Groundwater Depletion in India

By Amigos IAS

Why is it in the news?

  • A recent United Nations University report has sounded an alarming bell, highlighting that 27 out of 31 aquifers in India are experiencing rapid depletion due to over-extraction of groundwater.


Understanding Aquifers

  • Aquifers are subterranean layers of rock or sediment with the capacity to store and channel groundwater.
  • Essentially acting as natural reservoirs, they are vital for supplying freshwater to wells, springs, and other water sources.


Groundwater (GW) Status in India

  • India is the foremost user of Groundwater, constituting about a quarter of the global withdrawal.
  • A staggering 87% of the groundwater is directed towards irrigation.
  • At present, 67% of groundwater units in India are categorized as safe (where extraction is less than 70% of recharge). However, 14% are overexploited, and another 4% are teetering on the brink, being labelled as critical.
  • The states of Haryana, Punjab (where 78% of wells are overexploited), and Rajasthan are the prime culprits in excessive groundwater extraction.
  • Climate concerns further compound the issue. In southwest India, rising temperatures could impede the natural replenishment of groundwater.


Regulatory Landscape

  • Article 21: Enshrines the basic right to clean water within the right to life.
  • Central Ground Water Authority: Formed under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, it is tasked with drafting policies and programs concerning groundwater.
  • Supreme Court (2004): It validated the ‘public trust doctrine,’ affirming groundwater as a communal asset, not a private property.
  • Government Initiatives: Includes the Atal Bhujal Yojana, Jal Shakti Abhiyan, and the Aquifer Mapping and Management Programme, all dedicated to prudent groundwater management.
  • Indian Easement Act, 1882: Groundwater rights are traditionally tied to land ownership.
  • Central Ground Water Board: Founded in 1970, it too plays a role in shaping groundwater policies.
  • Model Groundwater Bills: Undergoing multiple revisions, these bills empower state boards to draft laws for water resources’ stewardship.
  • National Green Tribunal: It instructs the Central Ground Water Authority on groundwater extraction regulations and mandates prior authorization for the same.
  • Polluter Pays Principle: A mechanism where the offender is held financially accountable for groundwater pollution.





  • UN-Water Summit on Groundwater 2022: Convened to spotlight groundwater preservation.
  • 2022’s UN-Water campaign titled “Groundwater: Making the invisible visible”.



  • Aquifer Mapping and Management Programme.
  • Jal Shakti Abhiyan (2019): Targeted at 256 parched districts to ameliorate groundwater status.
  • Atal Bhujal Yojana: Introduced in 2019, this scheme prioritizes groundwater management.


Way Forward

  • Endorse crops like millet which are less thirsty.
  • Promote irrigation methods that curtail water wastage.
  • Deploy monitoring tools for borewells to foster judicious usage.
  • Disseminate real-time borewell statuses to underscore the urgency of conservation.
  • Forge innovative strategies for sustainable water resource management.
  • Delve into the nexus between power subsidies and rampant groundwater extraction, particularly in states like Punjab.

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