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21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater by 2020

Last updated on: July 06, 2018 17:52 IST

At the bottom of the water index for 2016-17 are Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh (UP), and Haryana, which are major producers of paddy, wheat, along with a host of horticulture crops.

A recent NITI Aayog report on India’s water crisis, along with the performance of states in addressing the issue, presents a grim picture of the country’s hydrological scene.


At the bottom of the water index for 2016-17 are Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh (UP), and Haryana, which are major producers of paddy, wheat, along with a host of horticulture crops.

Business Standard looks at the ground situation in the worst-hit states.

Uttar Pradesh

The groundwater crisis in UP is progressively worsening, owing to unplanned urbanisation, unbridled boring, rampant exploitation of groundwater and surface water by government and private bodies, failure to replenish it through rainwater harvesting, lack of awareness among people, etc.

The state has a gross withdrawal of about 5.28 million hectares, among the highest in India.

Studies show about 660 blocks in UP are facing depleting water levels. Of those, 180 blocks in 45 districts have been clubbed as stressed (over-exploited/critical).

Lucknow, Kanpur, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Agra, Noida, and Varanasi have all been severely affected. Besides, contamination in high concentration of fluoride, iron, arsenic, chromium, manganese and salinity is another area of concern, the report stated.

“Groundwater is like a bank account. If you keep on withdrawing without refilling, it would get exhausted forever,” V K Joshi, former Geological Survey of India director, told Business Standard.

Records show, there were about 320 ponds in Lucknow in 1912, but most of them have disappeared.

State’s response

The Yogi Adityanath government has decided to revitalise six rivers - the Gomti in Pilibhit, the Tamsa in Ayodhya, the Varna in Varanasi, the Sai in Pratapgarh, the Aril in Bareilly, and the Sot in Badaun.

It is also reviving almost 10,500 ponds in 49 of the 75 districts for providing easier access to irrigation, while the much-awaited Saryu canal project is projected to be completed by December 2019.


Despite having a network of rivers, just 32 per cent of the agricultural land in Odisha has access to irrigation.

According to a latest assessment, the state has net dynamic groundwater resources of 1.669 million cubic metres.

With a Water Index score of 42 (same as Kerala), Odisha, replete with water reserves, is positioned at the bottom among the five worst performers in water resource management.

In the NITI Aayog ranking, which has 2015-16 as the base year, Odisha has slipped four notches to 13 (among non-Himalayan states), the study has found.

“Water resource management is non-existent here. Rampant industrialisation has taken a toll. There is overemphasis on lift irrigation without realising that it leads to further depletion of groundwater,” said Bhala Chandra Sarangi, national secretary, the All India Kisan Mazdoor Sangh.

State’s response

The government has a scheme to provide free drinking water to urban households with an outlay of Rs 3 billion to develop the infrastructure for potable water.


In June 2009, then Public Health Engineering Minister Ashwini Choubey, after returning from Singapore, had said, “I have conceived some plans for water management. We will soon formulate our water policy and seek cooperation from Singapore for this.”

He claimed that a team of water experts would soon visit Bihar and suggest a water policy.

Choubey went on to become a Union minister, but a water policy remained elusive for Bihar.

Of Bihar’s 38 districts, 13 are arsenic- and 11 are fluoride-affected. That apart, every summer, the southern districts of Gaya, Aurangabad, Kaimur, Nawada, Jamui, Bhagalpur, and Rohtas face acute drinking water crisis.

“We are studying the NITI Aayog report and will take steps to improve our water management,” S C Mishra, engineer-in-chief at the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), said.

According to government records, more than 98 per cent of construction in Patna, including government buildings, did not follow rules. Independent surveys found that the groundwater table went down by 10 metres in several parts of Patna last year.

“In 1996, then chief minister Lalu Prasad had said in the assembly that by 2017 all farms would get water by canals. This year, Water Resources Minister Rajiv Ranjan Singh said only 10 per cent of Bihar’s cultivated area gets water by canals. This speaks volumes about the government’s efforts,” said Dinesh Kumar Mishra, convener, Badh Mukti Abhiyan, and an expert on floods and water management.

State’s response

Bihar’s PHED Minister Vinod Narayan Jha, earlier this month, announced that under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Saat Nischays nal ka jal (tap water) would be provided to all households by March 2020.

Under this scheme, the government plans to provide 70 litres of clean drinking water every day to every family.

The government has earmarked Rs 7,000 crore regarding this for the next two years.

Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

Virendra Singh Rawat, Jayajit Dash, Satyavrat Mishra & Sanjeeb Mukherjee in Lucknow/Bhubaneswar/Patna/New Delhi
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