Groundwater Ethics to Protect it from Depletion in India

Referring to the PTI Report on 'Rs 6,000 crore budgetary allocation for sustainable ground water resources this year, and the amount would be spent mainly on addressing the problem of arsenic content in water and groundwater depletion....' my following article and cross references therein may may be helpful for the Mission Ganga Knowledge Community.

Ethics to protect groundwater from depletion in India, by PARTHA SARATHI DATTA;  Published in the book edited by Peppoloni, S. & Di Capua, G. (eds) (2015). Geoethics: Role and Responsibility of Geoscientists. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 419, 19–24.

In India, over the decades, demand for water has been increasing in response to growth in population, agriculture, urbanization, industrialization and competition for economic aspirations, although, the situation in each city or region may vary. Agricultural demand is the largest (70-80% of available water) compared to that for other purposes. Despite abundant rainfall, some of the important water issues across the country are: erratic rainfall and great disparity in its distribution; zonal inequity of available water; growing disparity in its distribution; its inefficient use and management; decreasing water quality and scarcity of safe drinking water; inter-state river water disputes; inadequate knowledge; ineffective implementation of regulations and institutional reforms; unregulated groundwater extraction; and lack of ethical framework. The urban clusters look for low to moderate quantities of high quality water; and the responsibility to ensure supply largely remains with the state water authorities and the municipal supply utilities. The rural clusters (where 70% of population lives, and livelihood depends on agriculture) look for large quantity of good quality water, in inefficient drainage systems and field distribution.

Wherever surface water source is available, over 70% being polluted and unsafe for drinking/farming, groundwater is an alternative. Now, over 65% of irrigated agriculture, and 80-85% of rural and urban water supply and drinking water supplies depend on ground water. Intensive use of groundwater will continue, despite decreasing land area of irrigated production due to pollution, water logging and salinity. The dependency on groundwater becomes very high particularly during summer, when demand of water for different purposes increases dramatically compared to not so elastic supply position. Situation is likely to aggravate further with rapid growth in population, urbanization and industrialization, and anticipated climate change. Although, it is a matter of great concern for public including the resource planners, managers, policy makers and politicians, yet, generally, they have inadequate knowledge, awareness, and different perception of this vital natural resource, its vulnerability and associated risks.

To manage India’s groundwater economy, no single template for groundwater management can be developed due to indiscriminate exploitation by millions of individual pumping decisions, and also pollution of ground water. Enhancement in safe groundwater availability and its supply will be determined by the policies, plans and technologies at our disposal, in addition to political, socio-economical, biological and other factors. Although, the suggested approaches appear feasible in principle, yet, these may face several difficulties in implementation in financial, technical and legal matters, because, the responsible agencies work under different jurisdiction, and, by the time the approaches are implemented, the demand on groundwater is likely to increase further. Reliable freshwater can be made available at affordable costs, through more reliable, transparent and efficient institutions which can ensure water availability among users in response to the changing demand, by cost-effective basin-wide community scale participatory integrated management approaches, projects, policymaking, and strictly enforcement of regulatory measures to check indiscriminate groundwater extraction, consumption, wasteful utilization, pollution and unplanned wastes disposal. To protect groundwater from depletion, emphasis should be on community-focused groundwater use, pricing for water extraction, and costs and benefits of water allocation for irrigation needs where consumptive use is high; and all other uses with relatively smaller water needs.

For sustainable development of groundwater resources, it has to be managed by taking into consideration the environmental as well as economic, social, geographical and political aspects, and treat social & practical decisions ethically, i.e., moral principles and values that comprises honesty, trust, treating others fairly & loyally, and govern the actions & decisions of an individual or group. It is highly desirable to develop guidelines and policies to check opportunistic exploitation of ground water; and involvement of corrupt and unscrupulous practices, working hand-in-hand with greedy investors for private gain, giving less importance to the welfare of the citizens and the economic development. There is a need to recognize these inextricable linkages, especially aggressive to groundwater depletion & degradation.