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Maha has 2nd highest number of wells in India, but just 45% of its groundwater remains

Sun, Jan 14 2024 03:50:57 PM

Mumbai, Jan 14 (IANS): India has more than 2.19 crore wells -- dug-wells as well as shallow, medium and deep tubewells -- that suck out massive quantities of precious groundwater from the bowels of the earth. And, worryingly, only a modest amount of this water gets re-charged.

Of these, Maharashtra has more than 3.2 million wells comprising 27,49,088 dug-wells, 131,100 shallow tube-wells, 174,194 medium tube-wells and 179,583 deep tube-wells.

Uttar Pradesh tops the list with over 3.9 million wells of all types, but pleasantly, Sikkim and Manipur are the only states that have no wells of any kind, while Delhi, Punjab and Chandigarh have no dug-wells, though they have borewells, as per the Centre’s official data presented to parliament (December 2023).

According to a Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) report, nearly 70 per cent of the surface water in India is considered ‘unfit for consumption’, and only a small portion of almost 40 million litres of waste-water that is dumped into rivers and other fresh-water bodies daily in the country is adequately treated to prevent it from degrading the water quality.

The details are even more shocking at the global level, where more than 80 per cent of the world’s waste-water gets released into nature without being treated or recycled, even as the threat of global warming and its implications loom heavily over the planet.

Around 200 crore (2 billion) people worldwide use drinking matter contaminated with fecal matter and other pollutants that pose massive health hazards, many with fatal consequences.

Around 45 crore (450 million) children in the world live in high or extremely high water vulnerability, and the UN has forecast that around 70 crore (700 million) could be displaced due to water scarcity by 2030.

Under such a grim scenario, Maharashtra presents a picture of concern with nearly 55 per cent of its precious ground-water resources getting depleted, and there is growing exploitation of underground water owing to various factors, mostly the burgeoning human population in urban and rural areas.

Leading water expert and ex-Member, Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) & Maharashtra State Ground Water Authority (MSGWA) Vinod Tiwari warns that if stringent measures are not considered on priority, Maharashtra could see an irreparable loss of ecological health as uncontrolled exploitation of ground-water resources continues blatantly due to non-implementation of laws.

He said that exploitation of ground-water is strictly banned for industrial, commercial or even agriculture though water from wells of upto 18 metres (60-feet) depth is allowed for drinking and cultivation purposes.

“In cities like Mumbai, Pune and others, the water tanker mafia has turned ground-water into a thriving business enterprise worth over Rs 5,000 crore annually, despite orders from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and MWRRA, with big politicians also as players,” Tiwari told IANS.

As per the National Compilation of Dynamic Ground Water Resources of India (NCDGWR) 2023 report, the state has diverse rock types of varying ages in different areas but is mostly covered by Deccan Traps.

Other geological formations are found in the north-east parts of the state and in stray patches in the coastal Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri districts, but a large part is underlain by Basaltic hard rocks where dug-wells rule the roost.

Mostly tapping the weathered and fractures/joints underground, the water yield of dug-wells, with a diameter of 3-15 metres and depths starting from 6 metres or more, can vary from just 3-5 litres per second (lps).

A small part of the state has semi-consolidated sedimentary rocks where tube-wells yield between 5-45 lps.

Surprisingly, the drought-prone parts of central Maharashtra, comprising Marathwada and surrounding regions, received very less rainfall (400 mm-700 mm/pa, but the geology is favourable for ground-water recharge.

The dependency on ground-water here is very high, and nearly 65 per cent of all irrigation wells in the state are in this region comprising Aurangabad, Beed, Dhule, Osmanabad, Satara, Nashik, Sangli, Jalgaon, Solapur, Ahmednagar and Pune.

The NCDGWR assessed ground-water resources for 1,534 watersheds in the state and then apportioned them to the taluka levels.

It discovered that the total annual ground-water recharge of the state is around 32.76 billion cubic metres and annual extractable ground-water resources is 30.95 billion cubic metres.

The annual ground-water extraction is 16.66 bcm and the stage of ground-water extraction is 53.83 per cent.

Out of the 353 talukas, 9 (2.55 per cent) are categorised as ‘over-exploited’, another 9 (2.55 per cent) rank as ‘critical’, 57 (16.15 per cent) as ‘semi-critical’, and the remaining 277 (78.47 per cent) as ‘safe’, while one taluka (0.28 per cent was found to be ‘saline’.

The NCDGWR found that of the 259,914.03 sq km recharge worthy area in the state -- 7,034.69 sq km (2.71 per cent) is ‘over-exploited’; 8857.49 sq km (3.41 per cent) is ‘critical’; 56,959.42 sq km (21.91 per cent) is ‘semi-critical’; 186,285.52 sq km is ‘safe’; and 776.89 sq km (0.30 per cent) is classified as ‘saline’.

Compared with the NCDGWR’s 2022 assessment, the annual ground water recharge and annual extractable ground water resources in 2023 has increased marginally from 32.29 bcm to 32.76 bcm and 30.45 to 30.95 bcm, respectively, but the annual ground water extraction remains almost stable, while the stage of ground-water extraction fell slightly from 54.68 per cent (2022) to 53.83 per cent (2023).

Tiwari called for “extremely urgent” implementation of the Maharashtra Ground Water Act, 2009 and the Rules of 2018 which are yet to be finalised for the past over six years owing to ‘sheer apathy and lack of political will’.

“Unless the state enforces the laws and ensures ground-water replenishment on a war-footing - at least by 15-20 percent annually - more than 80 per cent of the population could face severe water scarcity challenges after 2030,” warned Tiwari.

Besides the fast-depleting groundwater resources in India’s top industrialised state, the MPCB has to monitor the water quality in terms of physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the liquid, ensure strict compliance with drinking water standards to help protect human health and the environment.

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