Groundwater Management: A Paradigm Shift
8th Jun, 2021
An Invisible Resource
- It is a public good sustaining critical ecosystem, such as lakes, wetlands, and woods but users have no knowledge about aquifers that yield the groundwater they use, and what constitutes sustainable and equitable usage of this common-pool resource.
The Indian context
- India is the largest user of groundwater in the world, using more than 25% of the available global resources sustaining more than 60 per cent of irrigated agriculture, 85% of rural drinking water supply, and more than 50% of urban water supply and ensuring the food security of the country.
- It was a major driver in ensuring the success of the ‘Green Revolution’.
- Its unsustainable extraction has resulted in significant depletion, with consequent adverse livelihood and environmental impact including health issues, lack of availability of safe drinking water, erratic precipitation patterns, etc.
- According to the 2019 report by the Central Water Commission, the utilisable water available in India is 1,122 billion cubic meters (BCM) per annum. The total requirement of the country for the years 2025 and 2050 has been assessed as 843 BCM and 1,180 BCM respectively.
Thus, even if we store every drop of available water, we will still fall short in 2050, unless we manage demand.
Defects in Earlier Schemes
- The past schemes did not focus on reducing demand through more efficient use, suffered from a top-down approach with little or no community participation, and were implemented in isolation.
- Lessons learned from success stories of community-led groundwater management, mostly in the non-government space, were also not incorporated.
The Community Leads the Way
- Success stories of initiatives taken up at Hivre Bazaar, Ralegaon Siddhi, and elsewhere in the country provided inspiring examples of community-based groundwater management.
- In the Hivre Bazar, combined efforts of locals turned a drought-ridden village into a thriving community that raised the water table from 70-80 feet to 20 to 25 feet. The change in cropping pattern was brought about and the standard of living improved considerably due to economic stability.
Atal Bhujal Yojana, to institutionalize the community-led approach
- The goal of Atal Bhujal Yojana (Atal Jal) is to demonstrate community-led sustainable groundwater management, taken to scale.
- The major objective of the scheme is to improve the management of groundwater resources through a convergence of various ongoing schemes.
- It is a Central Sector Scheme with an outlay of Rs. 6,000 Crore, partly funded by the World Bank, and was launched on Good Governance Day i.e., December 25, 2019.
- For now, the scheme is being implemented in seven States— in water-stressed areas of Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.
Disbursement of Resources against measurable Indicators
- The disbursement of incentive funds (disbursement linked indicators - DLIs) to states based on performance against selected indicators is a key feature of this outcome focused scheme.
- These indicators are:
- DLI#1 - Public of groundwater data/information and reports
- DLI#2 - Preparation of Community-led Water Security Plans
- DLI#3 – Public financing of approved Water Security Plans through a convergence of ongoing/new schemes
- DLI#4 - Adoption of practices for efficient water use: o DLI#5 - Improvement in the rate of decline of groundwater levels
- This scheme is a harbinger of change in groundwater management that encourages the creation of “water aware” communities, that have the knowledge and the ability to plan their water use based on available water.
- State-wise innovations have been emerging. Innovations are also happening as communities are involved in the preparation of water security plans with the use of a custom-built mobile app for capturing geo-tagged field data.
- Learning from the experience in the selected states, it is proposed to create a pan-India programme for the water-stressed areas of the country.
- Strengthened water-aware communities, reliable water data, and a participatory regulatory framework are the three pillars that will support sustainable groundwater use, making water available for life, for livelihoods and culture and to combat the effects of climate change.