Groundwater misuse: Delhi, Punjab worst offenders, study says

Groundwatermisuse: Delhi, Punjab worst offenders, study says

Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu consume far more groundwater than what is replenished every year, says a study by the Union water resources ministry.

The study finds that Delhi and Punjab are the worst in terms of groundwater management, with three out of every four locations surveyed reporting this kind of overuse of water. The survey also finds similar overuse in 59% of the locations surveyed in Rajasthan, 49% in Haryana, and a little over one third in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The Central Ground Water Board and the states and Union territories jointly carried out the study, covering 5,723 locations across the country. Of these, the survey found overuse in 839 locations, with the situation critical in 226 locations, mostly in Rajasthan, Haryana and Kerala.

The report on the findings of the study suggests the creation of a policy for large industrial users of groundwater that will serve as a regulatory framework for several issues including the pricing of water; and incentives on economic use of water. Agriculture is still the biggest user of groundwater in India, and uses 92% of it, while the domestic and industrial sector account for the remaining 8%.

Industrial usage, however, is concentrated in certain areas in the country. Since large industries meet their water requirements largely through groundwater, this affects surrounding drinking and irrigation wells.

More significantly, industries are resorting to releasing treated effluents into the ground in order to declare themseves zero-effluent discharge units, the report says. “Such discharges can contaminate the entire aquifer, affecting upstream and downstream users of groundwater. Though it is illegal, numerous cases have been found in industrial clusters in Gujarat," says Chandrabhushan, associate director at the Centre for Science and Environment, a non-governmental organization.

According to the study, industries will use 11 billion cubic metres (bcm) of groundwater by 2010 and 20bcm by 2025.

“Internationally, not only water usage is charged but so is the disposal," says Partha Mukhopadhyay, senior research fellow, Centre for Policy Research, a think tank.

Responding to the depleting water resources in the country, the ministry has suggested that industrial users of water in scarce areas be charged more and that this charge be proportionate to consumption. Currently, all industries are charged at a uniform rate by state pollution control boards, irrespective of their location or usage pattern.

Ramaswamy R. Iyer, honorary research professor at CPR on water policy and planning, says: “Over a period of time, industries should be made to maximize the use of water by recycling and reuse, so that their usage of freshwater is reduced to 10%." Iyer adds that the full cost recovery principle should be applicable to industrial usage of water.

To ensure investments in water cleaning technologies, the ministry has also suggested that large industrial users treat and recycle all waste water.