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Indian Express : How this Pune-based engineer is mounting a fight against India’s groundwater crisis

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

Vijay Gawade's startup WaterLab has developed a patented solution called Bhujal App, which uses sonar technology to detect water levels in borewells.

Written by Dipanita Nath

Pune | April 25, 2023 11:42 IST

Indian Express Network

News/Cities/Pune/How this Pune-based engineer is mounting a fight against India’s groundwater crisis

As many as 300 sites across Pune are under observation as part of a pilot project to study groundwater levels in borewells to plan recharge measures. The initiative is by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Pune Municipal Corporation and a Pune-based startup called WaterLab.

The company has developed a patented solution called Bhujal, which uses sonar technology to detect water levels in borewells. The app uses the Internet of Things and other technologies to run on Android phones.

The study in Pune started in January and will end in mid-July, after which the findings will be analysed and declared. Waterlab is also exploring opportunities in Ethiopia, and talks are on with the government to use the technology with communities and users to generate groundwater-level data.

It takes a summer’s day for most people to realise the problem of the world’s depleting groundwater. The United Nations names India as one of the countries reporting “significant groundwater depletion”, in its report, Global Bottled Water Industry: A Review of Impacts and Trends.

Results of research published by puts 2025 as the year by which large parts of north-western and southern India will suffer critically low groundwater availability and 2050 as the time the country will face extreme water stress.

Vijay Gawade, founder and director of WaterLab, says water tables are going down by the day, with “all-India statistics and government data showing that 50 per cent of the wells are declining and this will continue at a faster rate due to an increasing demand for groundwater”. India extracts more groundwater than the US and China combined and is the world’s largest extractor of groundwater.

“Reliance on groundwater is growing and we find that people largely have borewells and tubewells as a water source. Open wells are present only in a few parts of the country. Because borewells and tubewells are covered structures, we don’t know how much water is present when we start the pump to extract water. As a result, there is no water management. Secondly, people are extracting water till the wells go dry,” says Vijay Gawade.

To use the Bhujal app, the borewell needs to have a metal or a plastic cap on top. The cover should not be rusted or broken. A spanner or an iron rod is also required. The data generated on the app enables users to understand the impact of abstraction and recharge on borewell water levels and helps them sustain the borewells for longer. This will go some way in answering the problem of declining aquifer water levels, among others.

The app is currently available on subscription, and there are 1,600 subscribers spread across Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan, among others. Two-thirds of the subscribers are farmers, though, lately, the company has seen that urban households are interested in monitoring their wells.

Gawade is a water engineer with around 33 years in the water sector, working largely with UN organisations and bilateral and multilateral donors. The idea behind Bhujal was to provide a tool for users to monitor the water available in their borewells and manage it responsibly and efficiently.


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