Over-irrigation and Water Crisis in India

India is the world’s seventh largest country in terms of area but the second most populous country, with   more than 135 crore people, making it one of the most densely populated area in the world. The amount of water needed in India is immense, making India the center of the water crisis. India is the biggest user of groundwater and extracts more groundwater than China and the US, the next two biggest extractors, combined and groundwater meets more than half of total requirement of clean water in the country. Agriculture, with its allied sectors, is the largest source of livelihoods in India. 70 percent of its rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, with 82 percent of farmers being small and marginal. About 89 percent of groundwater extracted in India is used for irrigation purposes.


India accounts for about 17% of the world’s population but only 4% of the world fresh water resources. There are places in India which gets flooded every year at the same time there are places which face drought every year. Distribution of water resources across country is uneven and creates a serious problem for water crisis for many regions. Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for majority of Indians. Though agriculture contributes only ~16 % of GDP, it is the largest sector for employment. Directly/indirectly about 50 crores people are related to farming. Even after numerous investments and modernization of irrigation facilities about 60% percent of total cropped area is still dependent on rain. Thousands of farmers commit suicide every year in India, with monsoon failure and climate change as the primary reasons of their suicides. Irrigation productivity is almost 30 to 50% lower as compared to Asian Counterparts (China, Vietnam, Malaysia) despite using 80% of total Water usage.  Land Degradation – According to ISRO 96 million Hectares of Land is degraded in India- In Jharkhand 50% of the land is under desertification. One of the main causes for this is the loss of ability to hold water which is caused by excessive fertigation. There are number of problems related to irrigation and they have to be solved to uplift India as a whole.

Credits: Ramkumar Radhakrishnan, Wikimedia-1569929663

 As per NITI Aayog report, India is facing the worst water crisis in its history, and 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater by 2020. The per capita water availability in the country is reducing due to increase in population. The average annual per capita availability of water taking into consideration the population in various census has come down 70% from 1951 to 2011, in a span of 60 years. Agriculture uses a lion share -more than 80%- of water in India. Increasing

A huddle for water around a well in Mumbai. Source: Reuters

Population growth and rapid urbanization have led to over exploitation of ground water resources Majority of the population depends on ground water as the primary source of fresh water. In most of the Indian cities, in the last few decades, encroachment of water bodies has been on rise, lakes are filled to make residential/office buildings. Concentration of people at specific zones and high-rise buildings, using advanced water extraction technologies, have widen the demand supply gap. 


Groundwater in India has depleted at 10-25 mm per year between 2002 and 2016. And the interesting fact is that among the remaining ground water sources about 70 percent of water is contaminated, making India ranks 120th of 122 countries in a global water quality index.

In summary, it is time now to act else there will be no safe water left for our coming generations. Above we talked about, how over-irrigation and excessive ground water extraction has created one of the biggest problems of the century for India. These issues need active involvement of our youths: we must use technology and create required awareness as well as effective methods of irrigation and water conservation.

By Abhinav

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