Canada Dry Was A Gimmick; India Dry Is A Reality

Recently, alarm bells for the Maharashtra government started ringing when a report came into light, highlighting the fact that groundwater levels in the state have fallen drastically. According to the latest water table survey at least six talukas have seen a drop in the level by more than three meters. Nine talukas have reportedly lost two to three meters, while twenty three talukas are down by one to two meters. This comes at a time when the state is already struggling with the late onset of Monsoons and inadequate rains.

The situation in Pune and surrounding districts is equally tough. The district collector’s office found that manufacturers of packaged drinking water and cold drinks were not following the groundwater extraction norms. Since the manufacturing plants in this region are quite concentrated, it became one of the worst hit areas  and an investigation was initiated to look into this matter.

Chief Minister PrithvirajChavan is set to meet officials from various departments to chart out a contingency plan. The government is looking to find a long term solution to this problem and plans to consult experts from top organisations.

Groundwater is the primary source feed for wells and tube-wells. It accounts for 1.7 percent of the earth’s water and 30.1 percent of the total freshwater. If the groundwater table depletes beyond the reach of wells, they have to be dug deeper to reach the water. Not to mention, groundwater also sustains rivers, lakes and geysers. Any change in its level indirectly affects the available surface freshwater. Apart from this, certain subterranean ecosystems also need groundwater to flourish.

India relies quite heavily on groundwater. In 1960, there were about 100,000 groundwater wells but by 2006 the number had exploded to 12 million. Going by the rate at which groundwater wells are used in our country, it therefore becomes essential to find a solution to the inevitable problem of groundwater depletion.

Groundwater recharge is emerging as a possible solution. The groundwater is recharged by rainwater and snow which gradually seep into the earth’s surface. But by human intervention, the rainwater, which would otherwise have run off, can be collected and used to refill aquifers. Typically, the volume rate abstracted from an aquifer should be less than or equal to the volume rate that is recharged for sustainable groundwater management. While rain showers return about twenty percent of the annual groundwater usage, the recharge projects in India are able to recharge only about ten percent.

On the suggestion of the International Water Management Institute, the Indian government in 2007, allocated Rs 1800 crore to fund recharge projects in seven states where the groundwater had dropped to alarming levels. As of November 2009, funds amounting to Rs 216.98 only were released to the concerned states, highlighting the government’s casual attitude towards this issue.

In an economy like India, which is driven by agriculture, one cannot afford to overlook the fact that with erratic monsoons fast becoming a climatic trend, depleting water tables can induce a havoc of epic proportions. The whole world is about to be hit by a huge freshwater draught. In such a scenario, each country will stand for itself and then every drop of water would make a difference.

Akash Saxena

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