Water Scarcity in India

by Shatakshi

71% of Earth’s surface is covered with water, then why many countries, NGOs and other climate summits always raise alarm calls for water conservation? Here, the reason is that out of this 71% of water 96.5% water is present in oceans, 0.9 % water is saline in nature and only 2.5% water is freshwater which is fit for human use. Now, out of this 2.5% fresh water 68.7% of water is preserved in the form of glaciers and ice caps, which again cannot be used by humans. Only 30.1% water is present as groundwater out of this 2.5% fresh water and the share of rivers and lakes is very less in a global context. In the wake of the rising global population, this scarce amount of water is a very alarming factor for humanity.

Now, if we talk specifically about India, it is a second-most populous country in the world and is heavily dependent on agriculture. More than 50% of the Indian population is engaged with agriculture and Indian agriculture is heavily dependent on groundwater. In 2018 Niti Aayog released its maiden composite water management index, in which it cites that major cities of India including Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru will run out of groundwater by 2020. This index by Niti Aayog ranks state according to their performance in the field of water conservation. Last year Niti Aayog in a separate report reveals that 21 major cities of India will lose their groundwater by 2020. So in this context, we will see why India is facing this water crisis, we will also discuss the various reasons for growing water scarcity in India.

Excess use of groundwater

India is the biggest user of groundwater. India draws the highest amount of underground water in the world. India extracts more groundwater than what the US and China together extract. For more than half of the daily needs, Indians are dependent on groundwater and for the other half, we resort to other sources. As we have discussed earlier that India is mainly dependent on agriculture and for about 89% of groundwater extracted in India is used for irrigation making it the highest category user in the world. Household use is second in rank with a 9% share of the extracted groundwater and it is followed by an industry that uses only 2% of it. More than  50% of urban water needs and 85% of rural domestic water requirements are fulfilled by groundwater only. According to a study done by a team from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, Indians use an estimated 230 cubic kilometers of groundwater per year, which is more than a quarter of the global total volume of groundwater. Due to the increasing population and urbanization, the water consumption is increasing day by day which is responsible for the deterioration of groundwater resources.

Unequal availability of water

According to the Composite Water Management Index of the Niti Aayog, 75 percent of households do not have drinking water on-premise and about 84 percent of rural households do not have piped water access. This makes the rural areas more dependent on groundwater, besides that water is not properly distributed where it is supplied through pipes. Metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai get more water than the standard municipal water norm of 150 liters per capita per day, while other cities and towns get only 40-50 liters per capita per day. Also, leakage of piped water in urban areas is a big challenge. It is estimated that around 40 percent of piped water in India is wasted because of leakage, and leakage also sometimes make piped water dirty, when mixed with sewage lines, which makes piped water non-potable.

Lack of water conservation infrastructure

Geographically, India is located in a region which receives enough rainfall to meet the need of more than 1 billion people. According to the Central Water Commission of India, the country needs a maximum of 3,000 billion cubic meters of water per year while India receives 4,000 billion cubic meters of rain, which is much more than the required value. But the issue here is, that we conserve only 8% of this rainwater, which is one of the lowest in the world. India lacks the proper infrastructure required for rainwater storage, also conventional methods of conservation in ponds and tankas (traditional rainwater conservation tanks) have lost their prominence in due course of time. The most tragic part is that there is no proper treatment of household water, over 80% of the water used by households is drained out through sewage.

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Deterioration of other water resources

On the one hand, the water table is constantly lowering down and on the other hand and the natural resources like rivers, lakes, marshes, etc. are also getting destroyed. Rivers are becoming polluted more and more, that their water is not even fit for purposes other than drinking. A survey conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India reveals that the country has lost 70 to 80 percent of freshwater marshes and lakes in the Gangetic plains.

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Statutory loopholes

According to the Indian Easement Act of 1882, every landowner has the right to collect and dispose of groundwater and surface water within his/her own property. This makes the owner as the water regulator of his territory. Also, there is no uniform law regarding water conservation and making water abuse an offense.

Way ahead

To tackle this crisis government has made a separate ministry named as Jal Shakti Ministry, which subsumed the Ministry of drinking water and sanitation and Ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation to streamline water conservation efforts. The ministry launched its ambitious project ‘NAL SE JAL’ program which aims at the supply of tap water to every household by 2024. Also, this newly formed Ministry is focusing on Indian river water grid under which various rivers will be linked to each other, this will maintain water uniformity throughout the country, this ambitious project will ensure the prevention from floods as well as droughts.

Moreover, the government is incentivizing those farmers who are growing less water-intensive crops like millets. Gradually, India is adopting high technologies in the field of irrigation like Dripping irrigation, Hydroponics etc. , this shift will ensure groundwater conservation. Another need of the hour is a recharge of groundwater and cleaning of various rivers to make river water fit for human use other than drinking purposes and for this a large number of sewage treatment plants need to be built and tight monitoring of industrial effluents need to be done. Above all, there is a need of awareness among mass to conserve rainwater and reuse of household water because without people’s participation no policy can become successful and all the efforts done by the government will go in vain.

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