Water experts dismiss Govt claim of increase in groundwater recharge

New Delhi: Water experts and activists have rejected the findings of the latest  government report on ground water assessment which claims that there has been an increase in water recharge during the last four years.

Depletion and contamination of groundwater is a very serious matter as it poses great risk to the food, water and health security of the country, so assessment of groundwater should have been done scientifically by the government, the experts said talking to India News Stream.

”The report is simply nonsense. It has no value as the methodology adopted for assessment of ground water is childish as it is based on blocks not aquifers.” says Manoj Mishra, convener of the ‘Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan’  which is aimed at rejuvenation of the Yamuna river.

While welcoming the government announcement that the ground water assessment will now be an annual  affair, he, however, said that there are several serious problem with the way the government has got the assessment done. There are certain things which make this report suspect.  “They did the assessment in 2017, 2020 and now 2022, but they are comparing state of ground water with the  2017 situation, not with the 2020, because, as I see it, there is  no change in the ground water situation when compared to 2020, ”
he said.

The 7000 units they have assessed are quite inadequate for a big country like India. Moreover, the units should be aquifer based but  in the present report, the assessment is block based, which could be misleading as a block may have no village, the level at which most of the water for agriculture is drawn, or may have several villages and cities, so one cannot base the assessment  averaging on blocks.

There are 15 different types of aquifer systems spread all over the country with each having its system of recharge, so any assessment of the state of groundwater should be based on aquifers, according to Mishra.

The report does not mention any limitations and nor any principal scientific body involved in the assessment, he said. The fact that the government is now saying that it would do the assessment annually shows that the ground water is now getting the attention it required, but the way the assessment in this report has been done brings little credit to the government, Mishra said.

In fact, it is since independence that the governments have not paid attention to ground water, focusing more on management of surface water, which was wrong, as India is a hydrological nation, with monsoon being there only four three months.

Another water activist and expert Himanashu Thakkar of SANDRP (South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People) has similar views when he says that the number of units assessed is too small for a big country like India and, moreover, the units assessed are geographical, not based on aquifers.

The Dynamic Ground Water Resource Assessment Report for the entire country for the year 2022, carried out jointly by Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) and states and Union Territories, released this month, shows that the total annual ground water recharge for the entire country is 437.60 billion cubic meters (BCM) and annual ground water extraction for the entire country is 239.16 BCM.

However, still 1/6th units, or out of the total 7089 assessment units in the country, 1006 units have been categorized as ‘Over-exploited’. Analysis indicates improvement in ground water conditions in 909 assessment units in the country compared with 2017 assessment data.

According to the joint report, the increase in ground water recharge  may mainly be attributed to increase in recharge from canal seepage, return flow of irrigation water and recharges from water bodies/tanks & water conservation structures.

Thakkar  says  “The units it assessed are geographical. The number of 900 units which have shown improvement as per the report is quite insufficient. There are 776 districts in the country with hundreds of blocks and tehsil within them, so just 900 do not give real picture.”

The Government contention that may be because of pandemic the situation has improved was not convincing as during Covid, agriculture activity which is main exploiter of ground water did not stop, he said

” The report should be actionable. It is at the village level that assessment should be done as it is at that level that maximum exploitation takes place. All regulation should be done at that level,” he said.

There are hundreds of aquifer in a district that have not been assessed, and unless it is done, it would be difficult to get a real picture of the state of ground water and rate of recharge, he said.

There  is one more thing that is contradictory in the report. The report, on one hand says that still 1/6th units, or out of the total 7089 assessment units in the country, 1006 units have been categorized as ‘Over-exploited’, so if over-exploitations continues, how can there be improvement in the recharge rate, Thakkar argued.

” Moreover, our water bodies which are mainly responsible for recharge of water are constantly being degraded, so how is it possible that water recharge has been improved,” he said.

Both the activists said they expected more seriousness from the government on such a critical issue as depletion of  ground water.

According to the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report 2018 of NITI Aayog, currently, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water.

The report says that the situation was to get worse. By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual ~6% loss in the country’s GDP2

The water requirement by 2050 in high use scenario is likely to be a milder 1,180 BCM, whereas the present-day availability is 695
BCM. The total availability of water possible in country is still lower than this projected demand, at 1,137
BCM. Thus, there is an imminent need to  put in place interventions that make our water use efficient and sustainable, says the NITI Ayog report.


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