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CHAPTER 3

Water

Indias average annual precipitation is nearly 400 million hectare meter (mha-m)
(Sivaramakrishnan1 1993), of which a part percolates into the soil, a part is lost as
evapotranspiration and the balance flows as surface water. According to the second citizens report
(CSE, 1984-85) about 70 mha-m of the rainfall evaporates immediately, while 115 mha-m gets run
off as the surface water. Out of the rest 215 mha-m percolating into the soil, 165 mha-m moistens it
and the remaining 50 mha-m enters the groundwater table.
Groundwater and surface water are thus the two sources of water available for human
consumption. Over the years due to swelling population, increasing industrialization and expanding
agriculture the demand for water has multiplied. At the same time the available per-capita water
resources have declined due to falling groundwater tables, inefficient use of water etc. Water
availability in any region or country is reflected by water stress index (Falkenmark and
Widstrand, 1992). This index is based on the minimum per capita water required for basic
household needs and to maintain good health. A region whose renewable fresh water availability is
below 1700 cubic meters/capita/annum is a water stress region, while the one whose availability
falls below 1000 cubic meters/capita/annum experiences water scarcity. The current national
average per capita water availability figure per annum is 2464 cubic meters, implying that we are not
even in the water stress range as yet. However, this is only the national average figure. There are
several parts of India which are water stressed (Map 3.1) - the regions in the Indus, Krishna and
Ganga sub-basins. Regions under east-flowing rivers between Mahanadi and Pennar and west-
flowing rivers of Kachchh and Kathiawar are experiencing water scarcity, while the regions under
east flowing rivers between Pennar and Kanyakumari are suffering with absolute water scarcity
(situation when the per capita availability falls below 500 cubic meters /annum).The per capita water
availability here falls as low as 411 cubic meters (Chitale, 1992).
The annual rainfall received by India is unevenly distributed across its different parts, across different
times of the year. As a result inspite of good annual rainfall, some river basins fall in the category of
water scarce and water stressed regions, while many others suffer from absolute scarcity.

Map 3.1 Water availability in Indian river basins


44 Water

Source: Chitale, 1992.

Ground water and surface water, are being discussed separately in the next few sections to get a
clear picture about their use as a resource and subsequently getting polluted in the process.

3.1 Groundwater

3.1.1 State

TERI REPORT NO . 97/ED/52 (1998)


Bose, Vasudeva, Gupta and Sinha 45

Extent of groundwater exploitation


Groundwater sources can be classified into three categories depending upon the extent of
exploitation of the water. The 1st category is the one when the level of exploitation is below 65% of
the annual utilizable groundwater potential, 2nd category includes areas and sources in the range of
65% to 85% exploitation levels and the third and worst category is the one when the level of
exploitation exceeds 85%. At the national level, only 8% of the groundwater sources have been
exploited above 85% of their potential. However, there are states where large sources fall under the
third category. In Punjab, for instance 62% of sources have been exploited beyond 85%; in
Haryana 33%; in Rajasthan 29% and 25% of sources in Gujarat are exploited more than 85%.
Between 1984/85 and 1994/95, the percentage of third category areas in these states has increases
on an average more than threefold due to intensive exploitation of groundwater (Saleth, 1996).

Water table levels


At an aggregate level, currently only about 32% of the annual utilizable groundwater potential of
45.22 mha-m is actually exploited. However, in a few states this potential has been overexploited to
meet the demands of green revolution and is a major point of concern now. Punjab, Haryana, Tamil
Nadu and Gujarat are the states where the water tables have declined steeply. In Gujarat, water
table in over 90% of all the wells monitored by Central Groundwater Board dropped by 0.5 meter
to as much as 9.5 meters. In Haryana, the average depth is estimated to have fallen by 1 to 33 cm
annually in different parts of the state during the 1980's (TERI, 1998). Since groundwater provides
the greatest measure of security on all the three fronts sought by farmers: timeliness, adequacy and
reliability and is also cheaper as compared to surface water, the shift in favor of using groundwater
has accelerated since the 1960's concomitantly resulting in water table decline.

Drinking water quality


A survey of groundwater quality in 22 highly polluted areas (as identified by CPCB) was conducted
in 1994 by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to ascertain if water in these areas was
contaminated.Water from 138 sampling points was analysed for various physico-chemical and
biological parameters, heavy metals and pesticides. Results showed that water was not fit for
drinking in either of these 22 areas (TERI, 1998).

Health impacts
The deteriorating ground water quality due to pollution from pesticide leaching and toxic metal
leaching from the industrial effluents has had serious health effects on people all over the country.
Arsenic poisoning has been detected far above the accepatable levels in drinking water in many

TERI REPORT NO . 97/ED/52 (1998 )


46 Water

districts of West Bengal, where thousands of people have already been diagnosed with poisoning
symptoms. Arsenic in groundwater above the WHO maximum permissible limit of 0.05 mg/l has
been found in six districts of West Bengal covering an area of 34,000 km2 with a population of 30
million. At present, 37 administrative blocks by the side of the River Ganga and adjoining areas are
affected. More than 800,000 people from 312 villages/wards are drinking arsenic contaminated
water and amongst them at least 175,000 people show arsenical skin lesions.
Further water-borne diseases like diarrhea and cholera claim a large no. of lives every year in the
country. In 1990, there were almost 10 million cases of acute diarrhea, 1.8 million of malaria and
3700 of cholera (MHFW, 1992). It is estimated that 1.5 million pre-school children in India die
every year from diarrhea, and that dysentry and gastroentertitis are responsible for 60% of the total
urban deaths (Sivaramakrishnan1, 1993).

3.1.2 Pressure
The agriculture sector consumes about 93% of the available freshwater resources of the country
today, while the share of industrial and domestic sectors is a small 4% and 3% respectively (TERI,
Personal communication).

Green revolution technology


With the advent of Green Revolution in country, the efforts were focussed on bringing more area
under cultivation and increasing the crop productivity per unit hectare. For this high-yielding seed
varieties and large quantities of chemical fertilizers were extensively used, which produced best
results under a tight, time-bound crop management regime. The most essential requirement of all this
was greater control over the availability of water for irrigation, which led to digging of more and
more private wells for groundwater. This resulted in over exploitation of groundwater resources
especially in the states of Haryana, Punjab and Gujarat.

Increase in groundwater structures


At national level, the pressure on groundwater resources can be judged from the phenomenal
increase in groundwater structures as shown in table 3.1.

Table 3.1 Progressive increase in groundwater structures: 1950 to 1997


Year Dug wells Private shallow tube- Deep tube-wells
(millions) wells (thousands) (thousands)

1960/61 3.86 3 2.4

1968/69 6.11 360 14.6

TERI REPORT NO . 97/ED/52 (1998)

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