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Indian Perspective of Conserving the Water Resource: The Next Global Agenda

Text by Shreyash Dwivedi

Photo: Udayan Borthakur


From the beginning of life on earth to the present, water has been the foremost pillar of continuous existence and development of the living world. In the future, the importance of water is remarkable for the socio-economic sustainable development of human beings, energy and food production, the entire environment and the existence of human beings themselves. As the world population is witnessing the fastest growth, water can be seen as a very important subject in densely populated areas of the world. It is vital for reducing the global burden of disease and improving the health, welfare and productivity of populations and could be seen as the primary source for the universal development of human beings.

History testifies that resource shortage has been the subject of many wars fought in the world. It would not be an exaggeration to say that in future the next war between the countries is for water. Even today, water disputes are seen between many countries. India is facing this issue both at the national and international levels. Whoever is understanding the importance of water today, believes that by properly conserving this resource, proper access to it should be ensured for all. This goal of water conservation can be achieved through the prevention of its pollutants, efficiency and improvement in the use of technology, reuse, reduction in exploitation etc.

Fig.1: Global Water Distribution

Global status of water availability: Around 70% of the earth is covered by water. The world’s total water supply is about 332.5 million mi3 of water. More than 97 per cent of water available on earth is saline. In total freshwater, over 69 per cent is locked up in ice and glaciers and the other 30 per cent is in the ground, the remaining 1 per cent is surface and other fresh water. Most of the surface water used by humans comes from rivers, but rivers only constitute about 509 mi3 (2,120 km3), about 1/10,000th of one per cent of total water. (USGS, 2019)[1]

Status of water demand and availability in India

India hosts approximately 17 per cent of the world’s population, it holds only about 4 per cent of its required annual water resources. India annually receives 4000 billion cubic metres of precipitation and Central Water Commission states that our annual water need is around 3000 billion cubic metres.But we are able to hold only 8% of that water. (Tayal, 2022)[2] Population explosion and improved lifestyle are major causes of water stress in India. The scarcity is compounded further because of massive agricultural and industrial development coupled with improper and indiscriminately exploitation of groundwater resources.

According to the World Bank, India is the world’s most important user of groundwater; moreover, if trends persist, an estimated 114 million Indians will soon face desperate domestic, agricultural and industrial shortages, serious implications for long-term food security, livelihoods, and economic growth. Half of the country’s population does not have access to safe drinking water and around 2 lakhs people die every year due to this. Nearly 38 million Indians suffer from water-borne diseases while some 600,000 children under the age of five die due to deficient water supply and sanitation. (Daniel Rivière 2015).

“The earth, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So, it is our responsibility to hand it over to the next generation at least as it was handed over to us.” - Mahatma Gandhi

According to a study by the Water Resource Group, water demand in India will double by 2030. About 4 crore Indians still have to travel about one kilometre for water daily. About 80% of our water requirement is related to agriculture, which is very important for the growing population of our country. According to the projected water demand by GOI, India faces a large gap between current supply and projected demand, amounting to more than double.

Source: Source: Basin Planning Directorate, CWC, XI Plan Document

There is a continuous increase in water demand in every sector and it is continuously increasing. Irrigation is going to dominate the water demand in future as well. Energy is another sector which is showing an increased future perspective. We are planning toward more green energy and defined the targets but thermal energy is going to play a vital role in future as well.

Principal annual components of India’s water balance


Volume (BCM)

Percentage (%)




Stream Flow



Ground Water



Available water



Utilisable water



Current water use



Current water demand2




3838-(1953+433) =1452


4000-(1953+433) =1614


Source: 1. Jain & GoI cited in ADB (2009: 3)

Source: EnviStats-India 2018: Environmental Accounts

Surface and Ground Water Status

India receives 4000bcm. Rainfall (both precipitation and snowfall together) yearly, but not in a uniform way. Where Meghalaya receives 12000mm rainfall in Rajasthan it is just around 100mm. Due to the diversified geological formation of the Indian ground surface, the groundwater behaviour varies all over the subcontinent. Rainfall contributes 68% of its recharge annually the other sources are canal seepage, ponds, recharge from tanks etc. The total annual replenishable ground water status of India is 433bcm. In which 222bcm. We use it for irrigation purposes and 23bcm for domestic and industrial purposes annually. Punjab (172%), Rajasthan (137%), Delhi (137%) and Haryana (133%) are the states which consume more groundwater than their annual recharge.

According to the 2011 population per capita, water availability in India is 1567 cu. m. annually. According to the international standards per capita annual water availability between 1000-1700 is the stage of water stress. If we do a basin-wise comparison all the basin-like – Ganges, Yamuna and others which are having large populations are suffering from water scarcity in India.

“All people, whatever their stage of development and their social and economic condition, have the right to have access to drinking water in quantities and of a quality to their basic need.” - United Nations – 1977

Photo: Udayan Borthakur

Water Conservation Concept in India:

The significance of water conservation in India is not very new. Examples of strategies utilized in Lothal, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa of the Indus Valley are direct proof. Sringaverapura tank in modern-day Uttar Pradesh become constructed sometime in the 1st BC and is a shining instance of engineering during the early period of Indian civilisation. The rainwater conservation system of Mandu is an outstanding example that we are able to see in characteristics within the modern-day additionally. Which changed into built somewhere around 1400 yrs. With the change of time in India, the trade of energy and spiritual sovereignty additionally brought adjustments in social sports and methods of water conservation strategies. Water conservation with the aid of Baoli in Delhi was a method commenced within the medieval period. However presently it has disappeared, however, alternatively, the Gull approach utilized in Uttarakhand continues to be usually there.

Water Conservation and Control Practices to Make Sure Water Safety

The method of saving water for future usage is called conservation of water. It will be the figuring out element if India becomes wealthy or remains terrible. But the control of water isn't simply about building more dams or laying pipelines to take the water to our towns after which pipelines flush the waste from our homes. The control of water is about constructing the relationship of society with its water in order that we will understand the cost of each raindrop and remember that except we are prudent, indeed frugal, with our use of this valuable resource, there will by no means be sufficient water for all. Agriculture, domestic and business are the primary sectors of water use by using human beings.

Few Major Steps were Taken by Government for Water Conservation:

  • The Integrated Watershed Management Programme (2008 onwards) has adopted a three-tier approach—the upper topography, which is largely hilly and forested, is treated with the support of the forest department. For slopes, which form part of the intermediate topography IWMP would address all issues concerning land treatment by implementing the best possible options, including cropping patterns, horticulture and agroforestry. In the lower tier, consisting of plains and agricultural lands, the IWMP would be integrated with employment-generating programmes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) (DoLR).

  • Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA), a time-bound campaign with a mission-style approach, was launched by the Indian government in 2019 with the goal of improving groundwater conditions in the water-stressed blocks of 256 districts in India.

  • The Department of Water Resources, RD & GR, developed the National Water Policy (2012), which among other things promotes rainwater collection, and water conservation, and emphasizes the need to increase water availability through the direct use of rainfall. It also promotes, among other things, that river, river body, and infrastructure preservation should be carried out in a planned, scientific way with community involvement.

  • Department of Water Resources, RD& GR has an award scheme for incentivising good practices in water conservation and groundwater recharge.

  • In order to ensure the profitable use of funds, the Ministry of Rural Development has developed an actionable framework for Natural Resources Management (NRM), titled "Mission Water Conservation," in collaboration and agreement with the Department of Water Resources, RD & GR and the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare.

These are a few examples and there are a lot more actions going on central and state levels by the government of India.

Some Major Points for Water Management and Conservation are Listed Below:

  • Efficient water distribution network

  • Equity and demand-based management

  • Participatory Water Management with the indigenous knowledge system and techniques.

  • Correction of cropping pattern with modern irrigation efficient technologies.

  • Ensuring equal and realistic water rates for every citizen of the country.

  • Proper and functional wastewater and sewage water treatment plants in all urban areas.

  • Recycle and reuse wastewater from the wastewater of all different sectors.

  • Aware every person to use water efficiently and share it fairly.

  • Conjunctive use of surface and groundwater.

  • Extension, Renovation and Modernisation of old schemes.

Role of Indigenous knowledge for Water Conservation

If we effectively integrate, indigenous knowledge would work as a potentially transformative tool for water conservation not only as a matter of redress but also to enrich the current water system. “Indigenous knowledge is considered to be a body of knowledge existing within or acquired by locals over a period of time through the accumulation of experiences, society, nature relationship, community practices and institutions by passing it down to other generations.” (Mercer et al, 2010) .

How can indigenous knowledge be useful for conservation practices?

  • The guardian of this indigenous knowledge should share it with the younger generation so it could become socially distributed knowledge.

  • Awareness programmes for the local community are also mandatory so they can actively participate in the development process from the bottom line.

  • Creation of hybrid knowledge by the mix of rural traditional knowledge and govt. new technological innovation should be promoted together.

Few Traditional Water Conservation Techniques in India:

Serial No.





J & K


System of collecting water from melting glaciers.



Naula, Gul, Dhara,

Naula is made traditionally from stones and is basically a small hut-like structure that houses a spring. Gul are small channels that originate from a source (usually underground but may even be surface) and then are diverted to fields or wherever needed, Dhara is again simply a spring source.


Himachal Pradesh

Kul, Khatri

Kul is just like a gul and is a channel to divert away water from a source (usually a glacier). Khatri is basically a rainwater harvesting tank built out of stone to grant it some permanency.



Bawari, Tankaa

Bawaris are step wells. Rainwater is collected inside the stepwell which also provides some protection against evaporation. Taanka was widely used in the Thar desert of Rajasthan. It is basically an underground tank into which water is collected by means of rainwater harvesting.




A kund is basically a reservoir usually shaped like a saucer that is used to store rainwater.


MP & Orrisa



Usually prevalent in ancient times, small check dams were erected which are known as katas.


Tamil Nadu

Erie, Oorani

Erie and Ooranis are tanks constructed to collect and house water that can be used during the dry season for irrigation needs.




Dongs are small ponds which are constructed to collect water and can help in the restoration of groundwater levels.




Drip Irrigation

Bamboo channels are used to divert the water away from a source such as a spring and through the intricate system of bamboo channels, it reaches the fields where it can serve irrigation purposes.




Madakas are naturally occurring depressions and gravity is utilised to divert the rainwater runoff which is then stored.


Andhra Pradesh


A cheruvu can be a tank or a small pond that was used as a reservoir to conserve and store water.

*Collected from various sources.

India where almost the majority lives in the rural areas, or are somehow connected with their roots has amazing traditional knowledge and techniques to conserve our water resources, which they are mastered by practising for a long time. Elder knowledgeable people can play an important role in this conservation practice if we can understand their mastery of traditional knowledge.

Summing Up

Water scarcity is a burning problem in many countries. It is a global issue which should be handled by a holistic approach. Underwater water levels are decreasing due to disturbances in the natural process of recharge of groundwater. Due to deforestation, the concretization of the surface and the lack of plants, rainwater flows instead of accumulating below the ground. Storing the rainwater and recharging groundwater should be a priority.

To maintain the quality of water, every effort should be made, for example, the sever coming out of the cities should go to the rivers only after it is completely purified. Rivers are the feeders of human civilization, they not only improve the groundwater level but also play an important role in various important aspects like agriculture, electricity, industry and ecology.

The technique of saving water should be encouraged among the people living in the villages and urban areas including society, communities and business classes as these are the ones who use water in an inimitable manner. Farmers, children and women should be properly trained on how to use water in an efficient manner. Each and Every human being should understand the importance of water in their lives and their responsibility for conserving and maintaining its quality. Lack of clean water is not just the problem of any one country but it is the problem of the whole world which needs to be solved by spreading awareness among the people globally.


[1] USGS, 2019. Where is Earth’s water, The distribution of water on, in, and above the Earth.

[2] Teri: The Energy and Resource Institute, World Sustainable Development Summit, 2022 Factsheet.


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  2. (2009). Chartering over our future: an economic framework to inform decision making. Water resources group limited, Sydni, Australia. Page -9, published by world bank

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  5. Kumari M. and Singh J. (2016) “water conservation: strategies and solutions”, International Journal of Advanced Research and Review Www.Ijarr.In. IJARR, 1(4), 2016; 75-79

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  7. MoEF (2010). India: Green House Gas Emissions 2007, Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment (INCCA), Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India, New Delhi, India.

  8. National Water Mission (NWM). (2009). Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India. Available at:

  9. NDMD (2004). Disaster management in India – a status report. New Delhi: Government of India. Ministry of Home Affairs, National Disaster Management Division (NDMD) August

  10. Peter H. Gleick (editor), 1993, "World freshwater resources" Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World's Fresh Water Resources (Oxford University Press, New York).

About the Author:

Shreyash Dwivedi, a geographer from an academic background and a Researcher by profession. He has worked under the aegis of the most reputed universities and think tanks in the country, such as JNU, the PhD Chamber of Commerce, and the University of Delhi. Currently, he is serving at the National Institute of Disaster Management, Ministry of Home Affairs as a Junior Consultant.

You can reach him at


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