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With around one-sixth of assessed ground water units in the country facing over-exploitation, the Centre Govt has issued revised guidelines for groundwater use. The new guidelines prohibits new industry and mining projects in over-exploited zones and makes it mandatory for existing industries, commercial units and big housing societies to take no objection certificate’ (NOC).

Status of Groundwater Depletion in India:

  • India is the largest user of groundwater in the world.
  • India accounts for 16-17% per cent of the world’s population living in less than 5 per cent of the global area, and has just 4 per cent of the global water resources.
  • Out of the total of 6584 assessment units, 1034 have been categorized as ‘Over-exploited’, 253 as ‘Critical’, 681 as ‘Semi-Critical’ and 4520 as ‘Safe’.
  • According to the Central Water Commission (CWC), the estimated water resources potential of the country, which occurs as natural runoff in the rivers, is 1,999 billion cubic metres.
  • Of this, the estimated utilisable resources are 1,122 billion cubic metres per year 690 BCM per year surface water and 432 BCM per year replenishable groundwater.
  • With the population rising, demand for water will increase manifold in coming years. According to the CWC, per capita availability in the country will decrease from 1,434 cubic metres in 2025 to 1,219 cubic metres in 2050.
  • By CWC benchmarks, a water-stressed condition happens when per capita availability is less than 1,700 cubic metres, and a water-scarcity condition when per capita availability falls below 1,000 cubic metres. Some river basins are facing a water-scarcity condition.
  • Among these are the basins of the Indus (up to the border), Krishna, Cauvery, Subarnarekha, Pennar, Mahi, Sabarmati and east-flowing rivers, and west-flowing rivers of Kutch and Saurashtra including Luni.

Ground water extraction norms:

  • The guidelines have pan-India applicability which was never there before
  • As per official data, 90% of groundwater is used for irrigation and 10% by domestic and industrial consumers.
  • The guidelines include the restoration and extraction charges for groundwater.
  • The Centre has notified fresh guidelines on groundwater use, prescribing penalties for extracting water without permission and for other offences after a set of rules notified in 2018 was struck down by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
  • The guidelines notified by the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) under the Jal Shakti ministry prescribes a minimum environmental compensation of ₹1 lakh on industrial, mining and infrastructure users for extracting ground water without a no objection certificate (NOC). This can rise, depending on the quantum of water extracted and the duration of the breach.
  • The notification exempts domestic consumers, rural drinking water schemes, armed forces, farmers and micro and small enterprises drawing water up to a limit from the requirement of a no objection certificate from the CGWA.
  • The new guidelines, which come into force immediately, seek to plug a regulatory vacuum in granting no objection certificates for groundwater use as the earlier set of rules was struck down by the NGT in January 2019.
  • That had led to a situation where all applications for renewal of NOC were put on hold pushing many industries into potential regulatory non-compliance in spite of them complying with all the riders in the NOC. In June, different industry bodies appealed to the government to resolve this regulatory uncertainty.
  • Although the new rules exempt farmers from the need for obtaining an NOC from CGWA, it highlights a key factor that leads to excessive groundwater extraction in the agriculture sector—free electricity supply to farmers.
  • In the agriculture sector, a participative approach is better to ensure sustainable groundwater management, the new norms noted.
  • States/Union Territories are advised to review their free/subsidised electricity policy to farmers, bring suitable water pricing policy and may work further towards crop rotation/diversification/other initiatives to reduce overdependence on groundwater.
  • In December, the government had launched a scheme to conserve groundwater in seven states facing acute water shortage and urged farmers to opt for less water-intensive crops. Named Atal Jal Yojana, the scheme was targeted at Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat where the ground water situation is very worrisome.

What if the norms are not put into place?

  • Lowering of the water table
  • Reduction of water in streams and lakes
  • Land subsidence: A lack of groundwater limits biodiversity and dangerous sinkholes result from depleted aquifers.
  • Increased costs for the user
  • Deterioration of water quality
  • Saltwater contamination can occur.
  • Crop production decrease from lack of water availability (40% of global food production relies on groundwater).
  • Groundwater depletion interrupts the ‘natural’ water cycle putting disproportionately more water into the sea.
  • As large aquifers are depleted, food supply and people will suffer.

Way forward to prevent ground water depletion:

  • Micro irrigation should be encouraged.
  • Discouraging water guzzling crops such as sugar canes.
  • As aquifers and other groundwater sources are depleted at a rate greater than the recharge rate, artificial recharge is needed to maintain a lasting water supply to prevent complete withdrawal of groundwater in the near future.
  • To combat overpumping of groundwater and achieve stability in the water table, artificial recharge is another water source that will help alleviate the stress on groundwater supply. For arid climates with little precipitation, recharging groundwater can be achieved through using treated wastewater, natural runoff, and runoff from irrigation. Soil-aquifer treatment (SAT).
  • The primary challenge of desalination is its high cost and energy consumption. Electricity makes up 63 per cent of the operational costs of seawater desalination plants. The plants contribute to water security but add stresses to the energy security.
  • Some of the other methods and techniques for groundwater recharge:
    • Roof Top Rain Water
    • runoff harvesting through Recharge Pit
    • Recharge Trench, Tubewell
    • Recharge Well
    • Rain Water Harvesting through Gully Plug, Contour Bund, Gabion Structure, Percolation tank, Check Dam, Cement Plug, Nala Bund, Recharge shaft, Dugwell Recharge Ground Water Dams, Subsurface Dyke.


                The focus will be on arresting the rate of decline of groundwater levels as well as water consumption. Leveraging schemes like Atal Bhujal Yojana which seeks to strengthen the institutional framework and bring about behavioural changes at community level for sustainable groundwater resource management is vital. We need to have more community-led Water Security Plans.