Like in many philosophical traditions of the world, the Indian tradition puts great emphasis on the importance of water in life. In the ancient Indian tradition, ap or water is one of the five panchmahabhutas or great elements of life. Early Indian literature belonging to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and other traditions had highlighted the importance of water and its conservation. The rich Ayurvedic literature of the subcontinent has countless treaties on water. It goes to the extent of defining it as jiva or life. However, this elixir of life is becoming increasingly scarce due to challenges of rising population, rapid urbanisation, industrial growth and increasing water pollution. Since the second half of the previous century, the world has been urbanizing rapidly. According to the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), a division established in 1946 to study “population dynamics and monitoring demographic trends and policies worldwide”, in 1950, only 30 per cent of the world’s population lived in urban areas, whereas by 2018 the world population living in the urban setting had grown to 55 per cent. The urban population of the world has grown rapidly from 751 million in 1950 to 4.2 billion in 2018.
The rapid urbanization has led to a severe crisis of useable water in the world, particularly in developing countries such as ours. In India, per capita availability of water has decreased from 2209 m3/year in 1991 to 1545 m3/year in 2011 and it is estimated to decline further up to 1140m3/ year in the year 2050. Furthermore, demand for water from various sectors viz. irrigation, drinking water, industry, energy and others are expected to rise from 710 billion cubic metres (BCM) in the year 2010 to 843 BCM in the year 2025 and further to 1180 BCM in the year 2050.
According to a 2018 NITI Aayog report, currently, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water. By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual six per cent loss in the country’s GDP. When we speak of water, we generally mean freshwater because even when 70 per cent of our planet is covered with water, only 2.5 per cent of it is consumable.
According to the UN Environment’s document ‘Freshwater Strategy 2017-2021’, freshwater plays a fundamental role in support of the environment, society and the economy. Since water is a natural resource and it cannot be created in factories or laboratories, the only solution to our looming water crisis is conserving water.
In seven out of India’s 10 most populous cities, the depth to groundwater has increased significantly over the last two decades. This is an alarming situation because India is the biggest user of groundwater. According to a report India extracts more groundwater than China and the US the next two biggest pullers of groundwater combined. Half of the total clean water needed in our country is met from groundwater.
The 2014 report o the parliamentary standing committee on water resources constituted on August 5, 2004, found that the groundwater forms the largest share of India’s agriculture and drinking water supply. About 89 per cent of groundwater extracted in India is used for irrigation making it the highest category with 9 per cent share of the extracted groundwater followed by the industry that uses only 2 per cent of it. Similarly, the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has stated in Lok Sabha that 50 per cent of urban water requirement and 85 per cent of rural domestic water needs are fulfilled by groundwater. This kind of use has caused a reduction in groundwater levels in India by 61 per cent between 2007 and 2017.
The present government has shown unprecedented interest in water conservation, minimising wastage and ensuring equitable distribution. In his first Mann Ki Baat programme in the second term as the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi described the water crisis as on one of the biggest challenges facing India today. Apart from this, to encourage stakeholders like water user associations, institutions, corporate sector, individuals, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), gram panchayats, urban local bodies to adopt innovative practices of groundwater augmentation like creating awareness through people’s participation, rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge, promoting water use efficiency, recycling and reuse of water, the government in 2007 launched the Groundwater Augmentation Awards and National Water Award.