Water: India’s Big Resource Challenge

Water: India’s Big Resource Challenge

The ongoing droughts and water crises in Maharashtra and Gujarat point to the multiple conflicts the beleaguered and scarce resource of water is likely to spark in the coming years. India is today the world’s largest consumer of groundwater, but it is clear that how we extract, harvest, distribute and manage our most precious resource cannot proceed along usual lines.

The unsustainable over-extraction is heralding a fall in the water-table and in water quality – a phenomenon already witnessed in 60% of India’s districts. On the other hand, there are limits to top-down policies and big-ticket projects such as big dams and river-linking projects, which are increasingly hard to locate or sustain, and come with heavy costs. Meanwhile, the water demands from individuals to agriculture and industry grow.

In a recent analysis, Planning Commission member Mihir Shah flags the following departures in the 12th Five Year plan, arguing that this is an attempt at radical rethinking how India manages and uses its water resources:

Reforming irrigation departments and systems

Participatory groundwater management networks spanning government, local elected bodies, civil society networks and research organisations

Investing in systems that delink power subsidies in rural areas from supply to water extractors (e.g. tubewells) to address over-extraction of groundwater

Emphasizing small-scale water infrastructure in MNREGA e.g. watershed conservation works and drought-proofing of small farms

Bringing gram panchayats centre-stage in rural drinking water supply and sanitation schemes with a devolution index monitoring the transfer of funds and functions to these elected bodies

Mandating water audits to monitor the increasing and conflicts-generating industrial use of water

Further Readings:


Water: Towards a Paradigm Shift in the Twelfth Plan -Mihir Shah, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol xlviiI 40, No 3, January 19, 2013, http://www.im4change.org/rural-news-update/water-towards-a


The Central Water Commission's 2009 analysis of siltation in major irrigation projects


The Central Groundwater Board's 2012 analysis


An assessment of the Gujarat government's Jyotigram scheme which bifurcates rural farm and non-farm power supply in a bid to address subsidies and groundwater extraction:


Analyses of Western India's ongoing drought:



Potential synergies between NREGA and water management and restoration works:




Industry's competing demands for water


The Case of Maharashtra’s Disappearing Water-Ajay Dandekar and Shahaji Naravade, Economic and Political Weekly, May 4, 2013, Vol xlviiI, No 18 

Image Courtesy: http://awm-solutions.iwmi.org/Data/Sites/3/userfiles/149/i

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