Ground water is rapidly depleting, with metro cities under serious threat

As India marches to find a place in the list of urbanised countries, the strain that is being put on its groundwater reserves has set the alarm bells ringing. Environmentalists and water conservationists have been cautioning that apart from drinking water needs and non-potable uses, the ground water levels are rapidly falling on account of construction, industrial and even agricultural activities.

Policies and outreach programmes have been put in place and yet, the unauthorised use of ground water across the country has become a cause for concern. Data collated by the Central Ground Water Board indicates that in a span of 10 years, from 2002 to 2011, there has been more than four meter decline in the ground water levels in the metro cities of Faridabad, Delhi, Rajkot, Greater Mumbai, Jaipur and Ludhiana alone.

There are over 80 notified areas across the country, including South, South West districts and Yamuna floodplains in Delhi, Municipal Corporation of Faridabad, Indore, Ludhiana and entire Jaipur urban area. The Board has attributed the fall to the “over-exploitation” of ground water to meet “increasing demand for water and reduced natural recharge” on account of “urbanisation”.In Delhi for instance the demand-supply gap is met with water extracted from bore wells even in the authorised areas where the Delhi Jal Board supplies piped water. About 11 per cent of the city's water needs are met from water supplied by groundwater reserves, but the percentage could be much higher, point out experts, because of a large number of illegal tube wells being used by individuals as well as industries.

In most cities, centralised water supply being insufficient, illegal bore wells and tube wells have been dug to meet the drinking water needs. Experts point out such extraction of ground water reserves can lead to a crisis in the coming years.

The prognosis being far from optimistic, the Union Ministry of Water Resources has now stepped up efforts to prevent the levels from plunging into the danger zone.

The CGWB and Central Ground Water Authority have begun implementing demonstrative recharge projects in various states for replication under similar hydrogeological environments. For regulation and control of ground water development, a model bill is being circulated to enable States to frame laws that make roof top rain water harvesting mandatory in government buildings, cooperative housing societies, hotels, schools, and industrial establishments.

The CGWA has called for rainwater harvesting along all major national highways, airports, major roads, along rail tracks and even in stadia. Large and medium industries that also depend heavily on ground water have been asked to do their bit for ensuring that the reserves do not dry up completely and active steps are taken to ensure recharge of the valuable resource.

These industries, especially the ones using ground water in the over exploited and critical areas have been instructed to take up water conservation measures including rainwater harvesting, treatment, recycle and reuse of water by the CGWA.

The Ministry of Water Resources has also come up with incentives to check the misuse of ground water. To reward best practices, 20 ground water augmentation awards and one national award have been instituted, that will be presented to local bodies, non governmental organisations, and institutions for augmenting water levels and promoting water efficiency, recycling and reuse. With over 82 areas in the country notified for regulation of ground water development and management, the CGWA is also banking on mass awareness programmes to drive home the relevance and urgency of conservation.