India’s growing water crisis

India’s growing water crisis

GS III- Economy

India has 18% of the world's population but just 4% of its water resources, making it one of the world's most water-stressed.

India's water crisis is worsening due to population growth, over-extraction of groundwater, and insufficient investment in treatment facilities. 

With 97 million Indians lacking safe water, 21% of communicable diseases are related to unsafe water. India's overtaking of China by 2028 exacerbates the issue.

 India's water crisis has escalated, causing floods in Bihar and Assam, droughts in Jharkhand, and drought-like conditions in West Bengal. Mismanagement, poor administration, and apathy are contributing factors, with rural regions receiving little media attention.


With a population of 1.2 billion, India has only 1,000 cubic meters of usable water per person, compared to the US's nearly 8,000 cubic meters per person. Poor water quality in rivers is largely unfit for drinking and bathing, and industrial effluent standards are not enforced due to inadequate technical and human resources. India's rate of extraction has been steadily increasing since 1980, highlighting the need for urgent action.

India's water crisis is attributed to three main factors: 

  1. Population growth
  2. Poor water quality due to delayed investment in urban water treatment facilities
  3. Dwindling groundwater supplies due to over-extraction by farmers
  • Global warming: It has significantly affected India's rainfall pattern. Previously, the average monsoon rainfall period lasted 45 days. This amount has already dropped to 22 days, with each monsoon bringing less rain. 
  • Destruction of ecosystems: Dams, other hydropower projects, and water diversion for cultivation have all resulted in the deliberate destruction of huge river ecosystems. 
  • Usage of groundwater: India uses more groundwater than any other country on the planet, and groundwater extraction has exacerbated aquifer drying. Total groundwater irrigation usage has increased from 30% in the 1980s to about 60% now. 
  • Groundwater exploitation: It has resulted from growing urbanization as well as excessive groundwater use by soft drink businesses such as Coca-Cola. 
  • Utilization: River basins, catchments, and watersheds have not been appropriately utilized for water and soil conservation purposes, affecting river basin hydrology.  
  • Lack of water strategy: Despite its large population and diversified terrain and climate, India lacks a coherent water strategy. There are no clear rules for the use of surface water and groundwater by various sectors and states. 

How can it be rectified?

Mismanagement and a lack of governance have caused a water crisis to spread from the southern peninsula to the northern, water-rich Himalayan regions. 

To be successfully handled, this problem must be tackled at several levels and sectors throughout the country:

  • Raise Awareness: Citizens' increased knowledge (especially in metropolitan areas) is critical. To solve this situation, every person must be aware of it and participate in good conservation, ending water misuse, and eliminating the use of bottled water. 
  • Water Conservation: Water conservation at the community level is critical to reducing groundwater pressure and supplying water for human use. As a result, the construction of community-level water collection infrastructure, such as water bodies, is critical. 
  • Use of efficient agricultural practices: It is critical to use agricultural practices such as growing water-efficient crops, installing leak-free irrigation systems, and building farm-based water conservation structures. This can help with forest preservation and horticultural growth.
  • Local governance: Local governments (e.g., gram panchayats) may participate in the water discourse by using watershed development and monitoring farmers' groundwater consumption.
  • At the district and state levels, it is critical to encourage farmers to select crops intelligently, assist in water harvesting through the use of watersheds, and provide the appropriate procedures for the protection and conservation of:
    • Ponds/water bodies
    • Forests
    • Rivers and streams of groundwater
  • Water Policy: The formation of a comprehensive water policy at the central and state levels is critical. This will give direction to the administration and residents on how to use surface and groundwater properly. Management plans for interstate and transboundary rivers are also required.

What urgent issues are brought up by India's water shortage?

  • India faces challenges in increasing irrigation and creating water-storage facilities to achieve its target of 4% per year in agriculture. With only 60 mh of net cultivated area, India needs to increase irrigation, introduce new high-yield technology, or expand cultivable land. 
  • To store and transport water, India needs to develop the capacity to store and transport water. However, dam construction is inevitable due to its potential to submerge forests, reduce biodiversity, and displace people. 
  • Despite environmental objections, there is a critical need for storage dams due to climate change. India's future economic growth is also a concern, as it needs to expand irrigation and increase agricultural productivity to sustain its target. 
  • With 8% growth, demand for agricultural products will increase, but limited land and import restrictions will limit supply unless irrigation expansion allows for double-cropping more land or technical progress increases per hectare output.

How is the government taking steps to tackle these issues?

  • India is focusing on watershed development, which involves leveling land and tapping rainwater in small ponds created by dams. This increases soil moisture, recharges groundwater, and allows for second-crop planting.
  • NGO-led efforts have transformed villages like Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra and Rajendra Singh in Rajasthan. 
  • Gujarat has built over 100,000 check dams, contributing to its 8%-plus growth in agricultural GDP. 
  • However, urban water supply issues persist due to poor distribution networks and inadequate pricing. Private firms are helping to streamline distribution and reduce waste.


WaterAid Report

  • India accounts for the largest groundwater extraction at 2% of the total groundwater extracted globally.

United Nations World Water Development Report 2022

  • Issued by UNESCO
  • The report shows a significant decrease in the amount of freshwater accessible in streams, lakes, aquifers, and other man-made bodies of water reservoirs. It is approaching, and numerous places throughout the world are experiencing water scarcity.

Global Drought Risk and Water Stress Map (2019)

  • The majority of India, particularly the west, central, and a few portions of peninsular India, is facing significant water stress and shortage.

Composite Water Management Index

  • The NITI Aayog study reveals India's largest water crisis, with over 60 crore people experiencing acute shortages. Water transfer from upper catchments to areas facing shortages often results in sectoral or regional rivalry.
Concern - The increasing transboundary movement of water between countries, particularly in India, has led to increased water stress due to the existence of both rural and urban districts since the early 20th century.


Water conservation initiatives by the Government of India

Water conservation projects are planned, funded, executed, and maintained by state governments in India. The Central Government supports these efforts through various schemes and programs. 

Rural Local Bodies/Panchayats are advised to use 15th Finance Commission grants for rooftop rainwater harvesting. 

The government organizes workshops, seminars, and awards to encourage participation in water conservation. Traditional methods of water conservation vary by region, but the government encourages best practices and promotes awareness.

  • Jal Jeevan Mission
      1. A government initiative aims to provide 55 liters of water per person per day to rural households by 2024 through Functional Household Tap Connections, focusing on rainwater harvesting, water conservation, and watercourse development.
  • AMRUT 2.0
      1. AMRUT 2.0, launched in October 2021, aims to provide universal water supply to 500 cities under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) for five years and to ensure fair water distribution and wastewater reuse.
      2. The scheme focuses on sewage and septage control, making cities self-reliant and water secure. 
    1. PM Krishi Sinchayee Yojana
      1. PMKSY, launched in 2015, provides central grants to State Governments for specific irrigation activities, aiming to achieve convergence, expand cultivable areas, improve water use efficiency, and enhance precision irrigation adoption.
  • Bureau of Water Use Efficiency
      1. The Bureau of Water Use Efficiency (BWUE) promotes, regulates, and controls efficient water use in irrigation, industrial, and domestic sectors, facilitating water conservation campaigns and schemes.
  • “Sahi Fasal” Campaign
      1. The "Sahi Fasal" campaign encourages water-stressed farmers to grow efficient, economically remunerative, healthy, nutritious, and environmentally friendly crops.
  • Mission Amrit Sarovar
      1. The Mission Amrit Sarovar, launched on National Panchayati Raj Day (2022), aims to conserve water by developing and rejuvenating 75 water bodies in each district.
  • Jal Shakti Abhiyan
      1. Launched in 2019, focuses on water conservation, rainwater harvesting, enumerating water bodies, preparing scientific plans, setting up Jal Shakti Kendras, afforestation, and awareness generation across all districts.
  • Awareness Generation Campaign
      1. The Minister of Jal Shakti and Minister of Youth Affairs & Sports launched an awareness campaign in collaboration with Nehru Yuva Kendra Sanghathan (NYKS) in December 2020, engaging over 3.82 crore people in 36.60 lakh activities.
  • Public Interaction Programme
      1. Public Interaction Programs (PIP) are being organized at the grassroots level to disseminate NAQUIM Studies outputs, with 1300 programs conducted, involving nearly one lakh people.
  • Training by Rajiv Gandhi National Ground Water Training and Research Institute
      1. The Rajiv Gandhi National Ground Water Training & Research Institute (RGNGWTRI) in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, offers various training levels for various government, state, PSU, NGO, and academic institutions.
  • Master Plan-2020
  • The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has developed a 'Master Plan for Artificial Recharge to Groundwater - 2020. It aims to construct 1.42 crore rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge structures.

Way Forward 

India's water crisis requires a multi-faceted approach involving government policies, technological innovations, and individual efforts. Key steps include promoting water conservation and awareness, promoting rainwater harvesting, implementing efficient irrigation practices, investing in wastewater treatment infrastructure, improving water infrastructure, exploring desalination technologies, implementing policy reforms, involving local communities in water resource management, investing in research and innovation, collaborating internationally, enhancing education and training programs, developing drought preparedness plans, and investing in monitoring and data collection systems. 

These steps aim to address groundwater depletion, equitable distribution, pollution control, and ensure a stable and secure water supply for India's growing population and future generations. By implementing these measures, India can ensure a stable and secure water supply for its growing population and future generations.

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