  • These projects can also help in evolution of institutional mechanism for decision making and management;
  • These provide real options for people to earn decent livelihood in sustainable way, without brutalizing them first, without involving toxic, dehumanizing corporate dreams;
  • Organic farming, with support for carbon build up in soil would help in water conservation, soil conservation and also reduce global warming in the process, but there is no support for it;
  • The large stock of created infrastructure and the poor performance of the same also provides an option to achieve better benefits;
  • Techniques like the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) also offer great potential;
  • An important exception though: In all such success stories, demand is not sacrosanct by itself, unlike it is in the market. This is also indicated by the global warming issues. Only justifiable demand can have a place in a just world.

The presentation can be downloaded here -



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