Water Crisis in India – A case study


A colorless, transparent, odorless, tasteless liquid that forms the seas, lakes, rivers, and rain and is the basis of the fluids of…
Pour or sprinkle water over (a plant or an area of ground), typically in order to encourage plant growth.
noun. aqua
verb. irrigate – wet


  1. A time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.
  2. A time when a difficult or important decision must be made: “a crisis point of history”.
slump – depression
For the women in India's rural area's getting a bucket of drinking water is a daily struggle in which most cases women walk an average of 2.5 kms to reach a source of water that is often contaminated with high levels of fluoride or is to saline to drink

For the women in India’s rural area’s getting a bucket of drinking water is a daily struggle in which most cases women walk an average of 2.5 kms to reach a source of water that is often contaminated with high levels of fluoride or is to saline to drink


Residents of the Sewri slum show up daily at an illegally tapped water pipe that runs from 6:30am to 7:30 am to fill as many container of water as they can for there daily use. It is the residents only source of water since they dont have the money to have water trucks deliver.

Residents of the Sewri slum show up daily at an illegally tapped water pipe that runs from 6:30am to 7:30 am to fill as many container of water as they can for there daily use. It is the residents only source of water since they dont have the money to have water trucks deliver.


Farmers with no other alternative are forced to use the toxic waters of the Yumuna river to irrigate their crops. The river is there source of life and without it their crops would fail.

Farmers with no other alternative are forced to use the toxic waters of the Yamuna river to irrigate their crops. The river is there source of life and without it their crops would fail.


Mangi villagers wait for a water tanker that arrives twice a weak to replenish there dryed up water well, the land here is ferociously dry, suffocating! and the trees have seemed to have sucked every last bit of water that they possibly could from the parched soil.

Mangi villagers wait for a water tanker that arrives twice a weak to replenish there dryed up water well, the land here is ferociously dry, suffocating! and the trees have seemed to have sucked every last bit of water that they possibly could from the parched soil.


Water crisis as defined in wikipedia –
                                                               A water crisis is a situation where the available potable unpolluted water within a region is less than that region’s demand.[1]


Wiki also states that the water crisis itself can have several manifestations such as-

There are several principal manifestations of the water crisis.

  • Inadequate access to safe drinking water for about 884 million people
  • Inadequate access to water for sanitation and waste disposal for 2.5 billion people
  • Groundwater over-drafting (excessive use) leading to diminished agricultural yields
  • Overuse and pollution of water resources harming biodiversity
  • Regional conflicts over scarce water resources sometimes resulting in warfare

As obvious already, all of the above exist in India in one way or another.
Let’s have a much more closer and factual look at this situation –

FACT NO. 1 – The population of India is expected to stabilize around 1640 million by the year 2050.
FACT NO. 2 – In year 2001 gross per capita water availability was 1820 m3 / yr (today it has gone down further)
FACT NO. 3 – In year 2050 it will decline as low as 1140 m3 / yr
FACT NO. 4 – Total water requirement of the country for various activities around the year 2050 has been assessed to 1450 km3 / yr.
FACT NO. 5 – This is 3 times of present availability of ~500 BCM / yr ( 1 BCM = 1  cu kilometer)

**these are real no.s and unless we do something a very frightful scenario awaits us in the future.

Now that we have our facts straight, let’s try to assess the situation on why we are facing such scarcity of water and what could be the possible solutions to the problem?
Let’s be a little straightforward and ask ourselves what is the root cause of scarcity of water in India?
To answer this question we have to be a little thorough.

Geographically India has been gifted in abundance by nature. Nature provides enough rainfall which is sufficient for our needs. But today, global warming is resulting in unpredictable monsoon which causes less number of rainy days with high intensity.
The problem thus is not low rainfall but erratic rainfall.

Next cause can be the wastage of already low rainfall by Indian people. India seriously lacks in water harvesting techniques.

As per Groundwater Survey & Development Agency (GSDA) of Maharashtra state.
55% of Rainwater is wasted as run off
35% of Rainwater is wasted as evaporation
& a mere 10% of Rainwater is harvested

Moreover high population of India adds to the crisis faced by us. India holds about 1/6th of total population of world and only 1/50th of the total of water resources so it is clear that India is already beyond its capacity.

Dependence of the most of Indian population on agriculture is also a reason for scarcity. With more and more innovations extracting ground water has become very easy and fast so the ground water is also lowering at a high rate.

Pollution of rivers in India is also an important cause of water scarcity. Condition of river Yamuna is pitiable in Delhi. Rivers are being used as dustbins in major cities which leads to a loss of drinkable water.

This leads us to the conclusion that not only are we facing a water crisis but we are also facing  water scarcity. The Consequences of both can be devastating.

Water scarcity has lead to various problems like water borne diseases, interstate disputes, failing of crops etc. Out of total people admitted in hospitals at any time, 88% of patients are due to water borne diseases. Low availability of water leads to improper sanitation which again leads to health problems.

Low water availability also leads to disputes rising on how to share water of various rivers flowing from one state to another. One such example is cited here which discusses dispute over the sharing of river Cauvery.

The Cauvery Water Dispute

So basically this is a dispute regarding the sharing of waters of the Kaveri/Cauvery between the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.  The origin of which rests in the two controversial agreements—one signed in 1892 and another in 1924—between the erstwhile Madras Presidency and Princely State of Mysore.

The state of Karnataka believes that it does not receive its due share of water from the river as does Tamil Nadu. Karnataka claims that these agreements were skewed heavily in favour of the Madras Presidency, and has demanded a renegotiated settlement based on “equitable sharing of the waters”. Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, pleads that it has already developed almost 3,000,000 acres (12,000 km2) of land and as a result has come to depend very heavily on the existing pattern of usage. Any change in this pattern, it says, will adversely affect the livelihood of millions of farmers in the state.

Decades of negotiations between the parties bore no fruit. The Government of India then constituted a tribunal in 1990 to look into the matter. After hearing arguments of all the parties involved for the next 16 years, the tribunal delivered its final verdict on 5 February 2007. In its verdict, the tribunal allocated 419 billion ft³ (12 km³) of water annually to Tamil Nadu and 270 billion ft³ (7.6 km³) to Karnataka; 30 billion ft³ (0.8 km³) of Kaveri river water to Kerala and 7 billion ft³ (0.2 km³) to Puducherry. The dispute however, appears not to have concluded, as all four states deciding to file review petitions seeking clarifications and possible renegotiation of the order.

To fully understand the dispute we have to dig a little deep in the history and unravel the source as well as the course of the dispute

Cauvery river

Cauvery river


The British controlled both Mysore and Madras for a short period in the middle of the 19th century. During their regime, numerous plans were drawn up for the utilization of the Kaveri waters by both states.

Mysore made plans to use the Kaveri’s water for irrigation projects but they met with resistance from the Madras Presidency. Mysore state made a representation to the then British government; as a result of which, a conference was held in 1890 with the objective of agreeing “…on the principles of a modus vivendi, which would on the one hand allow to Mysore reasonable freedom in dealing with her irrigation works, and on the other, give to Madras practical security against injury to her interests” and eventually the Agreement of 1892 was signed. Karnataka deems this agreement as having been between unequal partners because, while Mysore state was a princely state, Madras formed a part of the British Raj.

Things came to a head in 1910 when Mysore, under Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar as the king and Sir. M.Visvesvaraya as Chief Engineer came up with a plan to construct a dam at Kannambadi village to hold up to 41.5 TMC of water. The dam was planned to be built in two stages. In the first stage a capacity of 11 TMC was envisioned, while in the second stage the full capacity was set to be realized. Madras however, refused to give its consent for this move as it had its own plans to build a storage dam at Mettur with a capacity of 80 TMC.

After a reference to the Government of India, permission was accorded to Mysore, but for a reduced storage of 11TMC. During construction, however, the foundation was laid to suit the earlier desired full storage. This raised Madras’ hackles and the dispute continued. As a result, the then British Government of India referred the matter to arbitration under Rule IV of the 1892 Agreement. The Kaveri dispute thus had come up for arbitration for the first time.

Sir H D Griffin was appointed arbitrator and M. Nethersole, the Inspector General of Irrigation in India, was made the Assessor. They entered into proceedings on 16 July 1913 and the Award was given on 12 May 1914. The award upheld the earlier decision of the Government of India and allowed Mysore to go ahead with the construction of the dam up to 11 TMC.

The agreement also stipulated that Mysore was not to increase its area under irrigation more than 110,000 acres (450 km2) beyond what was already existing, while the same cap for Madras Presidency was pegged at 301000|acre|km2. Nonetheless, Madras still appealed against the award and negotiations continued. Eventually an agreement was arrived at in 1924 and a couple of minor agreements were also signed in 1929 and 1933. The 1924 agreement was set to lapse after a run of 50 years. As a result of these agreements, Karnataka claims that Mysore was forced to give up rights.

Mysore in red, while the Madras Presidency in grey while showing other south indian states during the Raj.

Mysore in red, while the Madras Presidency in grey and showing other South Indian states during the Raj.


After Indepence Tamil Nadu was carved out of the Madras Presidency and Mysore became a state. This changed the whole scenario.

The Creation of states such as Kerela and Puducherry further complicated the situation.All these changes further changed the equations as Kerala and Puducherry also jumped into the fray. Kerala staked its claim as one of the major tributaries of the Kaveri, the Kabini, now originated in Kerala. The Karaikal region of Puducherry at the tail end of the river demanded the waters that it had always used for drinking and some minimal agriculture.

By the late 1960s, both states and the Central government began to realize the gravity of the situation as the 50 year run of the 1924 agreement was soon coming to an end. Negotiations were started in right earnest and discussions continued for almost 10 years.

After all this followed a frenzied period till the modern times. There was the creation of Cauvery Fact Finding Committee (CFFC),Cauvery River Authority,Cauvery Monitoring Committee and others. There was a lot of action with varying success.

The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal announced its final verdict on 5 February 2007.According to its verdict, Tamil Nadu gets 419 billion ft³ (12 km³) of Kaveri water while Karnataka gets 270 billion ft³ (7.6 km³). The actual release of water by Karnataka to Tamil Nadu is to be 192 billion ft³ (5.4 km³) annually. Further, Kerala will get 30 billion ft³ and Puducherry  7 billion ft³. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, unhappy with the decision, filed a revision petition before the tribunal seeking a review.

Recent Advances in Dispute (Chronologically)-

  1. On 19 September 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is also the Chairman of the Cauvery River Authority, directed Karnataka to release 9,000 cusecs of Kaveri water to Tamil Nadu at Biligundlu (the border) daily. But Karnataka felt that this was impractical due to the drought conditions prevailing because of the failed monsoon. Karnataka then walked out of the high level meeting as a sign of protest. On 21 September, Karnataka filed a petition before the Cauvery River Authority seeking review of its 19 September ruling.
  2. On 24 September, Tamil Nadu’s Chief minister directed the officials to immediately file a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to Karnataka to release Tamil Nadu its due share of water.
  3. On 28 Sep 2012, the Supreme Court slammed the Karnataka government for failing to comply with the directive of the Cauvery River Authority. Left with no other option, Karnataka started releasing water. This led to wide protests and violence in Karnataka.
  4. On 4 October 2012, the Karnataka government filed a review petition before the Supreme Court seeking a stay on its 28 September order directing it to release 9,000 cusecs of Cauvery water everyday to Tamil Nadu, until 15 October.
  5. On 6 October 2012, Several Kannada organisations, under the banner of “Kannada Okkoota”, called a Karnataka bandh (close down) on 6 October in protest against the Kaveri water release. On 8 October, the Supreme Court of India announced the release of 9,000 cusecs has to be continued and it is up to the Cauvery River Authority’s head, the Prime Minister, as a responsible person, to ensure this happened. The Prime Minister ruled out a review of the Cauvery River Authority’s decision until 20 October, rejecting the plea by both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders from Karnataka. Within a few hours, Karnataka stopped release of Kaveri water to Tamil Nadu.
  6. On 9 October 2012, Tamil Nadu’s chief minister directed authorities to immediately file a contempt petition against the Karnataka government for flouting the verdict of the Supreme Court by unilaterally stopping the release of water to Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu made a fresh plea in the Supreme Court on 17 October, reiterating its demand for appropriate directions to be issued to Karnataka to make good the shortfall of 48 tmcft of water as per the distress sharing formula.
  7. On 15 November 2012, The Cauvery Monitoring Committee directed the Karnataka government to release 4.81 tmcft to Tamil Nadu between 16 and 30 November.
  8. On 6 December, the supreme court directed Karnataka to release 10,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu. The court asked the union government to indicate the time frame within which the final decision of the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal, which was given in February 2007, was to be notified. This decision was given in the view of saving the standing crops of both the states.
  9. On 20 February 2013, based on the directions of the Supreme Court, the Indian Government has notified the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) on sharing the waters of the Cauvery system among the basin States of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala and Union territory of Puducherry. The “extraordinary” notification in the gazette dated 19 February 2013 says the order takes effect on the date of publication. The Tribunal, in a unanimous decision in 2007, determined the total availability of water in the Cauvery basin at 740 thousand million cubic (tmc) feet at the Lower Coleroon Anicut site, including 14 tmcft for environmental protection and seepage into the sea. The final award makes an annual allocation of 419 tmcft to Tamil Nadu in the entire Cauvery basin, 270 tmcft to Karnataka, 30 tmcft to Kerala and 7 tmcft to Puducherry.

    Protest over Sharing of Cauvery's Water

    Protest over Sharing of Cauvery’s Water

Now for the consequences of such disputes effects the lives of the common man. It seems every decision that was dealt had a strong action on lives of people in both states. Shortages of water led to failures of standing crops which resulted in suicides by helpless farmers. Both the states suffered huge losses in regard of their food production. Many protests and bandhs were carries out in both the states which also led to huge economic losses. Many Tamil people living in Bangalore were forced to flee in fear of protests turning violent. Eventually the dispute in water sharing had an overall harmfull effect on life of residents of both the states hitting most harshly on farmers who lost their crops and were forced to commit suicides.**

Conclusion ?

India is a seriously water-stressed nation, with per capita availability of water falling sharply from 5,177 cubic metres in 1951 to 1,544 cubic metres in 2011. And the impact has been made worse by the seasonality of flows, which ensure that almost half the rainfall happens during a period of around two weeks and almost 90% of river flows occur in just four months. But India has done precious little to conserve water for off-season use. While rich countries like the United States have build water storage capacities of 5,000 cubic metres per capita and middle-income nations like China and Mexico store about 1,000 cubic metres per capita, India’s storage capacity is a mere 200 cubic metres per capita.

Institutional drawbacks which restrain modernisation have contributed to the crisis. Water supply is mainly the domain of overstaffed government agencies which charge negligible user fees. Consequently most funds are spent on subsidising users or meeting administrative costs, leaving little for maintenance or investments. So far investments by private operators in tankers and tube wells have helped stave off social unrest. But fast sinking water tables are pushing the crisis to new levels.

The government must roll out a multi-pronged programme for efficient use of water resources. One way is to incentivise campaigns to promote rainwater harvesting and increase supply. More important are measures to ensure more efficient and sustainable use of water resources by opening up the sector to private players for increasing investments, improving management and ensuring metered services at staggered prices. More public investments also need to be made in building new storage capacities and preventing run-off. We must begin to treat water supply as an essential element of urban infrastructure, on the same plane as roads or power.

                                       “Water, the Hub of Life.
                                        Water is its mater and matrix, mother and medium.
                                        Water is the most extraordinary substance!
                                        Practically all its properties are anomolous,
                                        which enabled life to use it as building
                                        material for its machinery.
                                        Life is water dancing to the tune of solids.”
Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (1972)