Groundwater depletion in Haryana a cause of serious concern

  • Annual groundwater withdrawal in Haryana is 137% of its annual extractable groundwater resources. Out of the 141 blocks in Haryana, 85 have reached the red category level.
  • Water-intensive paddy cultivation is the prime reason for the massive extraction of groundwater.
  • The Haryana government’s target to reduce 200,000 (2 lakh) acres under paddy this year is a huge challenge. Aggressive regulation, monitoring and people’s participatory approach are important in saving depleting groundwater.

India is the world’s largest user of groundwater with over 80% of the rural and urban domestic water supplies met by available groundwater. But each year the water table keeps falling in different states. As Haryana makes news for being challenged by low and falling water tables, the Haryana Water Resource Authority, a new body constituted for conservation, management and regulation of water resources in the state, held its first meeting earlier this month.

The latest data of the Central Ground Water Authority was tabled during the meeting, wherein it was revealed that out of the total 141 blocks in Haryana, 85 blocks (60% of the state’s geographical area) had reached the red category due to groundwater exploitation. In the year 2004, 55 blocks were under the red category, which means that 30 more blocks have come under the distressed category in a decade and a half.

“The depletion in the water table is now a cause of concern in 14 of the 22 districts of Haryana. Ambala, Kurukshetra, Jind, Karnal and Panipat are the worst affected,” Keshni Anand, Chairperson, Haryana Water Resources Authority, told Mongabay-India. Irrigation is the prime source of depletion and mainly due to paddy crops that require high amount of water for cultivation, she said.

Anand added that a block is included under the red category when the extraction of groundwater is far greater than the recharge, resulting in the continuous depletion of the ground table.  According to the data from the Haryana government, annual groundwater recharge from rainwater and canal water is 10.15 billion cubic metres (bcm) of which 9.13 bcm is extractable (one cubic meter has 1,000 litres). But the current annual groundwater extraction in the state is 12.50 bcm, of which 11.53 bcm is alone used for irrigation and the remaining goes for domestic (0.63 bcm) and industrial use (0.34 bcm).  In over half of the state’s area, more groundwater is withdrawn than recharged each year, resulting in continuous depletion of groundwater table.

The annual groundwater withdrawal in Haryana is 137% of its annual extractable groundwater resources, which is the third-highest in the country. The national average is at 63%.

Punjab that has a similar wheat-paddy crop pattern like Haryana is facing bigger challenges with respect to groundwater. Its annual groundwater withdrawal is 165% of its annual extractable groundwater resources, making it the highest in the country.

‘Ground situation not good’

There are two categories of groundwater — one that is dynamic and the other is static that is far deep underground.

Anand hints at a severe ecological crisis because the residents in districts like Kurukshetra have even started using static groundwater.  In areas like Rohtak, Jhajjar etc. higher groundwater level has created water logging problems, because groundwater in those areas is saline and cannot be used for irrigation purposes. In those areas, farmers are mostly dependent on canal water for irrigation.

She said, “We have reached a stage where we need to focus on water use efficiency and rationalise the use of groundwater through methods like micro-irrigation and crop diversification. There is also a dire need to increase recharge points or digging the canals to prevent the groundwater from further depletion,” she added.

Their team is looking to reduce paddy crops in critical areas and concurrently use water-saving techniques like drip irrigation around which successful experiments have been conducted in a few areas. Drip irrigation has shown more success in direct paddy sowing techniques than manual paddy transplants.

Simultaneously Haryana has also started a proper water audit, for which 1,700 piezometers are being installed in critical red blocks for real-time monitoring of the groundwater table.

Farm labour in Haryana. Photo by Katrin Park, International Food Policy Research Institute/Flickr.

“The state’s new scheme ‘Mera Pani Meri Virasat’ is encouraging and incentivising the farmers to move towards crops like Maize and Bajra from paddy. Apart from this, we are trying our level best for people to use treated piped water, for which a huge infrastructure is required. We will soon have departmental meetings to address these issues,” Anand said, also highlighting that they need an aggressive participatory approach from the people. “They all need to realise that our water is depleting and if we do not take corrective measures now, the next generation will be at a great loss,” she opined.

Truncating the area under paddy

The area under paddy in Haryana went up sharply from 8.5 lakh (850,000) hectares in 1996 to 13.87 lakh (1.38 million) hectares in 2018, before coming down to 12 lakh (1.2 million) hectares in 2020-21.

In 1996, Haryana’s area under paddy was 8.30 lakh (850,000) hectares that increased to nearly 13.87 lakh (1.38 million) hectares in 2018, before coming down to 12 lakh (1.2 million) hectares in 2020-21.

The increase was largely due to the well-oiled MSP-based procurement system in the state. A similar system prevails in Punjab where the whole produce of the farmers is purchased on MSP by the government agencies, unlike in other states.

Sumita Misra, Additional Chief Secretary, Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare told Mongabay-India that this year they have envisaged a target of reducing paddy area by 2 lakh acres (approximately 80,000 hectares).

“It is challenging but we are sure to achieve this, given that the government scheme is incentivising the farmers to divert from paddy to other crops,” she said.

Under the Mera Pani Meri Virasat Yojana, the state Government of Haryana is providing a financial incentive of 7,000 rupees per acre to switch from paddy cultivation to other crops like maize, arhar, urad, guar, cotton, bajra, til etc.

Misra stated that last year, the state successfully diverted 97,000 acres (around 39,254 hectares) under paddy to other crops.

But experts are of view that farmers will not switch to other crops unless they see the assured return for alternate crops in a sustainable basis.

Farm economic expert Kesar Singh Bangoo replaced traditional crops in both Punjab and Haryana because of assured returns for these crops. “If states want farmers to switch to maize or bajra, they will have to find a mechanism to buy back their crops at an assured price. Unless this happens, it is difficult to shrink the area under paddy and address the growing ecological concerns that this region has been suffering for long now,” he quoted.

Read more: Hope runs dry as groundwater depletion in Pubjab drops to alarming level

Banner image: Representative image of paddy fields in north India. Photo by Radosław Botev.

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