India currently faces a severe problem with the rapid and alarming depletion of groundwater resources in both, rural and urban areas. Many scientists and experts in the field believe that, if not tackled adequately and immediately, this crisis could lead to an acute shortage of water across the country in as little as the next 10 years.
There are several reasons that have contributed to this problem, the most overarching of them all being the relentless and blatant over-exploitation of groundwater resources in urban and rural areas. If we were to consider this problem from the lens of supply and demand, we see that the problem has multiple dimensions that have helped create this scenario. In terms of demand, India has seen a rapid growth in the demand for water due to a surge in population since the turn of the millennium. Additionally, the drive to turn more profits every quarter has led to an increased demand for monopolisation of groundwater resources by private corporations from several industries ranging from construction, pharmaceuticals, FMCG, bottled water, and so on. However, while there is rapidly growing demand on one side of the coin, the other side of the problem is the quickly depleting supply of available groundwater resources. The depletion of groundwater reservoirs and aquifers in rural areas can be attributed to overexploitation of the resource due to climate change and the widespread agricultural practice of growing unsustainable, water intensive crops such as rice and wheat on a large scale. As a result, most of northern India, which is often considered as the food basket of the country and is the site of major agricultural activity, is riddled with drought and the lack of proper irrigation facilities due to depleting groundwater resources.
In urban areas,the severe depletion of groundwater resources has been attributed to the loss of permeable land cover, excessive pollution of surface water lakes and ponds, and lack of proper infrastructure to help recharge groundwater resources and encourage better management of rainfall and surface runoff. Not only does this lead to reduced groundwater supply, it also leads to other hazardous environmental effects such as excessive flooding, as seen year after year in cities like Mumbai and Chennai. Excessive pollution leads to contamination of groundwater reservoirs, which makes it extremely dangerous for consumption.
In order to tackle this problem, and to avoid a situation where lack of water resources leads to widespread civil and political unrest in the country, the government needs to join hands with private players to work out a system that ensures the sustainable use of water resources, which incorporates practices such as rainwater harvesting, proper sewage treatment, recycling of water, and recharge of groundwater reservoirs at all levels of society across the country.