Baljit Dhaka


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Why in News?  

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 25, 2019, launched a scheme to conserve groundwater in regions with low water tables.  

The scheme “envisages”:

1. Community participation eg, “formation of Water User Associations”.

2. Monitoring and dissemination of data.

3. Water budgeting.

4. Panchayat-level plans.

5. Information, Education & Communication (IEC) activities.  

About Atal Bhujal Yojana:

It is an Rs.6000 crore World Bank approved the Central Sector Scheme of the Ministry of Jal Shakti. The funding pattern is 50:50 between the Government of India and the World Bank.

Aims to improve groundwater management in priority areas in the country through community participation.  

Priority areas:

The priority areas identified under the scheme fall in the states of Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. (benefitting nearly 8350 Gram Panchayats in 78 districts)

These States represent about 25% of the total number of over-exploited, critical, and semi-critical blocks in terms of groundwater in India.

They also cover two major types of groundwater systems found in India – alluvial and hard rock aquifers and have varying degrees of institutional readiness and experience in groundwater management. 

It is to be implemented over a period of 5 years (2020-21 to 2024-25). It is sponsored by the World Bank with 50% of the total outlay coming from it.

Scheme components: ATAL JAL has two major components:

Institutional Strengthening and Capacity Building component including improving monitoring networks, capacity building, strengthening of Water User Associations, allocating more funds for Panchayats and making Panchayat-level plans, etc.

Incentive Component for incentivizing the States for achievements in improved groundwater management practices like data dissemination, preparation of water security plans, water budgeting, implementation of management interventions through the convergence of ongoing schemes, adopting demand-side management practices, etc. 

Current status of groundwater usage in India:

About 60% of the irrigation needs, 85% of rural drinking water needs, and 50% of urban needs are met through groundwater.  

According to Water and Related Statistics 2019, the annual replenishable groundwater resources in India (2017) are 432 BCM, out of which 393 BCM is the annual “extractable” groundwater availability. The current annual groundwater extraction is 249 BCM (around 63%).

In the decadal average for 2009-18, there has been a decline in the groundwater level in 61% of wells monitored by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB).

Moreover, even when water is available, it is likely to be contaminated (up to 70 percent of our water supply is contaminated).

Faulty cropping pattern: As per the ‘Dynamic Groundwater Resources of India 2017’, 90% of groundwater extracted is used in the irrigation sector followed by domestic use and industrial use (9.8%).

Increasing population and hence demand: According to the Central Water Commission (CWC), per capita availability in the country will decrease from 1,434 cubic meters in 2025 to 1,219 cubic meters in 2050.

According to a 2017 CAG report on working of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP), there was inadequate focus on surface water-based schemes and 98% of the schemes, including piped water schemes continued to be based on groundwater resources.

The number of over-exploited units has increased to 1,186 in 2017, from 839 in 2004.

National Water Policy, 2012 has emphasized periodic assessment of groundwater resources on a scientific basis.

Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) is regulating groundwater development in States/UTs. As per the assessment of dynamic groundwater resources of the country carried out jointly by CGWB and State Ground Water Departments, out of the total 6584 numbers of assessment units (Block/ Taluks/ Mandals/ watershed/ Firkka), 1034 units have been categorized as ‘Over-exploited’. This may be due to an increase in population, rapid urbanization & industrialization, and other related factors.

Other important groundwater statistics:

As per Composite Water Management Index released by NITI Aayog 21 cities including New Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad will run out of groundwater by 2020 affecting around 100 million people.

Composite Water Management Index 2.0 by NITI Aayog notes that:

Though states have displayed overall improvement in recharge of their groundwater resources between FY15-16 and FY17-18, the median continues to remain below 50% of the total achievable score.

Overall, states have failed to show any significant improvement in on-farm water use efficiency.

By CWC benchmarks, a water-stressed condition happens when per capita availability is less than 1,700 cubic meters and a water-scarcity condition when per capita availability falls below 1.000 cubic meters.

Expected outcomes:

The implementation of the scheme is expected to have several positive outcomes like a better understanding of the groundwater regime, a focused and integrated community-based approach for addressing issues related to groundwater depletion, sustainable groundwater management through the convergence of on-going and new schemes, adoption of efficient water use practices to reduce groundwater use for irrigation and augmentation of groundwater resources in targeted areas.

Recommendations of an Expert Committee on an issue related to Groundwater Protection, Conservation, and Regulation (2019):

Regulate the overuse of water in agriculture:

by registration of inventories for borewells across the country.

The use of treated sewage water for agriculture should be made mandatory

Cultivation of water-intensive crops should be discontinued and farmers should shift to water-efficient crops like millets.

Charging water conservation fees from all users for groundwater extraction.

Identify groundwater over-exploited areas and ban on extraction of groundwater for new/expansion projects there except for drinking purposes.

The committee proposed a 50-year-plan which includes:  

Establishing 2.5 lakh groundwater monitoring stations

Assessment of saline groundwater resources, plan to prevent seawater ingress

Use of artificial intelligence for groundwater study and management

Look at finding fresh groundwater in offshore areas and consider studying groundwater microbiology.

Develop a methodology for drought alert based on groundwater levels

Study of transboundary aquifers