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November 3, 2023 @ 7:30 am - 11:30 pm

UN report on groundwater extraction: Every drop counts

The United Nations University’s recent report highlights the critical depletion of groundwater in India, emphasizing the urgent need for effective measures to manage aquifers responsibly. This has been a persisting concern, with 27 out of 31 aquifers in the country depleting faster than they can be replenished. The report underscores the pressing need for behavioural changes and technological innovations to tackle this water crisis.

India’s Groundwater Status:

Depletion Rate: 27 out of 31 aquifers are depleting faster than they can replenish, creating a severe shortage.

Global Comparison: India extracts more groundwater than China and the US combined, signifying significant usage.

Primary Source: About 70% of water usage in India is derived from groundwater.

Regional Impact: In Punjab, 78% of wells are overexploited, showcasing the local severity of groundwater depletion.

Climate Concerns: Rising temperatures in southwest India pose challenges for replenishing groundwater.

Existing Legal and Regulatory Frameworks for Groundwater:

Indian Easement Act, 1882: Determines historical groundwater rights linked to land ownership.

Central Ground Water Board (CGWB): Established in 1970, develops groundwater policies and programs.

Environment (Protection) Act, 1986: Recognizes groundwater as a public resource and empowers the CGWA.

Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA): Forms ‘notified areas’ with strict regulations.

Model Groundwater Bills: Empower state boards to create laws and manage water.

National Green Tribunal (NGT): Directs CGWA to regulate extraction, mandates permission for extraction.

Public Trust Doctrine: Emphasizes public access to groundwater.

Polluter Pays Principle: Holds polluters responsible for remediation costs.

Atal Bhujal Yojana:

Scheme initiated in 2019 to manage and conserve groundwater sustainably.

Objectives include combining government-driven and community-driven approaches.

Rs. 6000 crore initiative equally funded by the Government of India and the World Bank.

Components include institutional strengthening, capacity building, incentives, and community engagement.

Notable achievements include a 6 billion cubic meters reduction in groundwater extraction from 2020 to 2022.

Challenges of Groundwater Depletion:

Alarming Depletion Statistics: The report emphasizes that 27 aquifers in India are depleting at an unsustainable rate, posing a severe water crisis.

Lack of Understanding and Initiatives: Various committees and reports, including the Mihir Shah Committee in 2016, stressed the limited understanding of river systems and the dire state of aquifers. Despite these reports, little has been done to address the problem effectively.

Initiatives and Limited Progress: Initiatives like the Atal Bhujal Yojana in water-stressed districts aimed at behavioural changes have shown some positive outcomes, indicating a reduction in groundwater extraction. However, the scale of the crisis demands more comprehensive actions.

Root Causes of Groundwater Depletion:

Overreliance on Groundwater: India excessively relies on groundwater, constituting about 70% of its water usage. The focus on tubewells and borewells has significantly contributed to the agricultural sector’s growth but led to over-extraction.

Complex Demand-Side Management: Addressing the overuse of groundwater remains complex. The UN report highlights that 78% of wells in some states, such as Punjab, are overexploited.

Climate Crisis Link: Researchers indicate a correlation between groundwater extraction and the climate crisis, specifically in the country’s southwest. Hotter temperatures contribute to reduced moisture, impacting aquifer recharge.

Technology for Mitigation:

Behavioural Change Catalyst: The use of technology to monitor borewell water levels can potentially encourage responsible aquifer management. This technology serves as a catalyst for promoting behavioural changes.

Promoting Efficient Water Management: Encouraging the use of technologies for monitoring water levels can instigate changes in agricultural practices, reducing water usage and promoting the cultivation of less water-dependent crops.


The UN report underscores the urgent need for comprehensive efforts to tackle the worsening groundwater crisis. Efforts should focus on implementing technological solutions and behavioural changes to manage aquifers effectively and mitigate the looming water crisis. Addressing over-extraction and instituting more sustainable water management practices are imperative for a sustainable future.


November 3, 2023
7:30 am - 11:30 pm
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