Encroachment of Water Bodies in India: A Looming Crisis

Water is a precious resource essential for sustaining life and supporting economic activities. As India’s population grows, so does the demand for water, primarily driven by intensifying agriculture and economic development. However, the alarming trend of declining unutilized water potential across states coupled with rampant encroachment in water bodies poses a severe threat to water availability in the future. In this blog, we will explore the state-level encroachment in water bodies and its potential impact on water availability and irrigation in India.

key datapoints

In India, there are 24,24,540 water bodies, comprising ponds (59.5%), tanks (15.7%), reservoirs (12.1%), and other conservation schemes (12.7%).

A notable 97.1% of water bodies are in rural areas, while the rest are in urban regions.

Among these, 83.7% are active, while 16.3% (3,94,500) aren’t used due to drying, construction, siltation, destruction, salinity, or industry waste.

Ownership stands at 55.2% private and 44.8% public entities.

Around 78% are man-made, mainly earthen structures costing up to ₹1,00,000.

Alarmingly, 38,496 water bodies, mainly ponds and tanks, have suffered encroachment, with almost 93% being small water bodies.

Highest encroachment rates are in Uttar Pradesh (15,213), Tamil Nadu (7,828), Telangana (2,748), Andhra Pradesh (2,733), and Madhya Pradesh (1,765).

Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana – collectively account for 40% of encroached small water bodies.

Encroachment has caused a decline in tank-irrigated areas across states. For instance, India’s tank-irrigated area dropped from 46.30 lakh hectares (lha) in 1960-61 to 16.68 lha in 2019-20.

The First Census on Water Bodies: Alarming Encroachment

The First Census on Water Bodies released by the Ministry of Jal Sakthi reveals some concerning statistics. India has a total of 24,24,540 water bodies, with ponds comprising the majority (59.5%), followed by tanks (15.7%), reservoirs (12.1%), and other water conservation schemes (12.7%). Surprisingly, a significant 97.1% of these water bodies are located in rural areas, with the remaining in urban areas.

Among the enumerated water bodies, 83.7% are in use, while 16.3% (3,94,500) have fallen into disuse due to various reasons such as drying up, construction, siltation, destruction, salinity, and industrial effluents.

The Census also highlights the ownership of water bodies, with 55.2% being privately owned and the rest (44.8%) under the control of the public sector. Moreover, 78% of water bodies are man-made, and the majority are earthen structures with a construction cost of up to ₹1,00,000.

State-level Encroachment and Impacts on Water Availability

One of the significant revelations of the Census is the data on the level of encroachment in water bodies across different states. A staggering total of 38,496 water bodies, primarily ponds and tanks, have been encroached upon. Notably, about 93% of the encroached water bodies are small in size.

The top five states with the highest encroachment rates are Uttar Pradesh (15,213), Tamil Nadu (7,828), Telangana (2,748), Andhra Pradesh (2,733), and Madhya Pradesh (1,765). Southern states, including Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana, collectively account for approximately 40% of the total encroached small water bodies.

The impact of rampant encroachment on water bodies is far-reaching. It reduces the storage capacity of these bodies, leading to a decline in the irrigated area. Data shows a significant reduction in tank-irrigated areas across various states over the years. For example, the tank-irrigated area in India plummeted from 46.30 lakh hectares (lha) in 1960-61 to 16.68 lha in 2019-20. Tamil Nadu, a state with high encroachment levels, witnessed its tank-irrigated area dropping from 9.36 lha to 3.72 lha during the same period. Similar trends were observed in other southern states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Telangana, all of which depend heavily on small water bodies for irrigation.

Moreover, the reduced water availability in these encroached water bodies adversely affects the recharging capacity of wells located in their command areas. The data from various minor irrigation censuses indicates an increase in the number of defunct wells, possibly attributed to encroachment.

Solutions and the Way Forward

Considering the severe consequences of encroachment on small water bodies, it is crucial for the Central and State governments to collaborate in curbing this alarming trend. The 16th report of the Standing Committee on Water Resources has highlighted that many water bodies were encroached upon by State agencies themselves, emphasizing the need to halt such practices.

To address the issue effectively, the Madras High Court Madurai Bench has called for denying approval for layouts or building plans on lands located on water bodies, a step that must be diligently followed. Additionally, the reintroduction of the Repair, Renovation, and Restoration scheme for water bodies, implemented during the 11th Plan period, can aid in removing encroachments and restoring water storage capacities.

Given the increasing variability of rainfall due to climate change, concerted efforts are imperative to enhance water storage capacity by eliminating encroachments in water bodies. Only through collective action and responsible governance can we safeguard our water resources and secure a sustainable water future for India.

Conclusion

The encroachment of water bodies in India presents a grave threat to the availability of water resources and irrigation capabilities. The statistics from the First Census on Water Bodies highlight the urgency to address this issue promptly. Through proactive measures, including strict enforcement of anti-encroachment policies, revival schemes for water bodies, and public awareness campaigns, we can take steps to preserve our water heritage and ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for India. The clock is ticking, and decisive action is the need of the hour.

2 thoughts on “Encroachment of Water Bodies in India: A Looming Crisis”

  1. This blog is fantastic! As a fellow UPSC aspirant, I really appreciate how the writer has made the topic so easy to understand.
    Great job! Kudos to the writer!

    Reply

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