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Checking indiscriminate use of groundwater for irrigation

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation


Source: DTE

Context: There is a need to urgently address the pressure on groundwater resources, starting with irrigation water use.


Groundwater situation in India:


  • India is the largest user of groundwater in the world, extracting more than the two largest economies, the United States and China, together.
  • Growing domestic, industrial and agricultural demand is increasing the stress on groundwater resources. For example,
    • India is dangerously falling under the category of a water-scarce country.
    • India gets 1,486 cubic metres (1 cubic metre = 1,000 litres) per capita of freshwater every year.
    • A country is officially water-scarce when the per capita availability is less than 1,000 cubic metres per annum.
  • Climate change is adding to the problem and may have far-reaching implications, including threats to food security, increased conflicts and mass migration, if not addressed timely.


The Interplay between groundwater stress and Agriculture:

  • Over 60% of irrigation requirements are met by groundwater.
    • Since the 1980s, around 77% of the total addition to irrigation in the northwestern plains has come from tubewells.
  • This has introduced new crops (water-guzzlers) in non-traditional areas, for example, paddy in Punjab (the area under rice increased from 47 to 80% of the total cropped area between 1970s-2019) and Haryana.
  • This has also increased cropping intensity by expanding cultivation in the largely dry winter and summer seasons.


Implications of changing crop patterns:

  • Created a crisis by depleting groundwater at an alarming rate and deteriorating soil-human health.
  • Affecting crop diversity. For example, paddy in Punjab has practically wiped out oilseeds and pulses, maize and cotton.


What is aiding this? Water and electricity policies (subsidy) are often considered the main drivers of growth in the area under rice.


Way ahead:

  • Storing and using rainwater: India receives 4,000 billion cubic metres (BCM) of freshwater annually through precipitation, but only 1,123 BCM is used currently.
  • Effective management of surface water resources in regions where surface irrigation is available.
  • Energy and water pricing can be an effective policy remedy for diversifying cropping patterns and checking depleting groundwater.
    • However, this may be less effective, as farmers may switch to alternative energy sources (solar pumping).
    • Also, irrigation water pricing in India is non-volumetric and mainly applies to canal-sourced systems, depending on the area and type of crops grown.
  • Encouraging farmers to sell surplus solar energy by increasing the tariff.
  • Using water metres for irrigation water pricing to assess the actual volume of water used. This will encourage water conservation through its efficient use.


Insta Links:

UN Groundwater Summit 2022