(Environment & Ecology)General Studies Paper 3
Question:- 140. Examine the problem of groundwater pollution and depletion in India. Suggest some effective measures in this regard. Answer in 250 words.
Dec 14, 2022



India is home to 17% of the world’s population, but only holds 4% of the world’s freshwater resources. India is the world’s largest user of groundwater, where groundwater contributes to more than 60% of the country’s irrigation resources. This over-extraction of groundwater is non-renewable since recharge rates are less than extraction rates and replenishing this resource can take thousands of years. Not only this, according to the Central Groundwater Board, India’s groundwater is highly polluted. As many as 276 districts have high concentrations of fluoride. Nitrates above acceptable levels are found in 387 districts, and arsenic in high quantities is present in eighty-six districts.



The production-centric intensive agriculture brought about by India’s Green Revolution in the 1960s helped India achieve food self-sufficiency by the 1970s, but has created a crisis of depletion of groundwater. Several states affected by depletion of groundwater provide free or heavily subsidised power (including solar pumps) for pumping groundwater for irrigated agriculture which further enables overexploitation and depletion of scarce groundwater resources. Also, the minimum support price for wheat and rice creates highly skewed incentive structures in favour of wheat and paddy, which are water intensive crops and depend heavily on ground water for their growth. This makes groundwater a heavenly resource for their farming. Rising population and urbanization have increased demand for water for domestic and industrial needs. Climate Change – Sinking Water Table: Droughts, flash floods, and disrupted monsoon events are recent examples of climate change events that are placing pressure on India’s groundwater resources. And wells, ponds and tanks are drying up as groundwater resources come under increasing pressure due to over-reliance and unsustainable consumption. This has escalated the water crisis. The government of India regulates groundwater exploitation in water-stressed states through “notification” of highly overexploited blocks. However, only about 14% of the overexploited blocks in the country are currently notified.

Discharge of toxic elements from industries and landfills and diffused sources of pollution like fertilisers and pesticides over the years has resulted in high levels of contamination of groundwater with the level of nitrates exceeding permissible limits in more than 50% districts of India.

Apart from nitrate contamination, the presence of fluoride, iron, arsenic and heavy metals has also touched worrying levels. This can lead to certain diseases.



Water is a state subject but effective steps on all levels of government are required to fight this problem:

  1. 1. Creation of green corridors, mapping of channels for potential recharge zones to store floodwater and artificial groundwater recharge structures in the urban areas (where groundwater is five-six metres below the surface), will subsequently contribute to reducing groundwater depletion.
  2. 2. Restoration of ponds, lakes and other traditional water resource structures should be an integral part of the development projects of urban and rural areas, and it will substantially develop groundwater potential.
  3. 3. Dual sewage system for grey water and black water and promoting reuse of the recycled water in agriculture and horticulture should be promoted.
  4. 4. Industries should also be encouraged to increase water use efficiency, effluent treatment and zero liquid discharge.
  5. 5. Agriculture alone consumes more than 80% of groundwater in the Ganga basin. Water-efficient irrigation systems like drip and sprinkler irrigation should be made mandatory. Also, balanced farming of water-extensive crops and use of treated waste water for irrigation should be adopted.
  6. 6. Sustainable groundwater management including initiating suitable action for compulsory rainwater harvesting should be taken by different state governments.
  7. 7. A participatory groundwater management approach should be followed to empower communities in a defined aquifer area by providing governance rights, community awareness, capacity development, and knowledge and motivation for social regulation of ground water and the implementation of coordinated actions.



The 2022 assessment of the Ministry of Water Resources suggests that groundwater extraction is the lowest since 2004. This indicates better water management, however, the report called the National Compilation on Dynamic Ground Water Resources of India also says that the improvement is only “marginal”.

National Water Policy 2012 is already in place and advocates conservation, promotion and protection of water and highlights the need for augmenting the availability of water through rain water harvesting, direct use of rainfall and other management measures. Its provisions can be appropriately utilized while framing the water legislation by the States/UTs.