Watering Down


Author: Shubhangi

Consultant, Bhajan Global Impact Foundation

Tag(s) : Agriculture & Rural Economy, Environment

With an annual use of 230 cubic kilometres of underground water, India is the largest consumer of groundwater in the world (World Bank, 2012). More than 60 percent of irrigated agriculture and 85 percent of the drinking water supplies are dependent on underground water (ibid.). In the Punjab-Haryana region, there is an even greater dependency on the underground water, with 90 percent of irrigated land using groundwater resources at the start of the millennium (Singh, 2001). According to a 2016 study conducted by PRS Legislative Research (India), Haryana is among the states with extreme groundwater development levels (Suhag, 2016). This means that the extraction of water is over 100 percent, i.e., water is extracted annually at a rate higher than the annual groundwater recharge.

The unsustainability of this model has been highlighted by various groups and recognised by the government as well. The most critical step towards groundwater recharge was taken in 2011 when rainwater harvesting was made mandatory by Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA). In February 2018, the Haryana government has announced a ₹432 crore project for recharging groundwater (Tribune News, 2018). Recently, subsidies and assistance have also been forwarded to Medium and Small Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to implement water harvesting techniques.

However, there are three key reasons why the existing policy does not adequately address the problem: –

a) The absence of adequate planning to tap alternative sources of water supply highlights severe lacuna in policy planning.

Considering the fact that the rate of extraction is 133 percent despite full water recharging, the demand cannot be met sustainably merely through these steps. This implies that even if we have 100 percent recharge of groundwater every year (a target no government has aimed for yet), Haryana will be falling short of meeting its demand by 33 percent. Alternatively, it will be overusing the groundwater by 33 percent, which is unsustainable.

 b. Estimates of future demand do not adequately include the rapidly increasing demand.

The average per capita supply of water in major cities varies from 70 to 155 litres per day (Haryana State Action Plan on Climate Change, 2011). According to a more recent survey conducted in Mohabbatpur, Hisar, the average water consumption was around 117 per person per capita per day in 2017, indicating that western Haryana, as is often the case, has a lower average consumption (Singh and Turkiya, 2017). According to the Bureau of Indian Standards, 200 litres per capita per day (lpcd) should be provided in cities with flushing systems, whereas at least 135 lpcd, in other areas (Modi, 1998). Meeting this demand is an antecedent to any developmental objective of the government.
Additionally, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) Survey (2015-16) revealed that 77 percent of rural Haryana, and 81 percent of urban Haryana, does not have access to improved sanitation,. Improved sanitation for the survey meant flush to the piped sewer system; flush to septic tank; flush to pit latrine; ventilated improved pit (VIP)/biogas latrine; pit latrine with slab; and twin pit/composting toilet, which is not shared with any other household.
Interestingly, urban Haryana has fewer households with improved drinking facilities (88 percent) than rural Haryana (94.3 percent). For the survey, improved sanitation includes piped water into dwelling/yard/plot, public tap/standpipe, tube well or borehole, protected dug well, protected spring, rainwater, community Reverse Osmosis (RO) plant (National Health Family Survey, 2015-16). Improving such essential infrastructure facilities for the population necessarily involves increasing the demand. All estimates about the future demand for underground water, need to consider not only demands at the present rate but also at an increasing rate.

c. Climate change specific stresses imply decreasing recharge at an increasing rate.

Haryana is one of the Indian states particularly vulnerable to climate change. On average, it receives a waterfall of 300 mm in the southwest region and 1100 mm in the northeast region, with no perennial river source. There has been a constant decrease in the annual rainfall for the region (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Average Annual Rainfall in Haryana (in mm)

A clear implication of this pattern is that the rate of recharge of groundwater is going to deteriorate in the coming future. This mostly impacts the trend analysis of the supply of groundwater. When all the other aspects of groundwater recharge are considered, the urgency of the problem looks undeniable –

  • the underground water is presently over-exploited;
  • the rate of extraction is bound to increase at an increasing rate over the foreseeable future; and
  • the rate of recharge, on the other hand, is going to decrease due to the changing climate of the region.

The preceding discussion highlights an urgent need to develop a holistic, comprehensive policy framework for addressing groundwater management in Haryana. Three important policy issues crystallise through the above discussion –
a. the need to evolve stronger policy and technological interventions for groundwater recharge;
b. creating sustainable alternative sources of water supply to enable the population of Haryana to reduce the heavy dependency of groundwater; and
c. introducing efficient water-use techniques in agriculture and industrial processes to ensure the resource is utilised optimally.

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Banday, Umer and Ranjan, Aneja (2014): “Deterioration of Agricultural Productivity Due to Climate Change in Haryana”, MPRA Paper 72654, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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Government of Haryana (2011): Haryana State Action Plan on Climate Change, Accessible at: http://www.moef.nic.in/sites/default/files/sapcc/Haryana.pdf

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Resolution 64/292, General Assembly, United Nations, 2010.

Singh, Omvir and Turkiya, Sushila (2013): A survey of household domestic water consumption patterns in rural semi-arid region in India, GeoJournal Vol. 5, No.5, accessible at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242656039_A_survey_of_household_domestic water_

Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar 1991 AIR 420, 1991 SCR (1)5.

Suhag, Rupal (2016): Overview of Ground water in India, PRS India, New Delhi. Accessible at: http://www.prsindia.org/administrator/uploads/general/1455682937~~Overview%20of%20Ground%20Water%20in%20India.pdf

Tribune News Service (2018): Rs 435-cr project to recharge groundwater gets underway, Chandigarh: The Tribune. Accessible at: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/haryana/rs-435-cr-project-to-recharge-groundwater-gets-underway/540867.html