By Dr. Gyan Pathak
The unprecedented heatwave conditions in February, touching about 40 degree Celsius in several part of the country, is a precursor to an impending severe water crisis in the summer 2023. India had witnessed such a condition in March 2022, that has occurred a month earlier this year in the month that is technically the last month of winter. Obviously, India needs an urgent action plan for supply of drinking water not only for humans and domestic animals, but also a plan for making water available for wild animals through discharging water to the drying revers or other water bodies to prevent their coming out of the wild to human habitats in search of water and harming people.
Water crisis in India is not new. It is yearly phenomenon. Surface and ground water resources dry up or greatly deplete. Ground water level goes down every year. People greatly suffer during the summer. Governments at the Centre and the states promise to put secure water management systems in place. However, little is done. On the very onset of monsoon, everything is forgotten, every year.
It is despite the fact that water is fundamental to life, livelihood, food security and sustainable development. Ground water serves as the backbone of India’s agriculture and drinking water security, since India does not have sufficient irrigation canals and reservoirs to supply sufficient quantity of water. Despite all assurances by the government, majority of our households do not have even piped water connection, and those who have connection are not getting enough water. The quality of water supplied is also found in numerous cases to be of not up to the safe prescribed standard for human consumption.
People by and large depend on the ground water, but its levels have been depleting for years in several regions of the country. This situation calls for a prudent management of ground water resources of the country to ensure its sustainability. It has always been said that the management of ground water resources requires a structured scientific approach starting from monitoring of water level and quality, assessing the resources, use, analysis of hazards and developing management strategies for their control. Every year we hear such things from the government, but water crisis on the grassroots level has been going from bad to worse.
The Dynamic Ground Water Resources of India for the year 2022 is the latest present a state-wise latest position. The assessment has been made jointly by Central Ground Water Board and State’s Ground Water Nodal Departments under the guidance of State Level Committees and overall supervision of Central Level Expert Groups.
The situation at a glance gives a dismal picture on availability of groundwater. Total annual ground water recharge in the country is 437.6 bcm, 398.08 bcm is extractable, actual extraction is 239.16 bcm which is 60.08 per cent. It only shows how heavily out country is depending upon ground water.
The categorization of assessment units which includes blocks, mandals, firkas, taluks etc show that only 67 per cent are safe, 12 per cent are in semi-critical position, 4 per cent are critical, 14 per cent are over-exploited and 2 per cent are saline. The recharge worthy area in safe category is 66 per cent, semi-critical 12 per cent, critical, 3 per cent, over-exploited 17 per cent and saline 2 per cent. This data shows that India is not working enough to recharge the ground water resources.
In the years 2020 and 2021, ground water levels could not be monitored due to COVID-19 disruptions. However, ground water level date of pre-monsoon 2022 reveals that the general depth to water level of the country ranges from 5 to 10 m bgl (below ground level).
Very shallow water levels of less than 2 m bgl is observed in few states, such as Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Meghalaya, Karnataka, Kerala, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu in small patches. Ground Water level in the range of 2-5 m bgl is seen in Assam, northern parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Coastal parts of Odisha, few pockets in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Major part of the country shows water level in the range 5-10 m bgl, especially in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Karnataka. In major parts of north-western and western states, especially in the states of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, depth to water level is generally deeper and ranges from about 20 to more than 40 m bgl. The peninsular part of the country recorded water level in the range of 5 to 20 m bgl. The deepest depth to water level of 130.77 m bgl is observed at Khara in Jodhpur district of Rajasthan. It means major part of India urgently needs action plan to assure supply of drinking water to people and livestock, apart from releasing water from reservoirs into rivers for wild animals.
The main source of replenishable ground water resources is recharge from rainfall, which contributes to nearly 61 per cent of the total annual ground water recharge. India receives about 119 cm. of rain annually on average, with high spatial variation. A major part of the country receives rainfall mainly during SW Monsoon season, spread over the months of June to September, except in Tamil Nadu, where the major contribution is from NE monsoon during the period October– December. There are also States such as Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand which receive significant rainfall in all seasons. Over 75% of the annual rainfall is received in the four rainy months for June to September only thereby leading to large variations on temporal scale.
In comparison to the earlier assessment of 2020, extractable water resource increased only a little from 397.6 to 398.08 bcm, while the ground water extraction has marginally decreased from 244.92 to 239.16 bcm. Overall stage of groundwater extraction has marginally decreased from 61.6 per cent to 60.08 per cent.
The present assessment has proposed separate ground water assessment for urban areas with population more than 10 lakhs, because urban areas are sometimes concrete jungles and rainfall infiltration is not equal to that of rural areas unless and until special measures are taken in the construction of roads and pavements. In the present assessment 30 per cent rainfall infiltration factor was proposed.
In the present circumstances, an emergency plan of action for water supply in both urban and rural areas must be in place within a month, before the crisis turns severe with expected rise in temperature to unprecedented levels. (IPA Service)