Three months after a BBC report declared that Bengaluru will be one among 11 cities in the world to reach Day Zero; a government report has now stated that the city will lose its groundwater by 2020.
In fact, not only Bengaluru, 20 other major cities of the country including the national capital New Delhi and Hyderabad is in the Niti Aayog’s list to reach zero groundwater levels, affecting access for 100 million people.
The list is part of ‘Composite Water Management Index: A Tool for Water Management 2017’ by Niti Aayog. (Niti Aayog is a government think tank that promotes co-operative federalism and was the Modi government’s replacement of erstwhile Planning Commission).
“Although 93% of India’s urban population has access to ‘basic water, there are still sharp inter-city and intra-city inequities. Further, supply gaps are causing city dwellers to depend on privately extracted ground water, bringing down local water tables. In fact, by 2020, 21 major cities, including Delhi, Bangalore, and Hyderabad, are expected to reach zero groundwater levels, affecting access for 100 million people,” said the report.
The report said that most states have achieved less than 50% of the total score in the augmentation of groundwater resources, highlighting the growing national crisis—54% of India’s groundwater wells are declining.
Bengaluru features in the list of cities which are in the risk of losing groundwater despite Karnataka being the fourth best state for water resource management among non-Himalayan states in the 2017 list. The previous year, the state occupied the fifth position, meaning an improvement by one rank in a year.
Though the report does not get into details, it says that critical groundwater resources – which account for 40% of our water supply – are being depleted at unsustainable rates.
Niti Aayog has proposed:
1. Establishing a ‘Composite Water Management Index’ for the country. This Index is expected to establish a public, national platform providing information on key water indicators across states.
2. Incentive-based mechanisms for groundwater restoration, such as an innovative water impact bond that pays out funds to community organizations/ NGOs on achieving groundwater recharge targets (see case study below).
3. Consumption slab based tariffs, with low consumption users, usually poor people, paying low tariffs and being cross 131 subsidized by the higher tariffs on the high consumption users. Other cities can implement these consumption-based tariffs to ensure equity, while moving water utility systems towards full-cost returns and economic efficiencies as a whole
4. State governments should build supply networks and limit private groundwater access to ensure sustainable water use in cities, and prevent the rationing and strife witnessed in the recent water crisis of Cape Town.
Veena Srinivasan, Programme Leader – Water, Land and Society at ATREE (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment) is of the opinion that the 2020 timeline is alarmist, but added that current groundwater usage in cities like Bengaluru was unsustainable.
“The damage, however, is not irreversible. The issue is about recharging the groundwater. In Bengaluru, the overexploitation of groundwater will reduce gradually with subsequent phases of Cauvery water supply. Another positive development is ‘A Million Recharge Wells’ campaign Biome Environmental Trust and Friends of Lakes,” she noted.
She further noted that across the country there was a dearth of regulating authorities.
“For a country like India which takes up about a quarter of the world’s groundwater, there are only 350 officials at the Central Ground Water Board. Out of them, only 200 people are looking and marking aquifers. So there is basically no agency which can do enforcement or check actual usage,” she said.