M. Dinesh Kumar (ed.). SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd,
B1/11, Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area, Mathura Road,
New Delhi 110 044. 2007. 354 pp.
Energy and Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences,
Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore 560 012, India
e-mail : cestvr@ces.iisc.ernet.in

Groundwater constitutes a vital natural resource for sustaining India’s agricultural economy and meeting the country’s social, ecological and environmental goals. It is a unique resource, widely available, providing security against droughts and yet it is closely linked to surface-water resources and the hydrological cycle. Its availability depends on geo-hydrological conditions and characteristics of aquifers, from deep to alluvium, sediment crystalline rocks to basalt formations; and agro-climate from humid to subhumid and semi-arid to arid. Its reliable supply, uniform quality and temperature, relative turbidity, pollution-safe, minimal evaporation losses, and low cost of development are attributes making groundwater more attractive compared to other resources. It plays a key role in the provision of safe drinking water to rural populations. For example, already almost 80% of domestic water use in rural areas in India is groundwater-supplied, and much of it is being supplied to farms, villages and small towns.

Inadequate control of the use of groundwater, indiscriminate application of agrochemicals and unrestrained pollution of the rural environment by other human activities make groundwater usage unsustainable, necessitating proper management in the face of the twin demand for water of good quality for domestic supply and adequate supply for irrigation, ensuring equity, efficiency and sustainability of the resource. Groundwater irrigation has overtaken surface irrigation in the early 1980s, supported by well energization. It is estimated that there are about 24 million energised wells and tube wells now and it is driven by demand rather than availability, evident through the greater occurrence of wells in districts with high population densities. Apart from aquifer characteristics, land fragmentation and landholding size are the factors that decide the density of wells. The ‘rise and fall’ of local economies dependent on groundwater can be summarized as: the green revolution of 1980s, groundwaterbased agrarian boom, early symptoms of groundwater overdraft, and decline of the groundwater socio-ecology. The social characteristics and policy interventions typical of each stage provide a fascinating insight into the human-resource dynamics.

This book is a compilation of nine research papers discussing various aspects of groundwater management. It attempts to integrate knowledge about the physical system, the socio-economic system, the institutional set-up and the policy environment to come out with a more realistic analysis of the situation with regard to the nature, characteristics and intensity of resource use, the size of the economy the use generates, and the negative socioeconomic consequences. Complex variables addressed in this regard focusing on northern Gujarat are the stock of groundwater available in the region, its hydrodynamics, its net outflows against inflows, the economics of its intensive use (particularly irrigation in semi-arid and arid regions), its criticality in the regional hydroecological regime, ethical aspects and social aspects of its use. The first chapter by Dinesh Kumar and Singh, dwells on complex groundwater socio-ecology of India, while emphasizing the need for policy measures to address indiscriminate over-exploitation of dwindling resources. The chapter also explores the nature of groundwater economy and the role of electricity prices on it. The next chapter on groundwater issue in north Gujarat provides a description of groundwater resource characteristics followed by a detailed analysis of the groundwater depletion and quality deterioration problems in the region and their undesirable consequences on the economy, ecosystem health and the society.

Considering water-buyers and wellowning farmers individually, a methodology for economic valuation of groundwater in regions where its primary usage is in agriculture, and as assessment of the groundwater economy based on case studies from north Gujarat is presented in the fourth chapter. The next chapter focuses on the extent of dependency of milk production on groundwater, which includes the water embedded in green and dry fodder and animal feed. The study made a realistic estimate of irrigation water productivity in terms of the physics and economics of milk production. The sixth chapter analyses the extent of reduction in water usage, increase in yield and overall increase in physical productivity of alfalfa with the use of the drip irrigation system. The chapter also provides a detailed synthesis of the costs and benefits associated with the use of drip irrigation systems. A linear programmingbased optimization model with the objective to minimize groundwater use taking into account the interaction between two distinct components – farming and dairying under the constraints of food security and income stability for different scenarios, including shift in cropping pattern, introduction of water-efficient crops, water- saving technologies in addition to the ‘business as usual’ scenario is presented in the seventh chapter. The results show that sustaining dairy production in the region with reduced groundwater draft requires crop shifts and adoption of water-saving technologies.

The eighth chapter provides evidences to prove that the presence of adequate economic incentive would encourage farmers to adopt water-saving irrigation devices, based on the findings of market research with reference to the level of awareness among farmers of technologies and the factors that decide the adoption of water-saving technologies. However, now the marginal cost of using electricity for agricultural pumping is almost zero. The economic incentives are strong and visible only when the farmers are either water-buyers or have to manage irrigation with limited water from tube-well partnerships. The ninth chapter explores the socio-economic viability of increasing the power tariff and inducing groundwater rationing as a tool for managing energy and groundwater demand, considering the current estimate of the country’s annual economic loss of Rs 320 billion towards electricity subsidy in the farm sector. The tenth chapter suggests private tradable property rights and development of water markets as the institutional tool for achieving equity, efficiency and sustainability of groundwater use. It identifies the externalities for local groundwater management and emphasizes the need for managing groundwater by local user groups, supported by a thorough analysis of groundwater socio-ecology in India. An institutional framework for managing the resource based on participatory approach that is capable of internalizing the externalities, comprising implementation of institutional and technical alternatives for resource management is also presented.

Major findings of the analyses and key arguments in each chapter are summarized in the concluding chapter. Case studies of the social and economic benefits of groundwater use, where that use could be described as unsustainable, are interesting. The benefits of groundwater use are outlined and described with examples of social and economic impacts of groundwater and the negative aspects of groundwater development with the compilation of environmental problems based on up-to-date research results. This publication with a well-edited compilation of case studies is informative and constitutes a useful publication for students and professionals.

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