Groundwater Governance in India: A Legal and Institutional Perspective

Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Governance in
India: A Legal
and Institutional
Deepratan Singh Khara1
Availability of and accessibility to groundwater have played a considerable role in
India’s development, especially in the agriculture sector. Although the groundwa-
ter boom has provided numerous advantages, it has also created a slew of intrac-
table problems in terms of overexploitation and resource depletion, leading to
the emergence of a groundwater crisis. Although there exists a policy structure
to address these concerns, India’s legal framework for groundwater governance
and management is complex and multi-layered, with constitutional and statutory
provisions of both the Central and state governments.
The present article aims to explore the nuances of groundwater govern-
ance in India from legal and institutional perspectives in an integrated manner. It
examines the constitutional and right-based aspects of groundwater management
as well as the evolution of associated groundwater policy measures undertaken
so far.
Groundwater governance, Water Policy, Model Bills, public trust doctrine
The increase in population and changing patterns of its usage have raised ques-
tions about the sustainability of water resources and have brought water into the
governance arena of the world. Although water infrastructure in India has yielded
enormous benets, it has not been matched by global advances in water resource
and service governance (Briscoe & Malik, 2006). With 1,109 cubic metres of per
Indian Journal of Public
69(1) 204–220, 2023
© 2022 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/00195561221128618
1 Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), Chandigarh, Punjab, India.
Corresponding author:
Deepratan Singh Khara, Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), Sector
19 A Madhya Marg, Chandigarh, Punjab 160019, India.
Khara 205
capita water availability in 2005, India had fairly low per capita water availability,
which as a result of demographic changes will consequently reduce to 856 cubic
metres per capita by 2030 (Rosegrant, 2015). Among the available sources of
water, groundwater has played a vital role in the development and growth of
India. Groundwater, while providing much of nation’s requirements of water for
agricultural, industrial and domestic purposes, is surprisingly unrecognised and
usually undervalued. India is considered to be world’s largest agricultural con-
sumer of groundwater and has undergone a paradigm shift from large-scale
surface water management to widespread groundwater extraction. As groundwa-
ter is a ‘common pool’ resource, it has created a contradiction of use and concerns,
especially in India (Pal et al., 2003). Over 60% of irrigated farmland and 85% of
India’s drinking water supply are reliant on groundwater (World Bank, 2012).
Groundwater irrigation, a key component of Green Revolution policy framework,
was instrumental in averting the food crisis of the late 1960s and preventing the
country from falling into the Malthusian trap. The groundwater typology in India
is relevant across users and uses because it is a function of both the hydrogeologi-
cal characteristics of groundwater and the socio-economic context that dene reli-
ance on the groundwater supply.
Governance of groundwater is the management of groundwater resources by
means of information accessibility, rule of law, responsibility, custom, transpar-
ency and participation. It refers to the practice of coordinating administrative
activities and decision-making at many levels of government, ranging from local
to global (Mechlem, 2012; Saunier & Meganck, 2007). A precise and comprehen-
sive understanding of the local groundwater supply, its usage and its general
context is essential for eective groundwater governance. This requires informa-
tion on not just hydrogeology but also hydrology, total water demand and
consumption, socio-economic factors, ecosystems, environment, agricultural
activities and so on. Due to the fact that groundwater use in India is deemed to be
distinctive in terms of scale and characteristics, the approach to resource manage-
ment is expected to be tailored to the governance framework and political economy
connected with groundwater settings of the region (World Bank, 2010).
India has an enigmatic record of managing one of the world’s largest ground-
water irrigation systems while confronting distinct labyrinthine concerns regard-
ing governance and management problems in this sector (Moench, 1994; Sarkar,
2016). Groundwater exploitation in India has increased exponentially over the
last ve decades as a result of the construction of millions of private wells and
tubewells. Inadequate public irrigation and drinking water sources, new pump
technology, adaptability and timeliness of groundwater delivery, and government
electricity subsidies are all contributing factors to this increased dependence on
groundwater. Additionally, misleading assumptions of a limitless supply, owner-
ship rights issues, disregard for externality associated with closely constructed
tubewells, and a lack of awareness and implementation of groundwater law and
governance issues have resulted in indiscriminate groundwater use in India
(Kulkarni et al., 2015).
Groundwater overexploitation is generally dened as a condition in which the
average rate of abstraction from aquifers exceeds or equals the average rate of

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