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Monsoon not the only answer to India’s water crisis, say experts

Since mid-2015, ground-water level has been diminishing precipitously and prospects of its long-term availability looks bleak, said Mathew Rodell of NASA, who also was the first one to spot this receding water table in North India.

According to 2010 data by Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, there has been rapid depletion of ground-water levels, particularly in North India where crop irrigation takes away a huge chunk, Rodell told CNBC-TV18.

Depletion is majorly in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan stretching into Uttar Pradesh and some other nearby states, but there has been an increase in water levels in Southern India, he added. 

Voicing his concern on the issue, Water Ministry Secretary Shashi Shekhar said, today the per capita water availability has reached below the threshold level at 1,400 metre cube per person per year. He highlighted more-than-recharge-level water drawal and diversion of rivers that is barring recharge of ground water.

Shekhar believes rebuilding water levels is possible through construction of large number of percolation tanks and reviving old tanks. He also propogates other ways like rainwater harvesting, water budgeting and proper selection of cropping pattern. 

Meanwhile, Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, Council on Energy, suggested: “For the central government to have that leverage of the states, the investment in the water recharge structures, the investment in the data collection and getting the states and the central government together on agriculture and energy pricing reform is probably what we can get going for now.”

Agriculture Pricing Commission’s Former Chairman Ashok Gulati pointed out that instead of giving free power and water, the government can gradually phase out other subsidies into subsidy on per hectare basis to all the crops, thereby making a crop-neutral incentive structure.

Below is the transcript of Mathew Rodell, Shashi Shekhar, Arunabha Ghosh and Himanshu Thakkar on CNBC-TV18.

Q: You were the first one to spot this receding water table in North India. Can you update us? Have things gotten even worse in North India?

Rodell: Based on the data from the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, we saw back in 2009 that there was a rapid rate of depletion in North India caused by groundwater levels dropping. And that is mainly caused by people using a lot of groundwater for irrigating crops. In around middle of 2010 is when we saw the groundwater reach a minimum.