India’s federal policy think tank NITI Aayog has advocated a series of steps to conserve water and battle water stress in the country, including the concept of groundwater banking.
The plan also advocated that all linear projects such as road, power lines and rail projects that cut through forests “incorporate mitigation measures at all stages of planning, construction, and maintenance" as that will allow projects to go ahead without cutting off migration corridors that are essential to prevent species from going extinct.
The idea was suggested by NITI Aayog in its three-year action agenda for 2017-20 which was published on 24 August. The draft of the three-year plan was prepared earlier this year and a final version was finalized after extensive discussions with central government and State governments.
Groundwater banking is the practice of recharging specific amounts of water in a groundwater basin that can later be withdrawn and used by the entity that deposited the water.
“A feasibility study should be conducted for assessing groundwater banking potential in India by 2018. Some clear advantages of groundwater banking are low fixed costs as compared to dam and reservoir construction, no requirement for rehabilitation and resettlement and less environmental changes," the three-year plan noted.
It, however, said that there are certain limitations like establishing distribution networks, pumping costs, and operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, among others. The think tank also noted that groundwater banking, a recent policy phenomenon in California, is yet to be fully evaluated for its long term benefits.
The three-year plan also suggested measures such as state-specific water policies including an independent regulator with powers to regulate water uses and pricing, enactment of legislation for protection of water bodies and prevention of encroachment on water bodies, enactment of river basin management law and formation of River Basin Organizations (RBOs) for management of inter-State river basins by 2019 and enactment of a National Water Framework Act.
It also called for development of a “water footprint in the irrigation sector" for the major crops - wheat and rice - and then for other crops for adoption at farm-level by 2018.
Studies have indicated that about 80% of India’s population faces severe water scarcity.