India’s first aquifer atlas points to a sharp decline in groundwater levels in several parts of Delhi, West Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan.

The atlas, compiled by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) under the Union Ministry of Water Resources, says within the national capital, South-West Delhi is worst affected by depleting groundwater levels.

“One of the critical challenges during the 12th Five-Year Plan is to evolve strategies to manage ground water resources in a rational and sustainable manner and mapping of aquifers by the Central Ground Water Board is the first step in this direction,” said Union Water Resources Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal while releasing the atlas — Aquifer Systems of India — here.

He also released State atlas of Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu-Puducherry, Kerala, Karnataka and Meghalaya.

In a major shift in the water sector, the 12th Plan clearly calls for “more holistic aquifer management strategies” including separation of electricity feeders for agriculture and domestic use to “break the cycle of free use of electricity and excess use of groundwater.”

It also focusses on rationalising the pricing of water for various categories of users, including domestic users. “With growing domestic, industrial and agricultural demand, the stress on ground water resources is ever increasing and its sustainability has become a matter of concern,” said Mr. Bansal, giving an indication of the reforms planned in the water sector.

As per the data released, Himachal Pradesh has the best groundwater level as water exploited is quickly recharged. “The construction around Aravali Hills has created a situation which has disturbed the groundwater recharge system,” said CGWB Chairman S.C. Dhiman.

“Overexploitation, due to population concentration, has led to depletion and the recharge process is slow due to the type of soil in the region,” he said.

According to him, hard rock areas of south India are also severely affected but the recharge process was quicker in rocky areas. “Good rains over a five to seven year period can bring back water in aquifers,” he said, adding that the issues of water and land were crucial to India’s development.

The atlas has been prepared on 1:2,50,000 grid map scale and covers 14 principal aquifers and 42 major aquifers. Alluvium, the major aquifer system, covers 31 per cent area in the country and is available in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha and Rajasthan. This is followed by the sandstone aquifer that covers eight per cent area and is found in Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Rajasthan. The rest of the country is covered with other formations of which basalt is in 17 per cent area and is spread over Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Karnataka. Shale aquifer accounts for seven per cent area and is available mostly in Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, north-eastern States and in the Himalayas.

The atlas says limestone aquifer covers only two per cent area especially in Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat and in the Himalayan States.

Around 20 per cent area is covered by Banded Gneissic Complex and Gneiss aquifers which are available in almost all peninsular States as well as the Himalayan region.

The atlas suggests that the alluvium aquifer, followed by basalt is most suitable for artificial recharge and development of groundwater.

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