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Water Management Problems and Challenges in India: An Analytical Review

Working Paper · January 2000

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Dinesh Kumar M
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Working Paper   140 



M. Dinesh Kumar and Vishwa Ballabh

The purpose of the Working Paper Series (WPS) is to provide an

opportunity to IRMA faculty, visiting fellows, and students to sound
out their ideas and research work before publication and to get
feedback and comments from their peer group. Therefore, a working
paper is to be considered as a pre-publication document of the

Institute of Rural Management Anand

Post Box. No. 60, Anand, Gujarat (India)
Phones: (02692) 40 181, 40 186, 40246, 40 391, 41 502
Fax: 02692- 40 188. Email: corpas@fac.irm.ernet.in

January 2000

M. Dinesh Kumar and Vishwa Ballabh1


The last few decades have seen dramatic rise in the demand for water in India due to a
variety of socio-economic processes and demographic trends. Supplies have also grown
manifold, to keep pace with the demand through exploitation of surface and groundwater.
The result: groundwater resources are over-exploited in many arid and semiarid regions,
leading to falling water levels, deteriorating groundwater quality causing groundwater
scarcity. Surface water resources are over-appropriated in many basins. Surface reservoirs
are fast depleting due to siltation. Freshwater supplies are increasingly coming under threat
of pollution from industrial effluents and municipal waste.

The situation has developed steadily and dramatically with the per capita freshwater
availability declining from 6008 M3 per year in 1947 to approximately 2200 M3 per annum
after 50 years. Water scarcity is becoming a major constraint in producing food for growing
population, ecosystem protection, and maintaining health and social security. Increasing
competition and conflicts pose social and ecological risks.

In this paper, the authors analyse the water problems, emerging issues and management
challenges in India. The authors argue that the demand for water will grow by leaps and
bounds during the next few decades due to population growth, especially in urban areas,
concentration of urban population in a few urban cities, rising income levels, and rapid
industrial growth. While water resources would continue to deplete due to groundwater
degradation, surface water pollution, and depletion of existing surface reservoirs, water
scarcity problems would grow in terms of both intensity and extent. Along with scarcity, the
conflicts are likely to grow not only between sectors, but also within sectors.

Challenges to evolving sustainable, equitable and efficient management of India’s water

resources are several. First, the non-availability of adequate scientific data on quantity and
quality of water, demand for water in different sectors, nature and extent and causes of water
problems become major hindrances to developing sustainable water management strategies.
Technology poses another set of challenges. Advancements in water technology aimed at
evolving technically feasible, economically viable, environmentally and ecologically sound
and socially acceptable solutions in water management are not occurring.

Secondly, existing institutions in the water sector are technically oriented, sectoral, and
centralised, having the mandate of managing supplies. They adopt piece-meal approaches to
solve sectoral problems, and seriously lack capabilities to alter social systems to promote
efficient water use and control pollution. The agencies fail to respond to the conflicting needs
and interests of different stakeholders due to poor organisational co-ordination. They also
lack institutional capabilities to ensure equitable allocation and efficient use of water across
sectors and to resolve conflicts.


Water is a key natural resource for human survival. Water plays a vital role in sanitation for
our rural and urban communities. Water is also an important economic resource. It is
necessary for all forms of agriculture and most of the industrial production processes
(Merrett 1997; Kay et al. 1997). Water also provides a wide range of ecosystem and
environmental services (Frederick 1993; Seckler et al. 1998). It is essential for assimilation
of pollution caused by industrial effluents and domestic sewage.

Pressure on freshwater resources is increasing across the globe (WRI 1995; Brown et al.
1998). During the first 8 decades of this century, consumption of water increased fivefold, 75
percent of which was during the second half of the century (Frederick 1993). From a macro
perspective, the overall fresh water availability across the globe remains more or less
constant. But, from a micro-perspective, the freshwater supplies in many regions and
localities are dwindling due to alterations in hydrologic balances, over-exploitation and
increasing pollution of freshwater reserves. Many third world countries are already facing
serious water shortages (Brown et al. 1998; Seckler et al. 1998). Increasing freshwater
scarcity is becoming a major constraint in producing food for growing world population,
ecosystem protection, and maintaining health, social and food security and peace among
nations (Postel 1996).

India is not an exception to this impending crisis. The growing population, which is about to
touch the billion mark, the preference for water intensive agriculture and rapid urban
industrialisation are putting enormous pressure on the fragile freshwater resources (Kumar
1997; World Bank 1998). Growing water scarcity problems pose serious threat to ecosystem
management, social sustainability and economic growth.

Community managed and indigenous system of water management existed in India for many
centuries, meeting the irrigation, drinking and domestic water supply needs of the community
(Agarwal and Narain 1997; Singh 1991; Shankari and Shah 1993). The colonial rule was
marked by a major shift from traditional community based water management. The British
built large barrages and canals, but the irrigation systems were governed rather than
managed. Also, they were too large for the communities to play any significant role in their
management (Chitale 1991).

The undivided India had 28.2 million hectares (mha) of net irrigated land, including 15.2
mha of canal irrigated land. In the partition, the country lost a part of the irrigation sources to
Pakistan (Bharadwaj 1990). The foodgrain production in the country during 1949-50 was

nearly 62 million tons (Sarma and Roy 1979). In order to boost agriculture production and
achieve self-sufficiency in food, irrigation development was given a major investment
priority during the subsequent five-year plans (Bharadwaj 1990; Vohra 1995). Several major,
medium, and minor irrigation schemes were built. As a result, the net irrigated area increased
from 21 m. ha to 46.2 m. ha from 1951 to 1991 (Vohra 1995), enabling an annual growth of
2.42 percent in food production to reach 180 million tons by 1995. During 1964-65 to 1970-
71 food-grain production grew at a record rate of 3.3 percent, mostly due to expansion in
irrigated area (Sarma and Roy 1979).

The last few decades have seen a dramatic rise in the demand for water in India, triggered by
the rise in population, especially in urban areas, causing increased demand for food
production and domestic water supplies; and industrial growth resulting in increased demand
for production purposes and assimilating pollution. Supplies have also grown manifold, to
keep pace with the demand through exploitation of surface and groundwater. As a result,
groundwater resources are over-exploited in many arid and semiarid regions, leading to large
drops in water levels, deteriorating groundwater quality and sharp reductions in the
availability of good quality groundwater. Surface water resources are over-appropriated in
many basins. Freshwater supplies are increasingly coming under threat of pollution from
industrial effluents and municipal waste.

The situation has developed steadily and dramatically. At the time of independence, the per
capita freshwater availability in the country was 6008 M3 per year. In 1997, it stood at
approximately 2200 M3 per annum (Engelman and Roy 1993). The situation is already
critical in 6 out of the 20 major river basins, with the per capita freshwater availability going
below 1000 M3 per annum (World Bank 1998; Mehta 1999). Water related issues are
becoming far more complex than ever before.

This paper makes an attempt to present an analytical overview of the emerging water
resources management issues and challenges in India, with focus on the period after
Independence. The paper is divided into two sections. The first section covers the emerging
issues. The second section provides a rigorous analysis of the water management challenges
that are related to data, technology and institutions.


At the time of Independence, India was faced with the dual challenge of enhancing food-
grain production and providing safe drinking water supplies. Irrigation development was a
major investment priority in the five-year plans. Since 1951, India had made remarkable
achievements in irrigation development (Bharadwaj 1990; Varghese 1990; Vohra, 1995). The
net irrigated area had almost doubled during the period of 1951 to 1991 from 21 m. ha to
45.6 m. ha in 1991 (Vohra 1995). The annual foodgrain production increased from a meagre
50.8 million tons to 198 million tons in 1996-97. Substantial achievements had also been
made in water supplies through the development of surface and groundwater resources.
While at the time of independence, only 6.15 percent of the country’s population had safe
drinking water supplies (source: Five Year Plans as quoted in TERI 1998), by the year 1997,
about 81 percent of the total population had access to safe drinking water supplies (CSE

1997). However, the development had also brought to the fore several physical, social and
management problems. In this section, we attempt to analyse the major water related
problems that pose challenge to meeting the future water supply needs.

2.1 Water Resources under Stress: Declining Potential of Surface Water

2.1.1 Reducing Scope for Augmenting the Existing Supplies

Though the overall level of utilisation of natural runoff is very low, the scope for further
utilisation is greatly limited due to several reasons. First, almost all the viable sites are
already exploited (Kumar 1992) and the utilisation is quite intensive. Construction of any
new water storage facility is more likely to provide a means of re-allocating the available
supplies among different uses than adding to the aggregate supplies (Frederick 1993). The
social and environmental costs of future exploitation are very high (World Bank 1991;
Kumar 1992; Frederick 1993). Construction of big dams, while creating large submergence,
had resulted in large-scale displacement and uprooting of human communities, depriving
them of their traditional livelihood sources and opportunities (WRI 1995). The issues of
fundamental human rights, equity and social justice that are inherent in such patterns of
development are far more serious than the narrow issue of displacement. The underlying
principle is that the people who derive the fruits of development are not those who bear the

Second, large water projects in India are increasingly coming under the scrutiny of
environmentalists and social justice activists (Paranjape and Joy 1995). The threats to
environment and ecosystems posed by large dams are well understood. The conventional
wisdom suggests that large dams, involving large-scale submergence have serious negative
environmental consequences, while the positive environmental and ecological impacts of
irrigation were ignored (Kay et al. 1997). Third, availability of funds for large water projects
is also open to question. Greater awareness among the world community about the social and
environmental consequences of large dam projects is putting international aid agencies under
increasing public scrutiny. This has also adversely affected international financial assistance
for large dam projects in India. As of today, there are 400 big and small dam projects in India
held up due to lack of funds or opposition from the environmental lobby (source: Journal of
Indian Water Resource Society, Vol. 19 (5), No.2, April 1999).

2.1.2 Reducing Potential of Existing Supply Schemes

There are numerous problems facing the large reservoir projects in India that have
implications for the potential of existing supply schemes. Accelerated soil erosion in the
catchments and subsequent faster silting up of reservoirs, a serious concern for hydrologists,
is one among them. Most often, the actual rates of soil erosion and siltation were found to be
much higher than the estimates arrived through hydrologists’ calculations. For example: the
estimated rate of siltation for Dharoi reservoir built on Sabarmati River was nearly 1.6 MCM
per year at the time of planning. But, twenty years down the line, catchment surveys
conducted in 1994 showed that siltation in the catchment was occurring at a rate of nearly 10
MCM per year (GOG 1994). The net result is the depleting storage and reduced life of

reservoirs. Large impoundment often cause reduced in-stream flows in the downstream
portions of the river with a resultant negative impact on recharge of underlying aquifers. All
these factors have a negative impact on the future supplies.

Another serious problem is the dismal performance of irrigation schemes dependent on these
reservoirs. The irrigation schemes are characterised by poor quality of construction, lack of
adequate maintenance, poor quality and reliability of irrigation services, poor attendance of
the distribution systems, lack of involvement of farmers in irrigation management, low rates
of recovery of water charges, and poor resource utilisation efficiencies. This has major
negative implications for the utilisation of the potential already created and the future
investment prospects due to the following reasons (World Bank 1991; Vohra 1995).

First, introduction of canal water is causing widespread problems of waterlogging and

salinity in many canal command areas in India due to excessive seepage from canals and
poor drainage of irrigated fields2. Waterlogging and salinity, in the long run, causes sharp
decline in productivity of agricultural land and convert them into wasteland. Today, some of
the canal irrigated areas in Punjab and Haryana, which are already affected by waterlogging
and salinity, are showing declining productivity. The country is loosing out large tracts of
fertile irrigated croplands to water logging and salinity. Artificial drainage of land
waterlogged due to excessive irrigation is found to be far more expensive than bringing the
same amount of land under irrigation.

Secondly, large dam projects are increasingly becoming un-viable in economic terms. A
close look at the performance figures of canal irrigation projects brings out this issue. First of
all, the efficiency of canal irrigation is very poor3. It is only 50 percent as efficient as
compared to groundwater irrigation. Considering the efficiency factor, the net area served by
surface irrigation (as on 1990) is only 11.35 M ha instead of 22.7 M ha. Hence, the growth
achieved is only 7.2 M ha of Net Ground Water Equivalent Irrigation (Vohra 1995). Thus,
the level of investment required to bring one hectare of land under irrigation is nearly 47,000

The recent data on the performance of Major and Medium (M and M) schemes show that this
has increased enormously. The net area served by canal irrigation grew by 0.264 M ha during
1985-’90. The expenditure incurred during this period in the M and M sector was Rs.11017
crores. This means, the average cost of irrigating one additional hectare of land is actually ten
times more than the standard cost of forty thousand rupees (Vohra 1995). This, in no way, is
an attempt to overlook the significant positive social, economic and ecological impacts of
canal irrigation. Dhawan (1990) points out that seepage from canals and the irrigation return
flows are quite significant that it prevents the groundwater level declines even in areas with
excessive groundwater pumping for irrigation (Dhawan 1990). Nevertheless, the scope for
augmenting the existing supplies is greatly limited, by the great financial, economic, social
and environmental risks involved in large dam projects. The future potential of existing
supplies is showing a sharp downward trend.

2.1.3 Dwindling Supplies of Natural Freshwater

Today, water pollution is one of the most serious environmental problems facing developing
countries like India due to its direct effect on human welfare and economic growth (WRI
1995). In India, this has come up as the larger environmental, social and economic
consequences of industrialisation pursued through liberal economic policies. Presence of
industries had a manifold impact on the effective availability of water supplies. Industries
create demand for labour and therefore along with them concentrated migrant populations,
leading to development of new urban centres and slums. Industries generate waste in the
form of effluents. Concentrated populations also generate huge amount of waste in the form
of domestic sewage. Most often, industries dispose off their treated, untreated or partially
treated waste in the natural streams and rivers causing severe pollution, which drastically
reduces the effective availability of freshwater. Domestic and municipal waste also finds its
way into the flowing streams.

Pollution of rivers is quite extensive in India. According to a study conducted by the Central
Board for Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, as early as 1979, large stretches of all
the 14 major rivers had become contaminated due to indiscriminate disposal of industrial
effluents and urban domestic waste. The extent and magnitude of the problem can be gauged
from the fact that these river basins accommodate 82 percent of the country’s total population
(Bhatt 1986). The industries and towns4 located on the banks of river Ganga, the holiest river
of India, discharge close to a staggering 1,700 million litres of effluents into the river every
day (Mehta 1999). This causes alarmingly high levels of biological and chemical
contamination of the river (source: Down to Earth, January 15 1998).

2.2 Groundwater Over-Development Problems

2.2.1 Depletion

Groundwater resources are showing increasing signs of over-development in India. But, the
national level statistics of groundwater development provides a rosy picture of the overall
scenario. According to official statistics, only 30 percent of the rechargeable annual
groundwater potential is so far utilised (Kittu 1995). However, these figures are highly
influenced by the groundwater surplus areas of Eastern and the NorthEastern parts of India
(World Bank 1998). Long viewed as unlimited renewable natural resource, threats to
groundwater supplies are increasingly becoming evident (Moench 1991). The resource is
already over-exploited in many areas. Alarming drops in water levels in the alluvial areas of
North Gujarat, and intrusion of seawater in the coastal areas of Kutch and Saurashtra are
well-documented (Bhatia 1992; Moench 1995: Kumar 1995b). Problems of dropping water
groundwater levels are observed in many parts of Rajasthan, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and
Karnataka (quoted from Moench 1995).

There are several factors contributing to the over-development of groundwater resources.

They are lack of well-defined property rights, presence of subsidised energy for groundwater
extraction, easy access to institutional financing for well development and rural
electrification (Singh 1995; Moench 1995). De jure rights in groundwater are not clear. But,
de facto rights to groundwater are attached to land ownership rights (Singh 1995). A
landowner has total right to the groundwater underlying his/her piece of land to use it in a

way he deems fit. There is no restriction on the amount of water he/she can pump out.
Another important reason being the subsidised electricity for groundwater pumping. In many
states, electricity is nearly 100 percent subsidised. In some states, a flat rate system of
electricity pricing, based on pump horsepower, is followed. Due to this, the marginal cost of
extraction is zero and the implicit cost of extraction of unit volume of water reduces with
increase in hours of pumping. This creates incentive for farmers to over-use groundwater.
Thus, groundwater resources tend to be over-exploited. According to official estimates, as on
January 1992, 10 percent of the blocks in the entire country fall in the overdeveloped or
critically developed category (Raju 1995).

The actual magnitude and extent of depletion could be far more extensive and serious; reason
being the several limitations inherent in the current methodology for assessment of over-
development. First, the methodology is based on water balance involving recharge and
extraction estimates. It does not capture the long-term trends in groundwater levels and are
only based on 5-year average of water level fluctuations. Second, it does not capture the
localised trends in groundwater levels, which is very common in areas with concentrated
demand sites like urban centres and industrial clusters. Third, it does not capture the seasonal
drops in groundwater levels, which is a serious problem in many hard rock areas of the

The social, economic and environmental consequences of dropping groundwater levels and
depletion of economically accessible resource are often great. As water table drops, shallow
wells dry up and poor farmers abandon their wells. Then, the access is limited to only those
who can afford to deepen their wells or buy water from neighbouring well owners at
prohibitive prices. From an economic perspective, dropping water levels increases the energy
required to pump out unit volume of water and therefore the cost of extraction, reducing the
economic viability of irrigated agriculture.

From an environmental perspective, groundwater is a drought buffer. During years of low

and no rainfall, the buffer storage of groundwater is used for protecting the crops, drought
proofing and meeting a variety of social and environmental needs. Depletion, in a long run,
could also pose serious threat to food security and India’s ability to resist droughts. The poor
farmers who return to rain-fed farming may run the risk of crop failure causing a fall in crop
production and an increase in drought exposure long before there is significant depletion of
the resources (Moench 1991). In many river basins, groundwater contributes significantly to
the stream flows in rivers during the non-monsoon period. Continuous declines in
groundwater levels could permanently stop the outflows into the rivers, thereby adversely
affecting the in-stream flows and the ecosystems.

2.2.2 Groundwater Quality Deterioration

Groundwater quality is showing declining trends throughout many parts of India. This causes
sharp reductions in the availability of groundwater for various uses. On the basis of causes,
the problems of poor groundwater quality can be classified into three categories as follows.

First: There is an inherent problem of water quality due to natural contamination caused by
the presence of minerals in the formation bearing water. Several parts of the country have
saline groundwater6. Fluoride concentrations above the permissible limits of 1.5 ppm is
prevalent in 8700 villages and has affected the drinking water supplies of 25 million people.
As the concentration of fluorides in groundwater is controlled by the rainfall and evaporation,
and the residence time of water in the soil and phreatic zone, higher levels of fluoride are
generally occurring in the arid and semiarid tracts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, UP, Haryana,
Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh (Kittu 1995). Arsenic contamination of groundwater in deep
aquifers, which is by far the biggest mass poisoning case in the world, has affected 6 districts
in West Bengal (Down to Earth, October 15, 1996).

Iron concentrations are often above the permissible limits of 0.3 ppm in the Eastern and
North Eastern States. Progressive decline in groundwater quality, in terms of high TDS and
salinity, are being encountered in the alluvial plains of North Gujarat and UP with increase in
pumping depths (Kittu 1995).

Second: Increased human activities directly contaminate the groundwater. Pollution of

groundwater due to indiscriminate disposal of industrial effluents and municipal waste in
water bodies is a major concern in many cities and industrial clusters in India (Kittu 1995).
Groundwater in the whole of Vapi-Ankleshwar-Surat-Baroda belt, known as the golden
corridor of India, is severely polluted by effluent from chemical industries. Groundwater is
highly vulnerable to pollution of surface water bodies in areas where the river and aquifer are
hydraulically linked.

Intensive use of chemical fertilisers in farms and indiscriminate disposal of human and
animal waste on land result in leaching of the residual nitrate and potassium causing high
nitrate concentrations in groundwater. High concentrations of nitrates in groundwater are
reported from many parts of India (Moench and Metzger 1992; WRI 1995).

Third: Induced pollution. Excessive withdrawal of groundwater from coastal aquifers has led
to intrusion of seawater in the coastal aquifers rendering many thousands of drinking water
and irrigation wells useless. Examples are coastal areas of Kutch and Saurashtra in Gujarat
and Chennai coast (Bhatia 1992; Kittu 1995; Kumar 1995b and 1996).

2.3 Growing Water Scarcity

2.3.1 Growing Demand

A wide variety of demographic and socio-economic trends such as population growth,

urbanisation, industrialisation, changes in agricultural practices and cultural changes, in
combination, have triggered off this explosion in demand for water. The country’s population
has more than doubled since Independence from a mere 400 million to around a billion now
(nearly 250 percent increase). The relation between population and demand for water is non-

Population growth impacts positively on the demand for water in many ways. First of all, the
demand for water for drinking and cooking and sanitation increases proportionally, provided
the economic conditions and poverty rates remain constant. Rather more important than the
population rise is where the population rise really takes place, i.e., whether it is in the urban
areas or rural areas, and how it grows. The per capita demand for the basic needs and a
variety of environmental services are likely to be high for urban areas. Faster growth rate will
impact demand rates positively. The rise in demand for water for a given rise in urban
population will be much higher than what will occur if the rural population grows by the
same magnitude. This is due to the implications urban population growth has on waste
disposal. Urban population constituted more than 1/4th the country’s total population in 1994,
while only 1/6th of the total population lived in urban areas at the time of Independence.
Urban population is growing at a rapid rate, much faster than the rural population. According
to the projections of the UN populations division, India’s urban population will touch 600
million-mark by the year 2025, making it nearly 45 percent of the country’s total population
(WRI 1995). Along with the rapid growth in aggregate urban population, there has been
simultaneous concentration of the population in a few cities, adding to urban population
growth rates and per capita demand for water.

The growing population would invariably put pressure on the foodgrain supplies. Hence,
there will be an urgent need to produce more food grains, to maintain the current per capita
supply levels. In India, the per capita consumption of food grains (cereals and pulses) has
recorded a significant rise over the last few decades resulting from the improvements in
economic conditions and reduced poverty. This means that the growth rate to be achieved in
foodgrain production will have to be much higher than the population growth rate. According
to one of the UN projections, the country’s population will touch the 1.5 billion mark by the
year 2025, when the total food supply requirement of the country would be 350 million tons
(WRI 1995).

Along with foodgrain, farmers will have to increase the production of other agricultural
crops, especially cash crops to meet the growing micro-economic needs. Since there is no
scope for further expansion in the net cultivable area, the increased production has to come
from increased production from unit area of cultivable land. This can be achieved only
through expansion of area under irrigation, which currently stands at nearly 1/3rd of the gross
cropped area in the country7, which in turn increases the demand of water for agriculture.

Economic condition and poverty are two important parameters that can potentially impact on
the way natural resources are being consumed (WRI 1995). This can significantly impact
water use practices and use patterns, causing overall increase in the demand for water in the
domestic sector. Economic growth increases the demand for a wide variety of environmental
services related to water (Pearce and Warford 1993). India has achieved significant growth
on the economic front over the last 3 decades with a resultant reduction in poverty. In the
year 1972, approximately 52 percent of the population lived below the poverty line, while
this reduced to only 30 percent by the year 1987-88. Such trends are also drivers of change in
the per capita water requirement for various uses (WRI 1995).

One of the competitive demands which has been growing exponentially over the last one or
two decades is industry. The water requirement for water consuming industries such as agro-
based industries, petrochemicals, fertilisers, refineries, and industrial chemicals industries
increased 40 times from just 100 million litres a day in 1947-50 to 4000 million litres a day
in 1997 (TERI 1998). Though industrial water demand constitutes a small fraction of the
total water demand in India today, it is likely to dominate other important sectors like urban
and rural, domestic/ drinking water in the coming decades following the rapid sectoral

An important component, which is critical from the point of view of environmental

management and ecological conservation but often not considered in demand projections, is
the water required for assimilating pollution caused by disposal of industrial effluents
(Ballabh and Shunmugam 1999).

According to the UN projections, the total water demand, which stands at the current level of
600 BCM (billion cubic metres) is expected to rise to 1050 BCM by the year 2025 (source:
Journal of Indian Water Resource Society, Vol. 19 (5), No.2, April 1999).

2.3.2 Dwindling Water Supplies

Groundwater Scarcity

Indiscriminate exploitation of groundwater for irrigation and other uses has resulted in
resource depletion. This was manifested by alarming drops in water levels in alluvial areas,
drying up of open wells, yield reductions in deep tube wells, and depletion of economically
accessible groundwater resources8. In hard rock areas, excessive withdrawal is causing sharp
seasonal drops in groundwater levels and drying up of wells in summer causing acute
seasonal scarcity of groundwater for all purposes. The case of Coimbatore district of Tamil
Nadu illustrates this phenomenon with enough clarity. The district, characterised by a record
density of irrigation wells, had recorded a steep decline in groundwater levels over the last
few decades, with water levels falling up to 200 feet in some parts. The number of wells in
the district doubled during the period from 1960 to 1990, while the net irrigated area by
groundwater almost stagnated. This means that the net area irrigated by a single well had
almost reduced by half, unless we expect significant changes in the cropping pattern during
this time period, sufficient to make substantial increases in the depth of irrigation watering.

In many areas, overdraft is causing deterioration of groundwater quality. Over extraction of

groundwater from deep aquifers in the alluvial plains of Mehsana district in North Gujarat9
has resulted in increasing level of fluorides and TDS in groundwater pumped (Widjemans
1993; Kumar 1996)10. Excessive withdrawal of groundwater from the coastal aquifers in
Saurashtra and Kutch has resulted in saline intrusion into freshwater aquifers, rendering
water from many thousands of wells, saline (Bhatia 1992; Sangvai 1994). Groundwater
quality has major negative implications for the effective availability of groundwater for
various uses11. Widespread deterioration of groundwater quality causes sharp reduction in the
availability of fresh groundwater that can be used for various needs.

In many arid and semiarid sections of the country, average annual extraction is many times
above the average annual recharge. This eventually means drawing down the buffer that has
developed over millions of years, ultimately leading to mining of aquifers (Moench 1991:
Kumar 1995b)12. This poses serious threat to the sustainability of resource base. If such
patterns of development continue, we will be fast approaching a situation where the entire
groundwater resources in these areas will be exhausted.

Surface Water

Pollution is posing a major threat to natural freshwater supplies from surface water bodies. A
Central Pollution Control Board report cites 20 critically polluted areas along the stretches of
some of the most important rivers in the country, where the level of pollution is far above
what the flows could assimilate (Biswas and Sharma 1995). Eventually, they are close to the
vicinity of some of the booming industrial clusters and major cities in the country.

The enforcement of pollution control norms by the concerned agencies is precariously poor.
Large industries often flout pollution control norms. But, the agencies lack the administrative
and institutional capabilities and legal powers to penalise the free riders. Often, identifying
the source of pollution is also an issue. Notices issued by Ministries and agencies for closure
of erring industries are often met with stay orders resulting in shifting of decisions to
judiciary, causing long delays. Over and above, a large number of the polluting industries are
small industries lacking adequate financial resource to invest in effluent treatment facilities,
which are prohibitively expensive (Vani et al. 1995; Ballabh and Singh 1997).

Municipal sewage accounts for nearly 90 percent of the effluents generated in India annually.
Many major Indian cities and towns lack adequate facilities to treat the municipal sewage and
industrial waste they generate. According to a CPCB report, only 1/3rd of the major cities
(with more than 1 lakh population) and 4 percent of the cities with less than 1 lakh
population have wastewater treatment facilities. Eventually, they dump their untreated and
toxic industrial waste and domestic sewage into the rivers, on the banks of which they are
situated. Delhi city, for example, vomits around 1600 million litres of untreated sewage and
400 million litres of industrial effluents into Yamuna river from which it draws nearly 70
percent of its municipal water supplies (Down to Earth, June 15, 1998). The fact is that large
sections of the urban and rural populations, who lack access to private water supply systems,
still depend on the natural flows in rivers for meeting their sanitation needs, and a variety of
other uses such as bathing of cattle, etc., (Kumar et al. 1999). Therefore, pollution of river
can permanently jeopardise the ability of the poorest sections of the communities living in
urban and rural areas to access the basic minimum water supplies essential for their survival.

The storage capacity and life of many large and small reservoirs in the country, is reducing
much faster than estimated. This can greatly reduce the ability of many large cities and towns
in the country, which heavily depend on these reservoirs, to maintain future water supplies to
the current levels. The problem arising out of the reduced availability of water gets
compounded by rapid population growth occurring in the urban areas, with the result that the
per capita supply levels further dip, widening the gap between the per capita supply
requirements and the supply levels. Historically, per capita supply levels had gone down in

cities. The Ahmedabad city is a good example13. Many cities are already facing acute scarcity
of water for drinking.

According to a UN projection, total water demand in India by the year 2025 will be at par
with the total exploitable freshwater supplies. According to the UN report, India will be
among the severely water stressed countries of the world (source: Economic Times, January
24 1999). A recent World Watch Institute report on the status of world’s natural resources
and environment also confirms this (Brown et al. 1998). According to another estimate, by
the year 2010, the per capita supplies of fresh water in the country will further drop from the
current 2300 M3 to 1600 M3 per capita per year as a result of the increasing population and
reducing supplies. In such a scenario, the availability of economic and financial resources
will ultimately determine the degree of control individuals, communities and societies
establish over water. While the rich corner the precious resources, the poor will progressively
loose their access, resulting in social tensions and conflicts

2.4 Increasing Competition and Growing Conflicts

One of the major challenges India is facing in the water management sector today is the
growing competition between demand sectors (World Bank 1998; Kumar et al. 1999;
Ballabh and Singh 1997). Since Independence, the demand of water has grown in all sectors
of use. However, the growth in demand in sectors such as industrial use and urban domestic
use has been phenomenal. Though, at the national level, irrigation still constitutes lion’s
share of the consumptive use of water (83 percent), the demand pattern is changing fast with
increasing occurrence of multiple demands and uses. This apart, the demand pattern is
becoming less and less uniform across geographical locations. The reasons being the overall
growth in urban population, concentration of existing urban populations in a fewer urban
locations and dispersed industrial growth.

Heavy concentration of populations in urban areas creates quantum jumps in municipal water
supply requirements. This is not only of good quality, but also of high priority. As urban
areas are increasingly finding it difficult to manage their required supplies from within, they
often start laying claim on the resources in rural areas, thereby running into conflict with
other competitive demand in the rural areas. Dispersal of industries in rural areas leads to a
situation where the overall demand for water in those areas increases rapidly with the result
that industries directly compete with irrigation and drinking for the limited freshwater

As the supplies continue to decline over time, the competition grows between sectors as well
as users within sectors. The ultimate result is that the more influential and the resource rich
groups corner the already limited freshwater resources to meet their demands, often at the
cost of the high priority uses (Ballabh and Singh 1997; Kumar et al. 1999). In Gujarat, for
instance, municipal authorities in many cities and towns have started claiming increasing
allocation of water from surface reservoirs primarily meant for irrigation, as a coping strategy
to meet the ever increasing demands (Kumar 1997; Kumar et al. 1999). Such allocations
have always been at the cost of reduction in supplies for irrigation, leading to conflicts.

Many river basins in India are characterised by growing competition between sectors such as
irrigation vs. municipal uses, irrigation vs. drinking, industrial use vs. irrigation, etc., (World
Bank 1998; Ballabh and Singh 1997).

Beyond the inter-sectoral competition and conflicts, competition among users within the
sector will be a striking feature of the emerging scenario in the water sector. As the
economically accessible water resources become scarce, the rich and the wealthy are likely to
corner the available resources at prohibitively high economic and social costs, in the absence
of a proper institutional framework to meet the larger social objectives. This can lead to the
poor progressively getting more and more deprived of access to water for the basic needs.
Such situations can be potential sources of social tensions and conflicts.


India is faced with dual problems in water resources. First is of scarcity of freshwater due to
the declining natural supplies and the increasing demand for enhancing foodgrain production,
providing water supplies for drinking and industries, and ecosystem management (Ballabh et
al. 1999). The second is of increasing conflicts over sharing of water. The core water
management needs are maintaining the balance between demand and supplies to address
growing scarcity; and equitable allocation of water across sectors to resolve the conflicts.
This is a dual challenge. To begin with, evolving water management strategies to meet this
challenge needs scientific database on water supplies in relation to a range of social,
economic and environmental objectives. This is to be followed by water management
technologies that are economically viable and replicable. Last, institutions are needed for
evolving and implementing water management solutions to address water scarcity and
resolve conflicts. The following section provides a critical analysis of the water sector in
India vis-a-vis these needs.

3.1 Data Related Issues

3.1.1 Availability of Scientific Database

One of the biggest challenges facing the water management sector in the country is the non-
availability of adequate scientific data needed for water budgeting, allocation planning, and
water management decision-making. Reliable estimates of water supply and demand are one
of the core needs for water management.

Estimates of Water Availability and Use

The two key components of water supplies are surface water and groundwater. So far as
groundwater is concerned, the supplies are determined on the basis of the average annual
recharge. The methodology adopted for recharge estimation has weak scientific basis and
hence the estimates are questionable. The “water level fluctuation approach” 14 used for
recharge estimation has many inherent limitations. In the first place, it assumes that all the
monsoon recharge appears as a rise in water level in the wells and conveniently neglects the
portion of the recharge pumped out during the monsoon season, the inflows into the aquifer

basin and the outflow from the basin. Secondly, it also does not capture the long-term trends
in groundwater levels in a particular area as only the previous five-year data are considered
for estimation. Therefore, it fails to provide a realistic assessment of the overall groundwater
situation in an area.

There are also problems in estimating the recharge with a reasonable degree of reliability.
While water levels are periodically measured through observation wells, specific yield is
estimated using pump tests. Therefore, recharge estimates are highly sensitive to specific
yield values. In the case of hard rock areas--which occupy 2/3rd of the country’s geographical
area--, specific yield varies widely across space. But, specific yield values are available for a
very limited number of locations across the country (Moench 1991). The density of
observation wells that largely determine the accuracy of data on water level fluctuations is
also very poor15. Selection of monitoring wells and method of collection of water level data
are hydraulically incorrect and leaves much to be desired (Saxena 1995).

As regards surface water, the most crucial data is dependable runoff. For scientific
estimation of dependable run-off, adequate data on historical rainfall and stream-flows are
essential for a substantial time period. In India, the runoff data for larger time horizons and
for good number rain-gauge stations are available only for a few major river basins. For the
rest, data are available for a limited number of gauging stations and for short time horizons.
For such basins, the data on “dependable flows”, will have to be generated through statistical
analysis of historical data and, therefore, are bound to be less reliable. For the smaller rivers,
which are not gauged, the “dependable flows” will have to be estimated using rainfall-runoff
relations, arrived at for similar basins, or through the use of simulation models. The use of
simulation models in hydrologic studies is limited to a few scientific institutions in India.

Water Quality

Quality is another important variable that determines the suitability of water for a particular
purpose and hence quantity and quality issues are inter-linked (Moench and Metzger 1992;
Kumar 1995a; Biswas 1996). There are numerous biological, physical and chemical
parameters that determine the quality of water.

There are four important issues associated with water quality monitoring. i) There are a few
observation stations in the country that cover all the essential parameters for water quality
and hence the data obtained are not decisive on the water quality status (Biswas and Sharma
1995). ii) Water quality measurements involve expensive, sophisticated and that are difficult
to operate and maintain; and require substantial expertise in collecting, analysing and
managing the data (Biswas 1996). Therefore, in a country like India, where water technology
is still not advanced, it is very likely that the available data on water quality is less reliable.
iii) The existing methodology for water quality management is inadequate to identify the
various sources of pollution and contamination of water (Moench and Metzger 1992). iv)
Available water quality data are hardly integrated with data on water availability of water
supplies. But, such integration is very important not only from a purely physical science
perspective, but also from the point of view of assessing water availability for meeting
various social, economic and environmental objectives (Moench 1995).

Water Demands and Use Rates

Demand estimation in different sectors of water use is often based on agency norms. These
norms fail to capture the variations in physical, socio-economic, cultural and institutional
factors that greatly influence the demand of water in various sectors. As a result, the demand
figures estimated through norms are unrealistic.

Water use rates are important for analysing demand management interventions. But, no data
are compiled by official agencies on the actual use of water in different sectors such as per
capita water use in municipal areas, water use by livestock, crop water use, and industrial
water use. In the case of groundwater, figures of withdrawal can often form a strong basis for
estimating aggregate water use from a particular source. However, these figures are also
estimated using agency-approved norms, which are highly unrealistic. Actual field
measurements are never done (Saxena 1995).

3.1.2 Objectives and Criteria for Data Collection

Moench (1995) stressed on the need for larger social considerations in assessing over-
development of groundwater in the face of scarcity and they include economic efficiency,
equity, environment, drought buffer, future option maintenance, and provision of drinking
water supplies as fundamental rights. Accordingly, he redefines the criteria for assessing
over-development of groundwater resources in India (Moench, 1995). Here, a case is built for
redefining the objectives and criteria for assessing water development that would encourage
integration of larger goals of social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Objectives of Data Collection

The process of collection and interpretation of data on water availability and condition in
India has a strong technological bias. Hydrological objectives override the larger social,
economic and environmental objectives. As a result, the hydrological data are often
interpreted in a way it does not indicate the availability of and access to the resources for
meeting various social, economic and environmental needs.

First, it is important to assess the status of development of water resources in relation to

economic efficiency objectives. It is also essential to know whether the current levels of
exploitation of water in a river basin are economically efficient or not. From an economic
perspective, surface water in a river basin is over-exploited if the cost of unit volume of
additional water harnessed is high. So is the case with groundwater. In a river basin, if new
water projects only help in reallocating the available water within the basin, then it can be
called an over-exploited basin, as the cost of unit volume of water would be enormously
high. In the case of groundwater, over-development occurs if the extraction is economically

Similarly, it is important to assess development of water in relation to social objectives.

Ensuring adequate quantities of water for human survival is a social goal. Therefore, from a
social perspective, over-development of water resources occur, when the water resource in a

basin cannot meet the basic drinking water needs in a basin on a long-term. In many hard
rock areas like Saurashtra region in Gujarat, dug wells dry out before the onset of summer
due to sharp declines in groundwater levels and drinking water becomes scarce. However,
current assessment methodologies classify such areas as “under-exploited”.

In view of the fact that water scarcity in river basins creates environmental stress, protection
of environment and ecosystems should be considered as an important objective in a water
development project. Development of water resources should, therefore, be assessed in
relation to environmental and ecological objectives. For instance, maintaining in-stream
flows will be important for both rivers that support marine ecosystems and that flush out
pollution load. If withdrawal of groundwater or structural interventions in the river flow
result in stoppage of stream flows during non-monsoon, the basin can be treated as “over-

Criteria and Variables for Assessment of Resource Condition

As the objectives of collection and interpretation of data change, the criteria for assessment
of water availability or water scarcity situation is bound to change. Currently, water balance
is the only criteria used for assessment of over-development of water and scarcity. However,
water balance does not provide enough indicators of the actual social, ecological,
environmental and economic impacts.

From a social perspective, it is important to know how far whether the available water in the
basin would be sufficient to meet the basic survival needs, especially drinking. In the
economic sense, one important criterion for assessment of scarcity could be the investment
communities have to make in accessing water supplies for various uses, or whether water is
within economically accessible limits or not. Dropping groundwater levels can increase the
investment for well digging and energy cost for groundwater extraction. Therefore, it is
important to include pumping depths and yield levels as important parameters to be

Further, assessing the overall water situation in a river basin on the basis of the quantitative
data on the overall supplies and demand alone will be too unrealistic. The data on quality
requirements for meeting various sectoral demands in the basin should be available along
with quantitative estimates of volumetric demand in each sector, so is the data on the quality
of the existing supplies.

3.2 Institutional Challenges

The institutional challenge is analysed on the basis of the following five core water
management needs: effectiveness in responding to local water scarcity problems; competence
to evolve comprehensive water management approaches to address regional problems; ability
to design water management systems to alter social systems affecting water use; capability to
ensure equitable and sustainable resource use; and, ability to implement water allocation
plans effectively and resolve conflicts.

3.2.1 Centralised and Segmented Approach

All state and national level institutions that are directly dealing with water are centralised
institutions. They use “centralised” and “top-down” approaches for data collection,
compilation and management, water development planning, implementation and finally
water management (World Bank 1998).

First, centralised planning processes do not involve local communities at any stage of data
collection, issue identification and water development planning. Official agencies identify the
issues on the basis of macro-level data they gather. Such processes are grossly inadequate to
capture the local resource availability, conditions and problems. The involvement of local
communities in data collection is essential in view of the fact that they are aware of the
condition of the resources in their locality. On the other hand, involvement of local user
groups in planning could lead to development of plans that are implementable as they are
aware of the range of factors that determine the type of interventions that are physically and
socially viable (Kumar et al. 1994). “Centralised” and “top-down” planning processes create
doubts and fear in the minds of local people and often leads to conflicts and opposition to the
project implementation.

Secondly, by and large, the centralised systems do not encourage effective participation of
the user groups in water management, due to the reason that they are often too large for the
local communities to handle. Water management being a social activity, the involvement of
user groups is critical to achieve the desired water management objectives. Mechanisms and
avenues for user groups involvement in management are also lacking. In sum, most often,
planning of water resource systems was supply driven. The existing institutions are never
able to respond to the local water management needs.

3.2.2 Regulatory Approach to Management

Water laws are essential for efficient management of water resources. Given the bearing
water has on social and economic development, preservation of natural ecosystems, water
laws have to be based on environmental, ecological conservation and social and economic
consideration. But, water laws in India are heavily fragmented and water related legislations
use piecemeal approaches and far less than comprehensive (Bhatt 1986).

Several states in the country had passed legislations to control and regulate the over-
development of groundwater resources in accordance with the Model Bill16. They were, by
and large, command and control approach to affect changes in the resource use. Over and
above, they are blanket legislation and do not capture the potential variations in the overall
physical, social, economic, cultural and institutional settings across different localities and
regions, which would determine the needs of any locality. As a result, they are often not
hydrologically less meaningful and socially and politically non-viable (Moench 1995; Kumar

The Central and State Pollution Control Boards, set up under the provisions of the Water
Pollution (Control and Prevention) Act 1974, have evolved norms and standards with regard

to quality of trade effluents and sewage discharged in natural streams and wells (including
biological, chemical and physical) and also water quality of the natural streams. These
norms, however, have largely been ineffective in controlling water pollution due problems in
implementation. The roots of the problems lie in the following. First, the institutional and
administrative capabilities to monitor water quality are increasingly becoming inadequate in
the wake of the increasing number of industries, rapid increase in the chemical effluents.
Secondly, the traditional water treatment plants are incapable of treating the new, toxic
chemicals industries produce. Fourth, the Municipal authorities, and small industries, which
are major sources of pollution, do not have financial resources to invest in treatment plants
that are prohibitively expensive. Thirdly, the pollution control agencies are not been given
powers by the provisions of the Act to penalise the violators, and hence are to be prosecuted
in the normal course in Judicial Courts (Bhatt 1986).

3.2.3 Sectoral and Segmented Approaches

The approach to water sector in India is sectoral (World Bank 1998). Institutions were
created to cater to the needs of different sectors such as rural drinking, urban water supplies,
irrigation, recreation, fisheries etc. Often, the dynamics of interaction between various socio-
economic systems influencing water use in different sectors is poorly understood. New water
projects often alter the allocation among existing uses. For example, adverse impact of
structural interventions in the natural flows on in stream uses has always been ignored.

The water supply strategies adopted within a sector are not often holistic and integrated, but
rather narrow and disjointed. Sectoral planning lack long term perspectives. The overall
demand and supplies within the basin and the future trends in both are not considered in
planning a new water project in river basins. In river basins where flows are heavily diverted
and intensively used, new storage and diversion projects only alter the allocation rather than
adding to the aggregate freshwater supplies. This can lead to conflicts between and within

3.2.4 Supply Focus

The scientific and technological advancements made during the 20th century, led to major
breakthroughs in understanding the natural systems underlying water supplies and the
capacity to control and exploit it. The advancements made in earth moving, dam
construction, deep drilling and pumping technology etc., greatly encouraged resource
exploitation (Frederick 1993), often beyond the threshold of sustainable carrying capacities.
Till recently, water management was viewed as an engineering activity involving building of
large dams and diversion head works, creation of storage reservoirs and conveyance systems
to take care of the spatial and temporal variations in annual rainfalls. The institutions that
were created were largely technically oriented, with the skills and competence for water
resource investigation, and identification, planning and execution of water development
projects. The supply focus in the water sector, to a great extent, helped these institutions
remain as technically oriented for a significant period of time.

With the resources increasingly becoming scarce, new water development projects hardly
add to the aggregate supplies, and only allocates the available supplies among alternative

uses. Thus, the priorities of these institutions are changing from managing supplies to
conservation and demand and allocation management (Frederick 1993). There are several
fiscal instruments that can potentially impact on the social systems to affect reduction in
demand or in other word that can create incentives for efficient use of water in competitive
use and disincentive for pollution (Pearce and Warford 1993). However, the agencies lack
capabilities to design alternatives that are effective in changing social systems. Secondly, the
use of fiscal instruments has social and political ramifications. The success in administering
such instruments would heavily depend on political consensus and popular mandate.
Institutional avenues for interfacing and lobbying with political parties and civil society to
gain popular support are, however, absent.

3.2.5 Institutional Frameworks and Market Instruments

Human interactions with the environment and their impacts depend heavily on the property
rights systems or the institutional regimes that are embedded in the social, cultural, economic
and political setting. In developing countries, including India, there is very little
understanding of the role of institutional regimes in determining the way in which natural
resources are used (Hanna and Munasinghe 1995). Given the institutional vacuum, in which
communities exercise control and access water resources, the property rights issues in water
are self-evident. The lack of a well-defined property right system creates uncertainty about
the impact of the resource use on environment and therefore creates incentives for overuse
(Pearce and Warford 1993). But, the governments increasingly tend to use “command and
control” approach to restrict the use of water.

Improving the institutional framework can help find sustainable solutions to water
management problems. Institutional mechanisms such as market based property rights
systems can be used for managing renewable common pool water resources, while achieving
social and environmental objectives (Pearce and Warford 1993; Young and McCay 1995;
Chaudhary 1996). But, they involve institutional changes and are therefore often

Water has always been at the centre of political agenda in independent India. They use it as a
tool for creating vote banks. Therefore, policies, laws, regulations and legislation and
institutions that would restrict or redefine the rights of communities in accessing water is
bound to become a politically sensitive issue. As a result, institutional changes are not likely
to be forthcoming in the water sector in India.

3.3 Technological Challenges

In India, water problems have grown much faster than the advancements made in water
conservation and management technologies. First of all, there is very limited understanding
of the physical problems. The use of management information systems that can help
understand the problems and evolve management decisions is extremely limited in India. The
problems associated with this are absence of systematic and scientific data collection,
compilation, processing and retrieval systems, highly segregated nature of information, and
poor degree of access to the existing information.

Technological options being advocated for water management is limited to structural
interventions for increasing the supplies. During scarcity, the usual discourses focus on
creation of new sources (Bhatia 1992; Kumar 1995a; Prabhakar et al. 1997). Supply side
approaches to water management have several limitations (Kumar 1995b). The concept of
end-use conservation, recycling and reuse are recent in India’s water management sector. The
customary approach for water quality management is wastewater treatment, which is at best,
end of the pipe treatment. The role for environmental management systems in minimising
waste is not widely debated.

Technological solutions are absent for many of the complex water resource problems facing
the nation. Contamination and pollution of underground aquifers is widespread in India.
However, the options for cleaning up the aquifers that are technically feasible and
economically viable are almost non-existent in India. The country is too poor to afford some
of the technologies that are successfully tried out in the West, especially United States that
are prohibitively expensive. Information and access to technology is also an issue.


India had a long water management tradition. However, these began to decline with the
arrival of the British who introduced large-scale irrigation systems and systematically
destroyed the traditional village institutions and collective action by the communities to
store, use and manage the water in their locality.

Since Independence, India has made remarkable achievements in water sector, which is
evident from the large growth in irrigated agriculture, increase in agricultural production, and
advancements in drinking water supplies in rural and urban areas. In doing so, development
of water resources has crossed the thresholds of physical sustainability in many areas,
manifested by groundwater depletion, groundwater quality deterioration, dwindling supplies
and increasing pollution of surface water. As demand for water grows by leaps and bounds in
all sectors due to demographic and socio-economic changes, the magnitude and extent of
scarcity problems increases.

Scarcity of water puts major constraints on increasing food production for the growing
population, economic growth, and protection of social and environmental goals. Added to
this, the growing competition and conflicts over sharing of shrinking resource result in water
scarcity to emerge as a major source of threat to social security and protection of ecosystems.

The water management challenges India is facing today are really great. First of all, wide
gaps exist in our understanding of the physical problems and management solutions.
Management solutions that are technically and economically feasible and socially and
politically viable are not forthcoming. Over and above, the government policies and
programmes are largely tuned to develop water resources rather than manage it. The non-
availability of adequate scientific information regarding availability and quality of water,
demand for water in different sectors, nature and extent and causes of water problems
become major hindrances to developing sustainable water management strategies. The root
of the problem also lies in the lack of co-ordination among agencies for data collection,

processing and retrieval, and the lack of integration of social, economic and environmental
factors in assessment of resource condition.

Technology is another major challenge. Technologies available for water conservation and
management are limited and less popular. Advancements in water technology aimed at
evolving technically feasible, economically viable, environmentally and ecologically sound
and socially acceptable solutions in water management are not occurring.

Existing institutions in the water sector are technically oriented, sectoral, and centralised,
having the mandate of managing supplies. They adopt piece-meal approaches to solve water
problems within the sectors concerned and seriously lack capabilities to alter social systems
to affect efficient water use and pollution control. The various agencies fail to respond to the
conflicting needs and interests of different stakeholders due to poor organisational co-
ordination. They also lack institutional capabilities to ensure equitable allocation and
efficient use of water across sectors and to resolve conflicts.


We gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided by the Ford Foundation, New
Delhi for the research on which this paper is based.


1 Consultant and Professor, respectively, Institute of Rural Management Anand 388

001. email: dkumar@fac.irm.ernet.in and vb@fac.irm.ernet.in.

2 One of the official estimates puts the figures of area affected by salinity and water
logging as 26 lakh hectares.

3 The figures of net irrigated area by canals do not take into account the quality of
irrigation – number of watering, timing and depth of watering etc.

4 Twenty-five of India’s largest towns with population exceeding 1,00,000 are situated
on the banks of Ganges.

5 Nearly 2/3rd of the geographical area of the country is underlain by hard rock.

6 In the Hooghly delta in West Bengal, groundwater at shallow depth is brackish. In the
Mahanadi River delta, the reverse situation is common (Kittu 1995).

7 It is important to note that internationally, the yields of major cereals such as rice,
wheat and maize have stagnated, if not declined since the early eighties.

8 As water table drops, the investment for well construction goes up and the energy
required and hence the cost of unit volume of water pumped increases enormously,
thereby reducing the economic viability of using groundwater for many purposes.

9 According to official estimates, the average annual extraction of groundwater in

Mehsana is 900 MCM against an average recharge of 510 MCM (Government of
Gujarat 1992).

10 As on 1992, 608 out of the 1107 villages in Mehsana were affected by fluoride
contamination of groundwater.

11 For instance, if the level of fluorides in pumped groundwater is above 1.5ppm, it is

unsuitable for drinking. If the TDS of groundwater exceeds 2000ppm, it cannot be
used for irrigating conventional crops such as cereals, vegetables and oil seeds.
However, it is important to remember are there are several examples of salt tolerant
crops, which can tolerate salinity levels much beyond 2000ppm.

12 Dr. David Seckler, head of International Water Management Institute, was recently
quoted as saying that the annual groundwater extraction in India exceeds the recharge
by a factor of two times or more.

13 The per capita supply levels in Ahmedabad maintained by AMC went down from 197
litres per capita in 1971 to 125 litres per capita per day in 1997.

14 That uses pre and post monsoon water levels and specific yield of aquifers.

15 Based on the data provided by Kittu (1995), the average density of observation wells
in the country is only 1 in 120 sq. km. In lieu of the fact that sharp variations in water
level trends are possible within smaller geographical units in hard rock areas, it can
be inferred that such a density of observation wells is too low to capture the complex
groundwater trends.

16 Formulated by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1970 and the Ministry of Water

Resources in 1992.


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