Can recurring droughts in Maharashtra be offset by participatory groundwater management (PGWM)?

The role of PGWM to deal with droughts in Maharashtra (Source: IWP Flickr photos)
The role of PGWM to deal with droughts in Maharashtra (Source: IWP Flickr photos)

Maharashtra is the fourth state following Karnataka, Chattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh to seek out relief from the Union government thanks to more than 15,000 of its villages across Marathwada and parts of Western Maharashtra reeling under drought in 2015 [1]. Though the Centre has approved an amount of Rs 3050 crore, the task ahead seems challenging. 

This is the second year of drought in Maharashtra, and it has affected almost 34% of the state [2]. Groundwater levels have drastically reduced by 1 metre to as high as 3 metres below average in more than 4000 villages, and there is likely to be an acute shortage of drinking water in 10,615 villages by April 2016 [3].

The socio-political background of the region has further worsened this situation with water guzzling sugarcane plantations still being cultivated in water scarce regions. Only a few villages have successfully tackled drought this year through rainwater harvesting; often, planned or systematic efforts to use groundwater responsibly do not materialise, thus making efforts successful only at some places.

Participatory Groundwater Management (PGWM) becomes an important approach in this context as it looks at groundwater as a common pool resource rather than as a source. 

Groundwater Survey and Development Agency (GSDA) and Arghyam recently organised a meeting to discuss and understand earlier learnings from PGWM efforts, and to explore the possibility of these being incorporated in the long term planning of initiatives such as the Jalayukt Shivar Yojana that aims to handle the groundwater crisis in Maharashtra.

What is different about PGWM?

The main focus of most of the earlier approaches to groundwater management has been to increase supply rather than manage demand, and to look at developing the source rather than managing it as a resource [4]. This perspective often results in the exploitation of sources such as wells and borewells without regulating demand. 

However, to understand groundwater as a resource involves a deeper understanding of aquifers, which can be complex because they are not visible to the naked eye. They need to be imagined based on existing knowledge and information. Thus hydrogeology, which deals with the understanding of groundwater, is not only a science but an art as it focuses on looking beyond the source to understand the resource at the level of the aquifers.

Thus PGWM is a unique perspective that:

  • Identifies aquifers rather than sources as units of analysis for groundwater.
  • Looks at groundwater in aquifers as common pool resources.
  • Uses principles of hydrogeology to understand groundwater.
  • Looks at both groundwater quality and quantity.
  • Contemplates a shift from supply to demand management.
  • Encourages community participation and decision making by the community based on needs.
  • Involves a combination of science based on principles of hydrogeology and local knowledge.
  • Ensures long term participation and interaction /engagement with the community.

PGWM thus involves trying to understand groundwater availability by gaining an understanding of the aquifer characteristics and its regional spread, and understanding, analysing and managing demand with community participation by taking into consideration the economic and social aspects and planning supply augmentation [5].

Success stories from the field

  • Demystifying the science of hydrogeology helped communities efficiently manage their water resources

The villages of Muthalane in Pune, Randullabad in Satara and Pondhe in Purandar taluka suffered from acute water scarcity. The villagers lacked the organisational skills to plan for such situations which affected them year after year. The use of PGWM principles by Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM) brought the villagers together and got them to understand the issues that they were facing by combining simple scientific concepts with local knowledge.

Groundwater management plans based on aquifer mapping were made in the villages. The nature and behaviour of groundwater as a common pool resource was emphasised in the discussions and the villagers were encouraged to map their water resources, understand how much water supply was available from different sources, understand the different uses of water and develop an understanding of the balance between demand and supply.

Once this were clear, implementing systems to ensure that the supply didn’t stop was the third step for which the community was encouraged to conduct year round monitoring of water from sources, choosing the right kind of crops depending on the availability of water and redistributing water use based on supply.

ACWADAM helped combine the local wisdom of villagers like information on the direction of the winds at certain times of the year, levels of moisture in the soil with scientific information to help prepare the villagers better against drought.

This experience showed that the use of groundwater and aquifer based knowledge by demystifying it for the villagers and combining it with local knowledge helped them become aware of the common nature of their water resources and the need for its better management to become water secure. Community participation in the whole process and focus on demand management like changing cropping patterns, protocols for abstraction rather than supply helped the community to manage their water needs efficiently.

It was realised that a number of challenges such as socio political dynamics and economic conditions of the village, environmental, hydrogeological complexities and institutional complexities, energy nexus at the regional level, and lack of legislative and policy backup were factors influencing the process and needed to be acknowledged.

  • Hydrogeology brought the villages together resulting in the formation of an Aquifer Management Committee (Bhujaladharak Samiti)

Grampari started its work in the areas of Panchgani, Maharashtra with a water source--springs--that was not even recognised as a groundwater resource before. Springs have been traditionally used for drinking water and irrigation in a number of villages here. However, despite being an important resource, springs were neglected due to poor maintenance, ecological degradation and activities such as blasting etc. Reviving and rejuvenating them required an understanding of the catchment area that fed the springs as well as where they emerged onto the surface—something that Grampari provided. Community and scientific knowledge was invaluable in understanding the various components of the springshed, which subsequently resulted in their developing management protocols. 

A strong hydrogeology component based on the scientific study of the area with help from ACWADAM was an important contributor in mapping the springs as well as identifying the common water resources in the villages. Grampari involved people from the local communities to trace the springs in the area and to map them by using information on the hydrogeology of the region. This was the catalyst for the villages to come together and resulted in the formation of a Bhujaladharak Samiti.

  • Groundwater knowledge helped farmers manage water demand and plan crops

Groundwater Survey and Development Agency (GSDA) implemented pilot studies in three areas of Beed, Jalna and Satara districts where PGWM principles were applied. All the three areas were classified as critical from the point of view of groundwater development. A hydrogeological survey was used and the aquifer spread was identified along with surveys that conducted background information on agricultural and irrigation practices in the area. Use of principles in hydrogeology helped the community understand that groundwater was a finite and common resource that needed to be shared based on principles of equity.

The community decided to change their agricultural practices based on this knowledge, shifting the crop pattern from sugarcane cultivation to low water consuming crops. Other practices included changing the spacing for cotton cultivation, and increasing the area under spring and drip irrigation. Thus, demand management efforts brought about change in the situation as they realised that sugarcane plantation was the culprit. Social pressure was brought about at the village level to reduce sugarcane cultivation in the area through the formation of the Bhujal Vyavasthapan Sangh.

What was common in all the three experiences was that a good knowledge of hydrogeology helped the community to come together and manage their water needs through community participation.

Challenges encountered in the implementation of PGWM

  • The need for trained manpower with social skills to interact with the community while implementing participatory processes.
  • The challenges faced in upscaling these efforts to make recommendations at the policy level.
  • The experiences shared by the Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy (IRAP) and Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas (CTARA) – IIT on the implementation of the Jalayukt Shivar Yojana identified the challenges presented due to lack of accurate data and identified the need:
    • to develop a robust methodology to assess groundwater availability and predict droughts, and improve information levels through real time monitoring of rainfall and groundwater levels; and
    • the need for better quality and transparency in data.

What can be done to further expand the scope of PGWM while also involving government and civil society organisations?

  • Robust data and information management systems to plan for future water security: Better access to already available data, improvement in the quality of already existing data along with incorporating a basic understanding of hydrogeology in the initiatives undertaken in the area was identified. Real time monitoring of rainfall and groundwater levels through the mapping of observation wells and data from rain gauge stations through web based programmes was proposed to better predict droughts.
  • Data generation, developing data sharing platforms to predict future water security: The need for more engagement with existing and new data that would help predict future water scarcity on an ongoing basis such as the real time monitoring of data was proposed. The need and possibility of upscaling the data from the micro to the macro level was also contemplated.
  • Training modules/workshops that focus on all aspects of PGWM: The need for training of technical personnel in social skills and expertise to interact at the community level while dealing with participatory processes in groundwater management was identified.
  • Skilled human resources for engagement with groundwater related initiatives: Exploring possibilities for involving skilled human resources in PGWM initiatives through devising creative and new modes of engagement and job generation efforts was proposed.
  • Knowledge/resource centres on groundwater: The need for expanding the concept of PGWM be developing knowledge hubs or resource centres across the state was contemplated. The need for including basic training on groundwater in the curriculum in academic institutions was also proposed.
  • Sharing PGWM experiences at the policy level: Thematic workshops on groundwater, springs and water security related aspects could be conducted. The key themes that had direct relevance with water security and required immediate attention were also identified as agriculture, MGNREGAS, aquifer mapping, PMKSY etc
  • Involve and engage with other organisations: Engaging with other organisations and institutions that could help in mainstreaming PGWM principles in their initiatives was also proposed.
  • Groundwater legislation for protection of existing and new sources: The need and relevance of introducing groundwater legislation to protect the already existing sources and including new sources such as springs was identified.
  • Understanding the connect between groundwater and sanitation: The need to focus on groundwater quality besides quantity and the relevance of understanding the hydrogeology of the region to determine levels of groundwater contamination was identified. More research and evidence on the health risks or health effects of groundwater contamination due to metals and chemicals such as arsenic, fluoride, nitrates was needed so that appropriate mitigation efforts could be devised.


1.    Business Standard (2015) Six states asked for drought relief report. Downloaded from the site on 22nd November 2015.

2.    Priyanka Kakodkar (2015) Maharashtra declares drought in 14,708 villages. Downwloaded from the site: on 13 December 2015
3.    Indian Express (2015) Maharashtra seeks Rs 4,002 cr from Centre as drought relief. Downloaded from the site: on 22nd November 2015
4.    Arghyam (2015) Participatory groundwater management: A collective effort towards addressing India’s water security
5.    Derived from ACWADAM presentation by Dr Himanshu Kulkarni during the meeting.