Dr Himanshu Kulkarni, Executive Director and Honorary Secretary of Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management, spoke to Neha Basudakar about groundwater management.
How is the country as a whole dealing with groundwater management?
Our country is the highest user of groundwater in the world. We use 25 per cent of all groundwater extracted globally, ahead of USA and China. When we think of water, however, our brains have been programmed to think of large dams and rivers, and not wells. This, despite the fact that India has at least 40 million irrigation wells and millions of farmers use well water in agriculture. India was not the highest extractor of groundwater in the 1960s and 70s; the Green Revolution changed that. At the time of Independence, the share of groundwater in agriculture was 35 per cent; today it is a startling 70 per cent. Still, people are struggling with groundwater management.
What is participatory groundwater management project?
We are into participatory groundwater management in the villages of Maharashtra. People tend to think of groundwater only through an agriculture or urban water supply lens. This perspective lacks an understanding of what the resource is, and what we need to do to ensure better use of it. In villages, people tend to think that the groundwater in their part of the land is only theirs. But the question we’ve been asking communities to think about is, “How can you own the water below your land when the water in your well has come from underneath someone else’s land and the water from under your land is naturally going to flow underneath your other neighbours’ lands?”. Participatory groundwater management is the science about hydrogeology and the mapping of water sources, the more important aspect is the application of this science, which is effective only if it involves bringing the resource (aquifers) and communities and villages together in the processes and solutions.
In this project, how can the groundwater be managed?
Groundwater can be only managed by checking the aquifers and keeping a tap on it. Rainfall has nothing to do with groundwater management. Once the type of aquifers and once the quantity of water stored in the aquifer is stored, then the groundwater can be managed. The conventional thinking is that check dams will collect water, which will percolate and recharge the groundwater. A common misconception among both the communities as well as organisations working in watershed management is that it is the wells that are being recharged. But wells are only the sources of water and a mechanism to access water and distribute it according to needs. Wells are not the resource; aquifers are the resource. Once the aquifer is identified, then to place the structure recharge structure or, check dam can be also be stated.
In how many parts of Maharashtra has this project been implemented?
In parts of Maharashtra, places include three villages in Khed taluka, in Osmanabad five villages, in Amravati 10 villages, in Marathwada and in Yavatmal, we have also taken up this project. Till now, this project has been implemented in 25 to 30 villages and the results can be seen now. In a recent example in Pandhri, Malegaon and Hipparga Sayyad villages of Osmanabad, the villagers were till now dependent on tankers but this year, they are getting drinking water from borewells. The similar case is in Gadakwadi village of Khed taluka. Also in parts of eastern Himalayas along with government, we are working on spring revival and in Nagaland and West Bengal, we are working on how to increase groundwater.
What are the future plans and what is the role of the government?
The very purpose of the Groundwater Management Act of 2009 by the State government is to facilitate and ensure sustainable and adequate supply of groundwater of prescribed quality for different categories of users, through supply and demand management measures and protection of public drinking water sources. This act was never implemented, so we are starting up a new project - ‘Drops of Hope’ - a Project on Water Conservation and Drinking Water Security in partnership with The United Nations Children’s Fund and Bridgestone India Pvt Ltd in collaboration with the government of Maharashtra, Department of Water and Sanitation. 110 villages will be the focus. The first phase will be implemented in districts of Pune, Latur and Osmanabad. And the focus of the project is to develop robust drinking water security and safety plans, which also involves a baseline survey to understand the existing situation as well as assess the future impact.