India will face an acute shortage of fresh water - including rainwater and groundwater - in the next 35 to 40 years, says a new Planning Commission study.
"The rate of extraction of groundwater is increasing and in many blocks exceeds the rate of recharge, leading to lowered water tables. Twenty-eight percent of the blocks are now semi-critical, critical and over-exploited," stated the report of the Expert Group on Ground Water Management and Ownership released here Tuesday.
The number of dark or over-exploited critical blocks has grown from four percent in 1995 to 15 percent in 2004, it said.
"Currently, total water use (including ground water) is 634 BCM (billion cubic metres), of which 83 percent is for irrigation. The demand for water is projected to grow to 813 BCM by 2010, 1,093 BCM by 2025 and 1,447 BCM by 2050, against the utilisable quantum of 1,123 BCM," it stated. Groundwater, in particular, will come under even greater pressure in the intervening years, it added.
As groundwater is an open access common property resource, the country is faced with a situation in which one user tries to maximise his share, lowering the others' share. And when groundwater level gets lowered, it increases costs for all, as they need to deepen their wells and require more powerful pumps.
Stating that artificial recharge can augment groundwater, the study said it could only delay the crisis and not prevent it.
The expert group has suggested several initiatives to counter the crisis: policy and legal environment, technical issues, electricity pricing and supply, incentives for efficient use cooperative management and institutional changes.
Instead of control mechanisms, the report called for cooperative action.
"The enforcement for regulation/reduction/restriction in groundwater usage should be made effective by the state government through the users group/community participation/involvement of panchayat," it said.
"The users group shall be responsible for regulating groundwater usage among various sectors, i.e., irrigation, drinking and industrial. Such regulations by the user group will be made effective on the advice of the state groundwater board," the expert group has suggested.
It called for panchayati raj (village 3xecutive) institutions to organise village groundwater cooperation committees.
The expert group was constituted under the chairmanship of Kirit Parikh, Planning Commission member, in October 2005 after the mid-term appraisal of the 10th Five-Year Plan expressed serious concern at the rapid decline of groundwater levels in some parts of the country.