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Groundwater Administration and Food Security in India - Nishtha Kheria and Varun Vikas Srivastav

Updated: Nov 22, 2021


India’s society is expanding day by day. It will possess 1.8 billion people by 2050 as associated with only 361 million in 1951. This extensive extension of the population drives to challenge whether there would be adequate food manufactured to cope with rising demand.

Therefore, this proposes the problem of “Food Security”. It is a condition where there are availability, durability, and capacity to obtain food by individuals. It was reflected that poverty, overpopulation, lack of literacy, faulty PDS systems, exploitation, gender imbalance, environmental change, etc., were the significant events commencing food insecurity. But the increase of water deficiency, water pollution, and the struggle for water resources will additionally append a new dimension to food vulnerability in our nation.

Groundwater presents a significant part in the Indian situation of agriculture. Above 60% of the irrigated land utilises groundwater for agriculture, which amounts to 35 million hectares of a net irrigated field. But rapid consumption of groundwater by over-utilisation and pollution will endure outcomes and will be set behind for forthcoming ages as it reduces food security.

Moreover, though the connection among groundwater and food security is not commonly exclusive, groundwater's authenticity as a cause of irrigation by improving farm yields, tenant pays, revoking climate effect, diminishing yield risk, etc., demonstrates that lives a tangible correlation between them[i].

Why groundwater is a significant and constant origin of irrigation?

According to a calculation, 433.02 billion cubic meters (BCM) is the total possible replenishable groundwater supply in India, out of which 93% (403.85 BCM) is ready for irrigation. According to the Asian Water Development Outlook, 2016, approximately 89% of groundwater extricated is utilised for India's irrigation. Such a radical shift happened due to numerous causes[ii].

One of the principal purposes is the Green Revolution beginning in the 1960s. It was the period through which there were a widespread usage of high yielding variety (HYV) seeds and chemical fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides, etc., to enhance the crop yield. The acknowledgement of a crop to fertiliser is more important where the supply of irrigation is guaranteed. Hereabouts, groundwater gets into the spotlight[iii]. It could be removed at any moment of the year and decrease the expenses of taking canal water into the area. Therefore, this cycle is further termed as the “Tube well Revolution”.

Throughout this period, farmers understood that the groundwater is abundant beyond the country. This accomplishment, along with an enhanced electricity supply, made it accessible and practical for groundwater pumping. In the preceding few decades, reduced power cuts and subsidised power rates have uplifted the farmers to rely further on the underground aquifers.

Therefore, from then, farmers were prepared to take the chance of enhanced expenditure on land, labour, and fertilisers, awaiting an immeasurable result due to the usage of groundwater for irrigating huge fields.

Failure of the government in implementing a suitable irrigation scheme has made an important impression on farmers for moving from surface irrigation to groundwater irrigation. Improper management of canal systems and their inactive increase in the country has expanded the regulation of groundwater. Also, water-logging and salinity have become dangerous in exterior irrigated and flood-prone areas. This is the fundamental cause of why only 16% of the net irrigated field in the preceding 3 decades is irrigated using canal irrigation and the remain by groundwater. Therefore, it was remarked that promoting groundwater extraction was a solution for lowering the groundwater table level[iv].

How are groundwater levels connected to food security?

The rapid development of tube well practice over the country commenced a deterioration in groundwater levels in various segments over the nation.

Seawater intrudes into water tables near coastal regions. The groundwater quality of aquifers has declined in many areas over the country.

Traditional wells and tanks are polluted. These are the symptoms of overexploitation of groundwater. According to the record, Rajasthan solely reported a decline of 1-5 meters in groundwater level per year[v].

Significantly, groundwater supplies to the generation of rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton, fruits and vegetables, spices, oilseeds, medicinal plants, etc. All these items are requirements, and therefore the utilisation of groundwater assures food safety.

How diminishing groundwater levels are a menace to food security?

Agriculture is the spine of the Indian economy. It operates with the greatest amount of people than any distinct sector. The decline in passage to groundwater manages to diminished crop yields, which indicate that the sole origin of farmers' income is reduced. Their passage to food is obtained from this income. As discussed beforehand, food security includes the capacity of individuals to gain access to food. Consequently, a fall in groundwater levels will commence declining the economic situation of small farmers, embracing the purchasing capability of food by farmers[vi].

Uneconomic groundwater extraction is another cause of why reduced groundwater level are a menace to food security. More under the aquifer, the more expensive the extraction. The deterioration in groundwater levels will present it unaffordable for small farmers to build aquifer. Rich farmers took profit from this circumstance and commenced the tradition of the sale of water. This forced them to over pump the groundwater even in drought-prone regions, which would have an adverse impact someday. India’s harvest will be decreased by 25% if the groundwater sinks similarly.

Groundwater pollution is also a significant warning to food security. Usage of extreme chemical fertilisers and pesticides on crops, flow from drainage, garbage dumping, etc., commence to water poisoning. The reduction and degradation of groundwater is the principal purpose of the raise in rural poverty in India.

What can be accomplished?

· Excessive water-consuming crops, such as rice and sugar, should be expanded in fields where there is underutilised groundwater, such as Odisha, etc., rather than in Haryana and Punjab. And in those regions, there is overutilisation of groundwater where less-water exacting crops such as maise, soya beans, etc., can be produced. Such re-arrangements should be performed over the country to secure sustainability.

· Artificial recharge devices for groundwater could raise groundwater levels without affecting nature.

· Awareness should be built amongst the farmers concerning the overexploitation of groundwater.

· The government should define the time of requirement of electricity to reduce over-pumping.

· Exercises such as water conservation, rainwater harvesting, etc., should be developed among urban and rural households.

· Surface water irrigation should be considered a government's preference and increase its position with proper planning.

· Water usage power should be enhanced by applying methods, such as Sprinkler irrigation, Drip irrigation, etc.

· Drought resistant and limited water usage crops’ seeds should be increased

According to the structure of the Indian constitution and other statues, groundwater is a separate subject. Its rights are vested with the landowner, and consequently, it grows tough by the government to constrain the practice. Furthermore, “Water” is an essential subject in India. Therefore, it becomes challenging for the central government to regulate groundwater usage, as numerous states have different procedures. The deficiency of strict legislation regulating groundwater practice managed to speedy deterioration in aquifer levels in the nation[vii].

Some other approaches can be


1) National Water Policy, 2002, by the Government of India, which implies several measured for sustainable groundwater utilisation, should be followed[viii].

2) “Water” should become a central list subject to adaptability in jurisdiction matters.

3) Groundwater control and regulation bill, 1970, which mandates to take groundwater practice support, should be enacted.

4) The government should draft strategies with procurements ensuring the cooperation of civilians.

5) The division of land and water rights should be established.

6) All groundwater resources should be given to the public property of the nation.

Sustainable groundwater management is crucial for food security in the future. The holistic strategy, proper planning, and adequate implementation of laws and ordinances will gift groundwater to the succeeding ages[ix].

[i]Vasant P. Gandhi and Vaibhav Bhamoriya, ‘Groundwater Irrigation in India: Growth, Challenges, Risks’ <> accessed 4th April 2020. [ii]Rethinking the approach to Groundwater and Food security’ [FAO] <> accessed 5th April 2020. [iii]K. D. Sharma, ‘Groundwater management for food security’ [2009] <> accessed 4th April 2020 [iv]Esha Zaveri and Ors., ‘Invisible water, visible impact: groundwater use and Indian agriculture under climate change’ [2016] <> accessed 5th April 2020 [v]Sinéad Lehane, ‘India’s Food and Water Security’ [2014] Future Directions International <> accessed 5th April 2020. [vi]Food Security and Groundwater’ [2015] International Association of Hydrogeologists <> accessed 4th April 2020. [vii]) R Prakash Upadhyay and C Palanivel, ‘Challenges in Achievening Food Security in India’ [2011] Iranian Journal of Public Health <> accessed 4th April 2020. [viii]Press release (2019) by Ministry of Finance < > accessed 5th April 2020 [ix]Sandra Postel, ‘India’s Food Security Threatened by Groundwater Depletion’ National Geographic Society Newsroom <> accessed 4th April 2020

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