India’s groundwater challenge and the way forward - Economic and Political Weekly

This paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly highlights the present groundwater situation in the country

It warns that groundwater quantity as well as quality are the two major problems that the country has been facing.

The rate of withdrawal of groundwater has reached “unsafe” levels in 31% of the districts, covering 33% of the land area and 35% of the population. The situation has dramatically worsened within a short span of nine years, between the assessments done in 1995 and 2004.

Taking the quantitative and qualitative aspects together, data indicates that a total of 347 districts (59% of all districts in India) are vulnerable in terms of safe drinking water in India. This is a matter of serious concern, requiring a new approach.

The paper outlines a new approach to groundwater based on an aquifer management framework. The paper argues that groundwater is an open-access, common pool resource. Hence, protection of the resource is not possible unless the users agree to cooperate and manage the resource themselves in a sustainable manner. Forging major partnerships between government departments, local self government, people’s institutions and the civil society organisations holds the key to initiating scaled approaches to groundwater management.

The paper makes the following suggestions for a fresh approach to addressing the groundwater challenge in India:

  • A review of the current methodology of assessment of groundwater resources, bringing in an aquifer basis to the assessment. 
  • Comprehensive mapping of aquifers and monitoring groundwater quality at appropriate scales in the various hydrogeologic settings described in this paper.
  • Developing typologies of groundwater resources in India as the basis for a national level groundwater management programme.
  • Prioritisation of domestic water security within a strategy to implement the groundwater management programme above. 
  • Setting up a robust and transparent groundwater data collection and sharing mechanisms, mainly as decision support tools in programme implementation and monitoring.

The paper can be downloaded from below:




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