Where has all the water gone?

farmer-2Waiting for the monsoon rains, India seems to be in despair. Dried water reservoirs, tumbling water tables, cracked land and desperate faces are the stories that connect whole of nation these days. Once a common scene in Vidarbha and Bundelkhand, water scarcity is the story with which any citizen can associate. The summer has also multiplied miseries of the common people.

Doaba, a region between two rivers, of Ganga and Yamuna, once considered the most fertile region of India has witnessed a sharp decline in water levels. This area, which is just within 150 kilometres of national capital Delhi, has noticed the water level gone down by 40 to 45 feet. Another Doaba of Ganga and Ramganga is facing the crisis too with water levels down by 60 to 70 feet.

Moradabad Commissionaire in Uttar Pradesh province, the mainland of Ganga-Ramganga Doaba was once the land of 10 rivers. Ganga and its tributary, Ramganga and the sub-tributaries, Bagad, Yagad, Dhela, Gagan, Sot, Matwali, Ban and Chhoya were known to keep the water table well within 10 feet. Even the two big lakes, the Mansarovar in Moradabad city and the Salara in Chandpur (Bijnore) used to flood the area with overflowed waters during monsoons.

But all this now seem to be fairy tales. “We could water even by digging the land down at 8-10 feets in older days,” says Mohammad Zafar, a farmer Said Nagli village of Amroha district.

“Water table has declined sharply and there seems to be no point where it may become stable”, he added.

“God knows, where has all the water gone?” asks Afzal, resident of Najibabad in Bijnore district.

And Afzal is not alone. There are many who want to solve the water mystery. It is not the rain, but there are other factors that have led to the depletion of underground water.

“Developmental demands, industrialization, dams, tube wells and submersible pumps all have contributed to the exhaustion of water, but Industry has been the major culprit,” suggests Rajesh Goyal, a social activist who has been active in Save Ganga Marshland and Tributaries movement.

Reports suggest that 144 companies have NOCs for extraction of groundwater from Central Ground Water Authority in India. Many more are extracting water without any NOC from the apex body under the Ministry of Water Resources. This has resulted in dry wells and useless hand pumps.

In addition to this, various state governments have dedicated water supplies for industry. In Sanand, industrial area of Gujarat, the state government has dedicated 9 crore litres per day from Narmada River for Industrial use. Coca Cola alone gets 95 lac litres water here every day. In Western Uttar Pradesh, farmers see the water from Ganga meant for agricultural use ending up at Narora Atomic Power Plant, NTPC Dadri and Harduaganj Thermal Power Station. These power plants convert water to vapour thus killing all the hopes of farming sector.

Back in Delhi, there are more than 10,000 illegal packaged water bottling units. This is in addition to 64 licensed manufacturers in Delhi/NCR.

In NCR there are bottling plants of Coca Cola, Pepsico foods and their franchisee in the region. Both the soft drink majors have more than 150 bottling plants in India which extract 11 billion litres of water every year. Also, these two companies have around 250 franchisees which draw more and more underground water leaving the aquifers severely depleted.

On the same side, the packaged water business in India is worth 1,000 crore rupees and it is growing at the rate of 40-50% annually. With around 1,200 licensed bottled water factories all over India plus the illegal ones, the groundwater level is destined to be doomed.

Interestingly, industries when given the permission to use underground water further asked to make provisions for its recharge too. “I don’t think anyone takes care of this clause mentioned in the agreement”, says A Hajra, a lawyer in Meerut.

Industries in the region has left the water table sucked to maximum levels, but no one care about what will happen, once all these sources of water will be exhausted, she added.