The country’s turbulent water economy calls for prompt policy attention and sustained follow-through action. New research shows that the largest groundwater depletion in the world is happening in northern India, with Delhi as the epicentre of the crisis, and water being pumped out 70% faster than estimated earlier. Such a state of affairs is wholly unsustainable. The way forward is to proactively address pressing issues in surface water and groundwater policy in a holistic, multidisciplinary approach.
The 2016 Mihir Shah committee report, which called for restructuring the Central Water Commission (CWC) and Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) for a new paradigm in participatory demand management and the breaking up of watertight silos in policymaking, has been gathering dust. Now, groundwater provides nearly two-thirds of our irrigation needs but a tipping point seems to have been reached. Over the last four decades, around 84% of the total addition to irrigation has come from groundwater, with investment in canal networks long neglected. It has led to over-exploitation and fast-depleting water tables.
The report recommends a paradigm shift for participatory watershed management, a nationwide river rejuvenation programme, transparent regulatory mechanisms and cost-effective recycling and reuse of urban and industrial waste water, based on proven successes across various states. The report calls for the setting up of a National Water Commission, with multidisciplinary expertise including in hydrology (present CWC), hydrogeology (CGWB), meteorology, river ecology, agronomy, environmental economics and participatory resource management. The gap between irrigation potential created and that realised needs to be quickly bridge
via Groundwater: A dangerous threshold