India’s looming water crisis and urgent measures to address it

Source: Livemint

Relevance: Measures needed to address India’s water crisis

Synopsis: The groundwater table in India is falling at faster rate than ever, and thus we need radical changes in agricultural practices along with other measures to address the water crisis of India.


India is facing a water crisis. Water tables in many states including Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh have declined by thousands of feet. Tanks and wells are going dry, while some rivers are getting shrunk. Water rationing is routine in many urban areas, while in many villages women are walk longer distances to fetch water.

Significance of groundwater
  • At 250 billion cubic metres per year, India is the world’s largest consumer of groundwater. It consumes more than China and US, the next two largest combined.
  • India’s gross cropped area has increased by over 120 million hectares since the 1980s, mainly due to an increase in groundwater irrigation, especially through tube-wells. In the past 40 years, about 84% of the increase in net irrigated area has come from groundwater.
Factors behind groundwater decline
  1. Green revolution: One of the ecological consequences of the policies carried out under Green Revolution, is the decline in groundwater. Due to policy incentives from government, farmers were able to sow high-yielding & water-intensive crops, like rice & wheat. (To produce a kg of rice 2,800 ltrs of water is required, while a kilogram of wheat takes 1,654 ltrs on average.) This established a Rice-Wheat-Cropping-System (RWCS) in areas, unsuitable for such crops. Water for such crops came mainly form tube well irrigation, leading to a decline in groundwater over the years.
  2. Cropping patterns: Our policies to ensure food sufficiency and assure farmers income have unfortunately caused crop distortions that have led to excessive drawing of groundwater and its depletion. Minimum Procurement Price (MSP) is one such example.
    • Though MSP is announced for 23 crops, but the majority of procurement done by the government at MSP is for wheat and rice. Both these crops are water guzzlers.
Measures needed

We need to implement the following in our agricultural practices and in the management of water:

  1. Shift in cropping pattern: Agriculture consumes about 90% of India’s water supply, and of this, 80% is consumed by just three water-guzzling crops: rice, wheat and sugarcane. Thus, we need to incentivize a shift in cropping pattern towards nutri-cereals, pulses and oilseeds.
  2. Procurement strategy– Around 95% procurement at MSP done by the govt is of rice and wheat alone. This causes farmers to grow more of such crops. Hence, government should encourage procurement of other crops such as jowar, bajra, ragi pulses etc. under MSP to promote crop diversification.
  3. Introduction of water-saving seed varieties even for rice and wheat
  4. Promoting water saving techniques such as rice intensification, conservation, tillage, drip irrigation, and direct seeding of rice. As per field trials, these practices can save between 17% (Rajasthan) to 80% (Tamil Nadu) of our blue water compared to conventional practices.
  5. Regulating groundwater– Groundwater use in India is completely unregulated, resulting in its overexploitation. Hence, legislation to regulate the use of groundwater is most urgent. States can adopt the model Groundwater Bill 2017 to local conditions and pass their own legislation
  6. Rejuvenation of catchment areas of rivers– the local communities could be given monetary benefits to protect catchment areas and keep river basins healthy, free from encroachment. Farmers, local communities can act as agent of change to preserve the groundwater.
  7. Role of the govt: Government has a crucial role in aggregating the local initiatives and scaling them up. Top down administrative arrangements will have to be replaced by participatory, bottom-up systems led by farmer producer organizations (FPOs) along the lines of the Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union. Governments need to support the development of these institutions.
Must read: India’s water crisis: It is most acute for women

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