Skip to main content

Surface irrigation won't improve 'dramatic' groundwater depletion in North India

By BN Navalawala* 

Thousands of years old, our vedic scriptures such as Vedas, Upvedas and Purans make special mention, extensively and frequently, about water as one of the five basic elements (पंच तत्त्व) vital for the living world (सजीव सृष्टि), while stating that 'जल ही जीवनम \’.Water is the most essential resource now for major economic and societal headway anywhere in the world.
India occupies 4% of the land but holds 16% of world population, thus water resource -- its spatiotemporal availability and increasing withdrawal with time. Climate change and contamination of water are among the key factors that are responsible for producing additional stress in last couple of decades on water resources.
Groundwater is a critical resource for food security, providing 40% of the world’s irrigation. Millions of farmers depend on groundwater irrigation to help produce 40% of the world’s agricultural production. Post-green revolution in India, overexploitation of groundwater, mainly due to intensive irrigation, has posed serious problems for groundwater management in India. Food grain self-reliance has come largely at the cost of reckless groundwater exploitation, which has resulted in to water insecurity.
Such water crisis is going to be further exacerbated due to growing demand for food grains; which is projected to be 450 million matric tonnes by the year 2050. At the same time, the availability of water for agriculture is likely to go down further (proportionally) as a result of fast increasing use of water by the industry and domestic consumers. As such, this calls for optimizing the efficiency for Water Resources Management for agriculture.
 Overexploitation paves the way for many collateral hazards like, decline of water tables, dwindling yield of wells, seawater ingress in coastal aquifers, rising groundwater pollution etc. As per the latest estimation by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB, 2017) in about 17%, area of the country the annual extraction is more than annual recharge, falling in overexploited category.
 Dramatic regional aquifer depletion is observed, particularly in the northern regions such as Punjab, Haryana and Western UP, where the Green Revolution took root and much of the national grain production comes from.
 If we still continue with recklessness through unplanned and un-sustained extraction of groundwater, the crisis would further aggravate. Groundwater depletion is becoming a global threat to food security, yet the ultimate impacts of depletion on agricultural production and the efficacy of available adaptation strategies remain poorly quantified. Various studies suggest that, given current depletion trends, cropping intensity may decrease by 20% nationwide and by 68% in groundwater-depleted regions.
 Even if surface irrigation delivery is improved as a supply-side adaptation strategy, which is being widely promoted by the Indian government, cropping intensity will decrease, become more vulnerable to inter-annual rainfall variability, and become more spatially uneven. Since, groundwater and canal irrigation are not substitutable, additional adaptation strategies will be necessary to maintain current levels of production in the face of groundwater depletion.
 Climate change is acting as a force multiplier; it is enhancing groundwater's criticality for drought-proofing agriculture and simultaneously multiply the threat to the resource. Extreme events in rainfall reduces the recharge to groundwater since flash floods in place of gradual runoff badly affect recharge.
 Of late, the dialogue on water and the environment has significantly shifted towards ways in which the environment cannot only be conserved but to be managed to meet human needs on sustainable basis and with a focus on working with nature to produce co-benefits for both people and nature. Nature-based (friendly) Solutions for Water has significantly contributed to such dialogue.
 The option of building more surface water reservoirs is increasingly limited mainly due to environmental concerns and rehabilitation issues. The fact is that the most cost-effective and viable sites have already been used. In addition, increasing temperatures lead to increased water loss through evaporation. As part of this shift, groundwater and the subsurface environments that contain it, i.e. aquifers, are increasingly seen as strategic and integral resources for providing water supplies and other natural ecosystem services that support human development and resilience.
BN Navalawala
 Following to population growth, progressively increasing demands for groundwater and climate along with environmental changes have made the current situation more complex. As such, it is now critically important to enhance, manage and sustain services, derived from nature-based infrastructure of aquifers, through managing and optimizing underground water storage to enhance resilience in dry periods or seasons of uncertain and variable climate.
 Deterioration in groundwater quality due to various causes is another serious issue. A contaminated groundwater, even it is available in plenty, cannot be considered as a utilizable resource. The deadly arsenic contamination is increasing day by day and now being reported from 163 districts of 21 states.
 Besides, high salinity, fluoride, nitrate and iron are common water quality issues. Many researchers argue that contamination is rising as the overexploitation of resource is expanding.
Direct links between rights to groundwater and land ownership excludes vast number of landless from direct access to this resource
For protection, conservation and management of ground water resources in the country the Government of India in the Ministry of Water Resources has drafted Model Ground Water (Sustainable Management) Bill, 2016 and circulated to the states/UT’s for implementation with a view to overcome the below listed four main obstacles in achieving sustainable management of this resource:
i. Overbearing power of landowners on access to and control over groundwater leads to failure of regulation in tackling over-exploitation, contamination and protection on a larger scale,
ii. Direct links between rights to ground water and land ownership excludes the vast number of landless people from a direct access to this resource,
iii. Existing groundwater legal regime fails to incorporate many legal developments and Supreme Court pronouncements that have taken place over the past few years, and
iv. Existing groundwater legal regime fails to integrate the fundamental right to water that has been a part of Indian Law for past few decades.
For effective implementation of the Ground Water (SM) Bill 2016, it is critically important to address certain key issues namely:
i. Delinking of land rights from water rights and the possible legal alternatives and likely consequences of such separation,
ii. Right to water to be recognized as a fundamental right under Article (21) of the constitution,
iii. Prioritization of uses with the right to drinking water, being the highest should be recognized under law,
iv. Comprehensive understanding of legal regimes in which environmental and other multiple use values would be required for incorporating in any new legal regime.
Realizing the criticality of groundwater resources, Government of India has also initiated several schemes to address various issues asunder:
  • National Aquifer Mapping Programme is going on for detailed mapping of aquifers since 2012,
  • Atal Bhujal Yojana has been initiated to encourage the stake holders to save groundwater,
  • PMKSY- ground water has been initiated to develop further assured irrigation by extracting untapped groundwater,
  • Jal Jeevan Mission to supply tap (piped) water in all rural households, where groundwater based supply plays a major role,
  • In MGNREGA, the largest poverty alleviation programme in the world, major work components are related to rain water harvesting and artificial recharge. Increased awareness among the various stakeholders and political and administrative determination, through various measures will create significant impact.
---
*Advisor to the Chief Minister of Gujarat; former Water Resources Secretary, Government of India. This is the inaugural speech delivered by BN Navalawala at the virtual national seminar on “Resilience of Groundwater Resources for Accommodating Changing Climate Scenarios”, organized by the Indian chapter of the International Association of Hydrogeologist, Indian National, the largest association of groundwater professionals globally with branches in more than 160 countries

Comments

N k bhandari said…
Very clear thinking and way to sustainable water management strategy. 🙏
Unknown said…
Excellent justice to pros and cons and recommendations are with crystal clarity
Humble appreciation sir,
URPATEL

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

World Bank proved right, Narmada is already a destructive project: Medha Patkar

By Rajiv Shah  Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar has said that the World Bank’s independent review mission, which brought out the Morse Commission report , has been proved right: The Sardar Sarovar dam has not only failed to live up to the loud promises made for irrigating large arid areas of Saurashtra and Kutch in Gujarat, those who were displaced and resettled in Gujarat are getting increasingly restive as many of them are unable to get the promised water for irrigation and some for drinking water too. While 50,000 families have been resettled in three states and 20,000 have received land rights as land or cash, the authorities have not calculated what should be done with 15,000 families, whose houses are acquired for Sardar Sarovar but following changing backwater levels of the Sardar Sarovar dam, they are denied rehabilitation, Patkar tells Counterview in an interview (part1*): *** Q: What is the latest position in your view as far as the Sardar Sarovar dam is concerned?

Upholding labour rights, Nehruvian scientific temper, Rajni Patel opposed Emergency

By Harsh Thakor*  Rajni Patel, who died 40 years ago, whatever his flaws, had one great quality: his human touch to offer selfless service and ability to galvanise or influence human beings from all walks of life. Few people would ever go out of the way to help someone or serve as selflessly without aim of personal gain. Rajni championed Nehruvian secular ideas and scientific temper. As a master in public relations he revealed utmost humility. As a barrister, he never appeared against the trade unions or workers. A Fabien Socialist he opposed liberal capitalism and radical socialism. Unlike most lawyers, he did not succumb to the lure of amassing wealth. Rajni was born in Sirsa, in Gujarat, on the very day Gandhi set foot on Indian soil, on 9th January, 1915. He gained his baptism through one of Gandhi's speeches calling for the boycott of foreign goods, which was the virtual turning point of his life. Rajni toed Gandhi to organise boycott of foreign goods. Rajni was able to cros

Vadodara violence: Fine Arts Faculty alumni raise fingers at Varsity's political appointee

Hasmukh Vaghela with PM Counterview Desk  In a statement, alumni of the Faculty of Fine Arts (FoFA), Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Baroda, Gujarat, referring to the “violence” by right-wing groups for displaying “objectionable” paintings that “hurt religious sentiments” at the one of India’s top fine arts institute May 5, have taken strong exception to “the assault and rustication” of one of the students, and lack of action taken against those who “violated” the institution and committed the act. Floated as an online petition seeking wider support, the FoFA alumni, in their statement, addressed to the vice chancellor, MSU, said, there should be “thorough” investigation in the whole incident and “immediate action” should be taken against syndicate member Hasmukh Vaghela, MSU, who sparked the assault, and “other co-conspirators” for breaching “university code of conduct and unlawful activities committed in broad daylight”. While the alumni statement doesn't say so, Vaghela

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

UK leader cites Indian farmers' struggle one of top global fights against neoliberal order

Counterview Desk  Jeremy Corbyn, member of the UK Parliament, former leader of the UK Labour Party and founder of the  Peace and Justice Project , in his  inaugural speech to the  Progressive International’s  Summit at the End of the World on May 12, 2022, has said, what is happening across globe suggests that "image of apocalypse -- bombs and raids, oil spills and wildfires, disease and contagion -- is a reality for people across the planet." In an adaptation of his speech, distributed by  Globetrotter , Corbyn, however, said, there are fresh examples action, too -- by Indian farmers forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to withdraw three neo-liberal laws;  by workers, communities and activists against the top giant multinational Amazon's "greed and exploitation"; and by Latin American people's struggle to say "no more to the domination by imperialism, the destruction of their communities and the abuse of their environments." Stating that this is n

Why is NIOH-ICMR 'official' making false claims on silicosis?: Health rights NGO

Counterview Desk In a letter to the Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), New Delhi, Dr Jagdish Parikh, trustee, health rights NGO People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), Vadodara, and Jagdish Patel, director, PTRC, have said that the claim being made for the use of biomarker for detection of silicosis raises concern about scientific tenacity of the diagnosis of the deadly occupational disease. The letter also objects to the reported claim by a top health official that it is possible to detect silicosis at the sub-radiological stage. It asks, “What is this subradiological stage of silicosis? We have not heard any such scientific term being used. Again, the report is using a term which is not found in any scientific literature so far. Is this term acceptable by ICMR? Is ICMR thinking of any explanation?” Text : This is with reference to our letter dated November 28, 2021. In our communication we had raised our concern about the scientific tena

Welfare? Govt of India spends just 19% of manual scavengers' rehabilitation budget

By Bharat Dogra*  While the Dalit community has been always known for higher levels of poverty as well as social discrimination, even within the Dalits there is a sub-section known for even worse levels of poverty as well as social discrimination. This is the section which was traditionally involved in manual scavenging. The shocking injustice they have suffered from over the years has been widely recognized leading to a ban on manual scavenging. At the same time there is urgent need for the rehabilitation of those engaged in manual scavenging. Hence a self-employment scheme for the rehabilitation of those engaged in manual scavenging was drawn up. The allocations and the expenditure for this scheme for the last eight years are shown in the Table below: Union Budget for Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of  Manual Scavengers (in Rs crore) By Budget Estimate we mean the original allocation made when the budget is presented. It is clear from this table that the actual expenditure

Dalit Hindi professor intimidated, harassed by saffron brigade: 400 activists, academics

Counterview Desk  Over 400 academics and activists have expressed alarm at the Lucknow University ‘protests’ on May 10 against Dr Ravi Kant, associate professor of Hindi and a Dalit, stating it is nothing but “intimidation and abuse” over his remarks on the online channel Satya Hindi, which were taken out of context and made viral on social media. “We are even more concerned that such an incident should occur within the confines a university campus, where free speech and expression without fear must ideally be the norm. Violence and intimidation over differences of opinion should never occur in a university”, the statement regrets, asking the authorities at the university and the Uttar Pradesh government to assure him and his family “protection from further harassment or intimidation.” Text: We are a group of academics and activists deeply concerned by the public heckling and intimidation of Dr. Ravi Kant, Associate Professor of Hindi and well known Dalit scholar, on the premises of t