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The groundwater is going deeper underground

February 24, 2012

The article in Deccan Herald, on the groundwater scenarios in India (based on the latest World Bank’s report), shared on the Linkedin, caught my eye today. The article is mostly based on the status of groundwater in South India.

Nevertheless, the article is a flashback to the year 2003, when I’d graduated from the University and joined a grassroots environmental nonprofit in my hometown of Meerut in India.

Community participation for the restoration of rainwater harvesting structure

I remember distinctly that a similar study for the groundwater scenario in Uttar Pradesh India was undertaken by the Ministry Of Water Resources, Government of India aided by the World Bank in 1999.

The findings of the report in 1999 left a lot to be desired. It was shocking to know that most of the water abundant region of western U.P (known as the doab region between the rivers Ganga (Ganges) and Yamuna) fell into the grey/dark zone (threatened in terms of the groundwater level).

Seeing this we increased our efforts, through the nonprofit, for the conservation of the groundwater. We conducted several field based studies to determine the number of traditional rainwater harvesting structures (ponds(talab)/ tanks (johads) and wells ) that were being encroached upon or laid defunct as landfills collecting garbage. The report was an eye opener for all.

We also surveyed and interviewed hundreds of thousands of farmers who used tubewells for the groundwater extraction for irrigation. The cost benefit analysis of the water and energy nexus was startling. The groundwater was being extracted at an alarming rate and there were no efforts for its recharging at any level.

Tubewell Irrigation

In the urban scenario of Meerut, we found out that much of the surface was covered by concrete for making buildings, roads and so on, as a result of rapid urbanization, leaving no space for groundwater recharge.

We used to publish these findings regularly in the bimonthly newsletter titled “Bluesheet”. Apart from publishing the results efforts were expedited towards the restoration of the traditional rainwater harvesting structures, encouraging the farmers to implement sustainable practices in agriculture as well as promoting the rainwater harvesting in the urban  scenario (rooftop and alike). As an outcome, the raincentre was inaugurated in Meerut in partnership with the Center for Science and Environment (CSE) India.

All this was undertaken by involving the stakeholders; through dialogue, participation and actual work on the ground via community participation.

I am reminiscing over the past because the unavailability of groundwater for potable use is like a sitting on a bomb. We never know when that will explode and what it shall bring about.

Even the World Bank’s report emphasizes upon the community ownership on the groundwater resources and making the community responsible for its reclamation and even levying penalties wherever the groundwater is being exploited in an unsustainable manner.

These recommendations have been made time and again by various groups, agencies  and organizations  for the past two decades. What we need now is a stringent policy at the local, state and central level to check and control the groundwater extraction in both rural as well urban scenarios.

I am not going into any numbers, figures or data in this post on how much groundwater is available in India and what was the situation in the past. All of that is available on the internet, just a click away.

This is just a personal reflection on my experiences about how far we’ve come on the road to sustainable development and conservation of our natural resources and where can we go further from here.

Disclaimer: This article is an adoption from the latest news item, World Bank’s report and the efforts of local grassroots environmental nonprofits efforts in India for the conservation and reclamation of groundwater resources of which I was a part of in the founding days of my career.

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