Insights from Atal Bhujal Yojana in Rajasthan

Learnings from India's Participatory Groundwater Management Programme
Launched in 2019, Atal Bhujal Yojana aims to mainstream community participation and inter-ministerial convergence in groundwater management. (Image: Picryl)
Launched in 2019, Atal Bhujal Yojana aims to mainstream community participation and inter-ministerial convergence in groundwater management. (Image: Picryl)

Groundwater, comprising approximately 99 percent of easily accessible freshwater (United Nations 2022), plays a vital role in meeting the water needs of diverse stakeholders globally, encompassing both rural and urban areas and spanning industrial and irrigation sectors. With climate change impacting the availability of surface water resources, which are more easily accessible, reliance on groundwater has surged.

In India, groundwater has been instrumental in sustaining the nation's economy, preserving its environment, and elevating living standards. However, the recent decades have witnessed a surge in groundwater extraction, with some regions surpassing the annual replenishment rate. This intensified extraction has largely occurred without proper planning and management. Although some efforts were previously made to encourage sustainable groundwater management, the absence of robust statutory regulations for national and state-level agricultural groundwater use has posed governance challenges.

In response to this scenario, the Government of India (GoI) launched the Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABY) in 2019–20, a central sector scheme aimed at halting groundwater level decline and enhancing groundwater resource governance through effective community participation, particularly in over-exploited units (usually blocks with groundwater development exceeding 100 percent).

The scheme, with an outlay of INR 6,000 crore (USD 840 million) and 50 percent funding from the World Bank and the remainder from the GoI as a grant-in-aid, is being implemented in selected water-stressed areas across seven states from 2020–21 until 2024-25, namely Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. The scheme holds potential to contribute to various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This report ‘India's Participatory Groundwater Management Programme: Learnings from the Atal Bhujal Yojana Implementation in Rajasthan’ provides an assessment of the scheme, combining desk review and field visits. It explores the implementation status, identifies key drivers of success (strengths), outlines implementation challenges (weaknesses), highlights opportunities for improvement, and assesses external threats impacting the scheme's sustainability.

This study by Council on Energy, Environment and Water in collaboration with the Ministry of Jal Shakti of the government of India (GoI), assesses Atal Bhujal Yojana, a central sector scheme of India, for the state of Rajasthan, one of the seven Indian states where the scheme is being implemented. Launched in 2019, Atal Bhujal Yojana aims to mainstream community participation and inter-ministerial convergence in groundwater management.

India relies majorly on groundwater for meeting its drinking water and agricultural production demands, leading to its emergence as the largest abstractor of groundwater in the world. However, sustainability is threatened. The invisible and dynamic nature of groundwater, coupled with the anthropological and natural threats, made the need for community participation in the management of this resource crucial.

"It is extremely important for sustainable management of groundwater to look at the resource outside of ministerial siloes, and mainstream community participation. The Atal Bhujal Yojana is a well-formed step in both these directions," says Ekansha Khanduja, the lead author of the report.

Based on desk review and fieldwork in eight out of 16 implementation districts of Rajasthan, the study has captured the perspective of implementers at state, district, and panchayat levels within the groundwater department, line departments, and civil society space and beneficiaries. It aims to gather insights into the knowledge of the various respondents on the scheme and its various components, and the enabling and hindering factors in implementing/ accessing the scheme. These insights are then assimilated to provide a strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat analysis of the scheme; and recommendations to strengthen the implementation.

Additionally, actionable recommendations are presented for enhancing governance and implementation in the next phase, drawing insights from extensive field research conducted in selected districts of Rajasthan. The study, commissioned by the National Program Management Unit (NPMU) of the ABY under the Ministry of Jal Shakti (MoJS), GoI, aims to offer valuable lessons for other countries seeking to implement community-based participatory groundwater management.

Results and findings on Atal Bhujal Yojana implementation in Rajasthan

Institutional strengthening and capacity building: We found that 100 per cent of the village water and sanitation committees (VWSCs) were aware of the objectives of the scheme; more than 94 percent were aware of a rain gauge; more than 88 per cent were aware of a water quality testing kit (WQTK); and more than 64 percent knew what a piezometer was. However, their capacity to use monitoring instruments was low.

The findings related to the Disbursement-Linked Indicators (DLIs) are:

  • DLI 1 – Public disclosure of groundwater data/information and reports: It was found that 88 per cent of the respondents knew what a rain gauge was and that they were present in the gram panchayat (GP). However, data collection in certain GPs is a challenge because of difficulty in accessing the rain gauge. Further, most of the respondents were aware of piezometers, and more than 50 percent knew where they were installed. Also, around 70 percent of the respondents were aware of WQTKs and knew how to use them. Some farmers used the existing information on the groundwater level and its quality monitored for wells near their respective fields and shared this knowledge with fellow farmers. More than 50 percent of line departments think that the additional data can be used for better planning of their respective annual work plans (AWPs).
  • DLI 2 – Preparation of community-led water security plans (WSPs): The second round of verification of DLIs by the Quality Council of India in 2022 led to the approval of about 82 percent of the WSPs received from Rajasthan, because they were deemed adequate if the plans were made by GPs in consultation with the community. All the GPs chosen in this study had WSPs for the financial years (FY) 2021–22 and 2022–23 and were in the process of updating the same for 2023–24. While most of the stakeholders were aware of the AWP, VWSC, and WSP, beneficiaries are gradually developing in-depth knowledge about the WSP. The role of DIPs in ensuring this is crucial.
  • DLI 3 – Public financing of approved WSPs through convergence of ongoing/new schemes: According to the Quality Council of India's sixth round of verification, Rajasthan claimed about INR 10,270 lakh or USD 12.3 million for 725 GPs, and they received INR 7,342 lakh or USD 8.8 million (71.5 percent of the demand) in 2022–23. (1 USD = 83.22 INR as of 26/09/2023).
  • DLI 4 – Adoption of practices for efficient water use: Around 41 percent of VWSC members acknowledged that cropping patterns could change as a result of technological advances, such as the availability of better-quality seeds and adoption of micro-irrigation systems in the groundwater irrigated areas through convergence with other departments such as agriculture. Though, between 2021 and 2023, no major gains were made on crop shifting front, the state is making progress on the adoption of demand-side interventions such as micro-irrigation and other water-saving methods. Based on the Quality Council of India’s sixth round of verification, an area of about 12,256 ha was brought under efficient water use practices, promoted through the ABY; 99 percent of this was through the adoption of drip, sprinkler, and pipeline-based irrigation. The WSPs submitted in March 2023 for 15 surveyed GPs across five districts (except Jaisalmer) proposes to bring about 24,481 ha of additional area under efficient water use by the fiscal year 2024-25.
  • DLI 5 – Improvement in the rate of decline of groundwater levels: The scheme is being implemented in over-exploited blocks where the groundwater resource development exceeds 100 per cent. Therefore, it will take some time before outcomes related to DLI 5 are visible. Nevertheless, the trend of declining groundwater levels during pre-monsoon periods was reversed in some districts. This includes GPs in Kota and Chittorgarh. The former has also witnessed a reversal in the trend of groundwater extraction at the district level, but in the latter, extraction has increased. This indicates that at least in Chittorgarh the ABY is making a positive impact in terms of improving the groundwater situation.


  • Make DIPs more impactful: The DIP tendering process should be outsourced to accredited third-party agencies, similar to the hiring of key DPMU experts through the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) Consultancy Services (NABCONS) or through empanelment of implementation support agencies as under Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM). This change will boost motivation among the DIPs, improve retention rates, streamline human resource (HR) procedures, expedite conflict resolution, foster proactive HR policies, ensure equitable pay for DIP experts across districts, and thereby better implementation of the scheme. Additionally, block-level offices should be established for DIPs to enhance logistics and operational efficiency. Currently, DIPs are stationed at the district level, often far from their organisational offices, resulting in logistical challenges.
  • Include water budgeting in the GP development plan (GPDP): Panchayats have been mandated to formulate an annual GPDP in a participatory manner. This includes work under 36 line departments for subjects included in Article 243G of the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution (Ministry of Panchayati Raj 2023). Seven of the 29 subjects included in this schedule have direct bearings on the state of water resources, including groundwater. An inter-ministerial sub-committee for better coordination on water resources has been formed as an outcome of the first ‘All India Annual State Ministers Conference on Water 2023’. Thus, there is a strong enabling environment to make water budget part of the GPDP which will result in better convergence with other line departments right at the planning phase.
  • Explore providing incentives directly to GPs: Anecdotal evidence from the field suggests that providing incentives to GPs can motivate them to implement projects identified through convergence and, thus, contribute to their success. The ABY guideline has a provision for this if there is a felt need. However, the incentive allotment criteria should consider the stage of groundwater development and the amount of work required for water demand management with community engagement by the GP.
  • Ensure timely release of funds by the line departments and subsidy to beneficiaries: There is low clarity on the criteria followed by the state line departments in allocating funds to their district offices for various interventions. Thus, one of the reasons for the low uptake of interventions under the ABY was delays in the release of subsidies from the respective line departments. Such delays discourage farmers from availing benefits under the ABY as, often, the upfront costs of interventions are high.
  • Strengthen the verification system for ‘proper’ installation of rain gauges: It was observed in some of the GPs that we visited, rain gauges were not placed in the appropriate location. For instance, they were installed in places where they could not be accessed easily. Therefore, the tendering process should strengthen the existing system of verification and reporting of the installation of rain gauges.


Suggested Citation: Khanduja, Ekansha, Kartikey Chaturvedi, and Aditya Vikram Jain. 2023. India's Participatory Groundwater Management Programme: Learnings from the Atal Bhujal Yojana Implementation in Rajasthan. Edited by Nitin Bassi. New Delhi: Council on Energy, Environment and Water.

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