Focus On Groundwater Resources Can Bail Odisha Out Of A Potential Crisis

Bhubaneswar: Odisha seems to be sitting pretty with moderately exploited groundwater resources, coupled with a geographical advantage of abundant surface water. Odisha is projected to grow both economically and demographically. Unless water efficiency measures and regulations to prevent contamination are adopted in time, the situation can turn grim.

Odisha possesses a net utilisable groundwater resource of 16.69 billion cubic meters (bcm). The same figure for the whole of India stands as 433 bcm.

The annual groundwater withdrawal in Odisha is 5.02 bcm. Irrigation consumes 4.14 bcm, which is 82.5 per cent of the net annual extraction. The state’s annual groundwater development (utilisation) is 30 per cent, which is far less than the national average of 62 per cent.

Odisha is also blessed with the natural advantage of inland water resources. The state, along with Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and West Bengal possesses 50 per cent of this resource in India. Rational management of the inland water wealth can, not only put less stress on groundwater but also help its replenishment.

Data from Minor Irrigation Census (2011) shows that Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh account for 55 per cent of the country’s tube wells. However, one should remember that groundwater has played a crucial role in the past during the Green Revolution that made India self-sufficient in food production. Gradually, many other regions took to water-intensive commercial crops such as paddy and wheat as against the earlier trend of rain-fed agriculture.

Rampant use of inorganic and chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides is a major source of groundwater contamination; more so, when the water table is severely depleted. Factors such as untreated industrial discharge, improper disposal of urban waste into open dumps, waterbodies and poorly planned landfill sites also contaminate the subterranean water resources.

The Central Ground Water Board (2010) has already detected fluoride contamination, albeit in localised pockets, in the groundwater of Odisha. There are 17 other states on the list. However, arsenic contamination, which is alarming in many other regions of the country has not yet been found here as yet.

Satellite-based study of groundwater depletion in India between 2002 and 2008 casts a grim picture in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi as well as parts of the eastern region. Intense pumping is the primary reason behind the impending catastrophe.

Free and heavily subsidised electricity for farming, lack of sustainable water management methods including flood irrigation and wasteful withdrawal are among the reasons behind the disappearing water table. As of today, four large states have the provision of absolutely free electricity.

Eighty per cent of India’s population depends entirely on groundwater for agricultural and drinking purposes. Although agriculture contributes 17 per cent to India’s GDP, it sustains a majority of its population. Further scarcity may result in a decline in farm output and stress in daily life. In a state like Odisha, groundwater helps its population develop drought resistance to a great extent. Although the state has a working mechanism of compensation for farmers during drought, an unfavourable and prolonged spell can destabilise its micro-economy.

For 2020-21, Odisha has been allocated only Rs 45 crore under the performance-based ‘Per Drop More Crop’ component of the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana. The state’s coverage during the last five years has only been 29,134 hectares under this micro-irrigation scheme aimed at enhancing water use efficiency. States such as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have received Rs 400 crore each. Coverage for the same period in Karnataka was 9,25,000 ha whereas neighbouring Chhattisgarh achieved 87,000 ha.

Odisha is rich with abundant surface water resources. Further, in the absence of schemes like free electricity, unmindful groundwater withdrawal, and hence wastage, are less rampant as is the case in many other large states.

A more aggressive approach in rolling out water efficiency measures, stricter industrial regulation to check contamination of surface water, intense participation of non-government organisations and the public, in general, will not only revive groundwater resources but also prevent its contamination.

Odisha is one of the fastest growing state economies in India. It is also in transition towards a service and industry-based economy. In the near future, agriculture may also grow to a commercial scale. Timely focus on resources such as groundwater will help its people live healthier and more prosperous.


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