India’s Water Stress

  • IASbaba
  • November 2, 2021
  • 0
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  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

India’s Water Stress

In News: According to the composite water management index released by the think tank NITI Aayog in 2019, 21 major cities (including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad) were on the brink of exhausting groundwater resources, affecting about 100 million people.

  • The study also points out that by 2030, the demand for water is projected to be twice the available supply.

Understanding Sources of Water

  • In the rural areas, 80%-90% of the drinking water and 75% of the water used for agriculture is drawn from groundwater sources. 
  • In urban areas, 50%-60% of the water supply is drawn from groundwater sources, whereas the remaining is sourced from surface water resources such as rivers, often located afar, in addition to lakes, tanks and reservoirs.
  • Seeing India’s looming water crisis through ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ sources allows for better understanding of the causative factors and also enables to develop better strategies to be deployed to reverse the water crisis. 

Water Crisis in Urban Areas: The Chennai Example

  • Water crisis unfolded in Chennai in 2019, where life came to a standstill and parts of the city went without piped water for months.
  • Many have cited the poor rainfall received in Chennai in the previous year as one of the main reasons for the water crisis. Though it is true that rainfall was low, which was 50% less than normal, there were other reasons for the crisis.
  • Chennai city has been built by incrementally encroaching floodplains and paving over lakes and wetlands that would have otherwise helped the process of recharging groundwater. 
  • The lack of space for water to percolate underground prevented rainwater from recharging the aquifers.
  • The situation was made worse by the loss of green cover (which would have otherwise helped water retention) to make way for infrastructure projects.
  • Such a situation, on the one hand, leads to flooding during normal rainfall due to stagnation, and on the other hand leads to drought-like conditions due to the prevention of underground water storage.

Water Crisis in Rural Areas: The Punjab Example

  • The draft report of the Central Ground Water Board concluded that Punjab would be reduced to a desert in 25 years if the extraction of its groundwater resources continues unabated.
  • 82% of Punjab’s land area has seen a huge decline in groundwater levels, wherein 109 out of 138 administrative blocks have been placed in the ‘over exploited’ category. 
  • Groundwater extraction which was at 35% in the 1960s and 1970s, rose to 70% post the Green Revolution where government subsidised power for irrigation that lead to tubewells running for hours.
  • Also, cultivation of water intensive crops such as paddy have further aggravated water depletion, even turning water saline. 

Way Ahead

  • If the Government is serious about addressing the water crisis in urban areas, the Ministry of Water Resources must reconfigure its relationship with other Ministries and Departments (Urban Development, Local Self-Government and Environment). 
  • This would be for enhanced integration and coordination through effective land and water zoning regulations that protect urban water bodies, groundwater sources, wetlands and green cover.
  • Authorities must also simultaneously work to enhance waste water recycling and water recharge activities targeting aquifers and wells through rainwater harvesting.
  • In Rural areas like Punjab, immediate measures need to be taken to manage and replenish groundwater, especially through participatory groundwater management approaches with its combination of water budgeting, aquifer recharging and community involvement.
  • In view of the ongoing erosion of water resources, the government should not be on promising water supply (Jal Jeevan Mission). Instead the aim should be towards protecting and conserving water resources on the one hand and minimising and enhancing efficiency of water usage on the other. 

Connecting the dots:

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