Tuesday, 15 April 2014 09:33





Unless local and national communities come together and dramatically improve the way we envision and manage water, there will be many hungry villages.

Water Securtiy is said to exist when all people of the country have access to water in sufficient quantity and quality to meet  livelihood needs throughout the year, without prejudicing the needs of other users. The availability and access to water will be the pre-eminent issue affecting global economic development and the livelihoods of the poor, given the fact that they often suffer the most when resources are scarce. India is not isolated  from these drivers and hence will need to address these issues as it emerges from a developing to a developed nation. India accounts for 2.45% of land area and 4% of the water resources of the world population. With the present population growth rate (1.9 per cent per year), the population is expected to cross the 1.5 billion mark by 2050. The ever expanding water demand of India's growing population and economy, combined with the impacts of climate change, are already making water scaricity a major threat in may parts of the country and with it we are witnessing severe damage to livelihoods, human health and ecosystems. The United Nations Human Development Report 2006 "Beyond scaricity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis" identified water avaiability per person (supply) was decreasing, while at the same time the amount of water that each person was using (demand) was increasing

Water Security Status:

At 2,518 billion m3, the total water resource base for India, including surface and groundwater, is substantial but highly variable as during the monsoon season 50% of the annual precipitation falls in less than one month and 90% of river flows occur in only 4 months of the year. The ability of the current infrastructure to safeguard that variability is low, making it difficult for accessible, reliable supply to meet projected demand and thus putting water security of India  at stake. With only 200 m3 of water storage capacity per person, compared to 2,200 m3 per person in China and some 6,000 m3 per person in the United States, India's accessible, reliable supply of water amounts to 744 billion m3, or 29 per cent of its total water resources.

According to the report "Charting our Water Future" by the 2030 International Water Resource Group (IWRG) released in 2009, in India the low agricultural water productivity and efficiency, combined with aging supply infrastrucuture, would make severe supply-demand gaps likely in many basins with currently planned crop choices. India's aggregate water demand is expected to double from the current level of about 700 billion cubic metres to 1498 billion cubic metres by 2030. With an estimated supply of about 744 billion cubic metres by then, the water gap is estimated to be 50 per cent. This gap would be driven by a rapid increase in demand for water for agriculture, coupled with a limited water supply and storage infrastructure. One key uncertain factor that may affect the size of this gap is climate change. Its most direct effect is likely to be an accelerated melting of the Himalayan glaciers upon which several of India's river systems depend, particularly the western rivers such as the Indus, which relies on snownmelt for approximately 45 per cent of its flow. Though in the immediate future increased snowmelt should actually increase flow of these rivers, in the long run the impact is very likely to be a decrease of flow between 30 to 50 per cent

Water Consumption in Indian Agriculture

India is one of the world's leading crop producers. Over the years, there has been an increase in water consumption in the agricultural sector. The volume of water used for irrigation in India is expected to increase in by 68.5 Trillion (Tr) liters between 2000 and 2025. A number of demographic and economic factors are driving the use of water in agricultural producation. The rise in demand in domestic and export market for food grains is one important factor. India's demand for food grain will grow from 178 MM mt in 2000 to 241 MM mt by 2050. Value of agricultural exports of India have tripled from $ 5.6 Bn in 2000 to $18.1 Bn in 2008. Change in consumption pattern of agricultural products is also resulting in increase in water usage. Demand for agricultural products with high water footprint is projected to rise with increased disposable income and urbanization. Contribution of non-food grain (sugarcane, fruits and vegetables, etc.) and animal products in daily food intake for an individual is epected to grow from 35% in 2000 to 50% in 2050. Rice, wheat and sugarcane together constitiute nearly 90% of India's crop producation and are the most water-consuming crops.  
India has the highest water footprints among the top rice and wheat producing countries (China, US, Indonesia, etc.). States with the highest production of rice/wheat are expected to face groundwater depletion of up to 75%, by 2050. Agriculturally based industires such as textiles, sugar and fertilizer are among the top producers of wastewater. Thus, in totality water conservation and management in the agriculture sector hold the key to water security in India.

Food security of India is closely linked to its water security. Studies suggest that irrigated agriculture has dominantly underlain the significant increase in food availability of India. During the last six decades, the gross irrigated area increased from 22 million hectares to 85.5 million hectares (MoA, 2010). Given the fact that water withdrawals for irrigated farming represent 85-90% of total water usage of the nation, a rigorous assessment of the current irrigated agriculture is needed in order to ensure water security for the future. Higher reliability of water supply through tube wells and water pumps coupled with the policy of massive under-pricing of electricity to the farming sector has resulted in an explosive growth in groundwater irrigation. Overexploitation has resulted in serious depletion of groundwater tables in many parts of the country. It is estimated that in 15% of irrigation areas of India, the annual extraction of ground water exceeds annual recharge. In Punjab for instance,

Table 1: Level of efficiencies from different types of irrigation


Sprinkler Irrigation System

Drip irrigation

Suface irrigation

Overall irrigation efficiency




Application efficiency




Water saving




Source: Present Status and Future Requirement of Farm Equipment for Crop Producation, M.M Pandey, Central Institute of Agriculural Engineering, Bhopal

while the annual replenishable groundwater is 21.44 BCM, the groundwater draft stands at 31.16 BCM – indicating utilization of 145 per cent of annual replenishment  levels. These trends are also visible in states such as Rajasthan and Haryana where annual groundwater draft is 125 per cent and 109 per cent of annual replenishment respectively. Highly subsidized water use tariffs charged to farmers has accentuated this deteriorating situation by limiting the funds available for operation and maintenance. Conseqeuently, the current water use efficiency of canal irrigation is about  35 per cent – among the lowest in the world. It is estimated that a 10 per cent increase in water use efficiency can bring about an additional 14 million hectares under irrigated cultivation.

Clearly, the irrigation strategy of India needs a relook with a focus on sustainable use of water resources. Policy makers should focus on the importance of managing demand and reducing water loss along with increasing supply of water by optimizing the use of natural resources.

As the water crisis manifests itself in the form of depleting water tables and water related conflicts between states, it is high time that water use efficiency becomes a focal agenda in the irrigation management policy of India. Proper management of existing irrigation systems is critical for the success of this agenda; it would also require integration and adoption of multidimensional  approaches that can manage demand by increasing water use efficiency in agriculture. While the most obvious way to increase water use efficiency would be to increase crop yields through development of high yielding varieties and efficient use of farm inputs, revision of electricity pricing to farming sector and reuse of waste water in agriculture can be also looked upon.

Water Consumption by Other Sectors:

Apart from agricultural sector, the industry and domestic sector consume approximately 11% of the available  water in India. The drivers for the growth of the water-intensive industries in India have been primarily multifaceted. FDI equity inflow in the industrial sector has grown form $1.93 Bn in 2004-2005 to $17.68 Bn in 2007-2008, Steel and electricity dependent industries are expected to grow in the coming years. Between 2006-2010m investment in infrastructure development was approximately 7.7% of India's GDP. While the 11th Plan projected that infrastrucutre investment has increased from $408 billion to $514 billion, it is expected to double to the tune of $1 trillion during the 12th Plan. Thermal power plants (the most water-intensive industrial units), constituted 64.6% of the installed power capacity in India during 2009. Annual per capita consumption of power is expected to grow from 704.2 Kwh in 2008 to 1,000 Kwh by 2012. About 75% of the total planned power capacity expansion is projected to come from thermal power. A combination of the above facts promises to put the necessary strain on the water resource of India.

Industrial water consumption is expected to quadruple to between 2000 and 2050; by 2050 industrial water consumption will reach 18% of total annual water consumption, up from just 6% in 2000. Industrial wastewater discharge causes pollution and reduces available Freshwater reserves Almost 6.2 Bn liters of untreated industrial wastewater is generated every day. Thermal power plants and steel plants are the highest contributors to annual industrial wastewater discharge.

Gross Demand Projections:

Several studies have projected the annual demand for water in India. These projections strike the alarm for a relook at the water management policy of the country.












Source: Compendium of Agricultural Statistics, 2002, MoSPI Water Management

Water management techniques in India followed are Subsidized Micro-Irrigation, Mandatory Rainwater Harvesting, Community Based Watershed Management and promotion of water conserving practices like System of Rice Intensification. System of Rice Intensification has the potential to address the problems of water searcity (32% water saving,) high energy usage (40 per cent saving) and environmental degradation leading to higher yields (40-80%) and lesser seed utilizatin (85% reduction.) It is estimated that if the SRI is adopted even on just 25 per cent of the irrigated rice area in India (5.3 mha), there would be a saving of paddy seed worth Rs 500 crore. However , if we take a deeper look at these management practices, it is revealed that these are not followed across the country and thus have not been able to bring about the required impact. Fot example Government subsidies of up to 50% on Micro-Irrigation equipment are being utilized  only by 8 states.

Similarly, laws have been enacted for rain-water harvesting on the roofs of all new buildings, but in only 10 states. Between 1997 and 2007, innovative cultivation programmes (e.g. spacing between plants, transplanting younger seedlings) were implemented to reduce the need for flood irrigation in water-intensive crops, but only across 6 states. There is a need to manage the existing water reserves in order to avoid future water strain. Government policy transformation would ensure that water management techniques and initiatives are executed at a national level across all the major sectors. In the Agricultural Sector, adoption of techniques such as rain water harvesting and watershed management; reduction of subsidies on power and implementation of customized pricing models to counter groundwater exploitation through excessive withdrawal are some options. Waste water re-use in agriculture should be encouraged. The Government had targeted to bring 17 million ha under Micro Irrigation by the end of the 11th Five Year Plan period. This indeed is a laudable effort as this alone was expected to result in an annual water savings of about 59 billion cubic metres. In the Industrial Sector, investment in recycling and treatment of industrial wastewater through regulations and subidies for water treatment plants need to be encouaged. In the Domestic Sector rain-water harvesting need to be made mandatory in all cities of the country with new construction projects. Propagation of efficient water usage practices through community based education programmes  with participation of local institutions and NGOs would help.


Unless local and national communities come together and dramatically  impove the way we envision and manage water, there will be many hungry villages and degraded environments and the economic development of the country will be put at risk. Stakeholders that include farmers, industries, policy makers, administrators, non government organizations, etc.  will need to come together to formulate an integrated road map towards water resource security in India. Some resoulution in this road map may require potentially unpopular policy changes and the adoption of water saving techniques and technologies The dialogue needed amongst stakeholders, then, is about India's economic and social priorities and the challenges that are worth  tackling  to deliver or achieve water security, when every child in India would have easy access to water of the right quality, in the right quantity and at the right place.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 April 2014 09:41