… Due to the lack of rainwater, lakes and wetlands, most of India’s population is heavily dependent on groundwater: around 25 percent of the groundwater extracted around the world is removed in India. Much of this is done illegally, which only adds to supply problems. In major cities like Bangalore and New Delhi, so-called water mafias rule unchecked, extracting water from kilometres away and selling it to locals at an extortionate premium. The situation became so serious in Chennai this summer that even hospitals were dependent on privately owned tankers to supply water for surgeries. The cost was then added to patients’ medical bills.
In a tragically ironic twist, many of these patients were hospitalised for waterborne diseases. In August, researchers found that over three quarters of the groundwater wells in the north-western state of Rajasthan – the largest in India – were polluted with uranium, fluoride and nitrates, making them unsafe to drink from. If groundwater depletion and contamination continue at their current levels, 60 percent of India’s districts are likely to see groundwater tables fall to critical levels over the next two decades.
In hot water
Surprisingly, the biggest consumer of India’s water is not its city-dwelling population – around 80 percent of India’s water is used in agriculture. This figure is so high partly because state governments in Western India provide free or heavily subsidised electricity to farmers in exchange for groundwater irrigation. “This encourages excessive groundwater pumping and has bankrupted electricity companies,” said Tushaar Shah, a senior fellow at the International Water Management Institute. “Everyone knows this, but no political leader has the courage to rationalise or reduce these subsidies since farmers are a massive vote bank.” …