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Bengaluru's Water Crisis and Water Stress in India

2024 MAR 11

Mains   > Geography   >   Resource geography   >   water management


GS 1 > Geography   >   Resource geography   >   water management


  • The water crisis in Bengaluru is indeed severe and worsening, with a multitude of factors contributing to this dire situation. The crisis has led to over 3,000 bore wells drying up in Bengaluru, pushing water tanker prices to unprecedented levels.


  • This crisis is not limited to Bengaluru but affects a substantial portion of Karnataka, with 223 out of 236 talukas in the state facing drought conditions, including Mandya and Mysuru districts, which are crucial sources of water for Bengaluru.
  • In an attempt to manage and mitigate the crisis, the Karnataka government has taken several steps, including taking over all bore wells in Bengaluru city and setting up a 'water war room' to monitor the situation in real-time. 
  • Measures such as closing pools, adjusting water pressure, and imposing fines for drinking water misuse are among the efforts by apartments and gated communities to conserve water. Additionally, the government has threatened to seize water tankers not registered with the authorities by a set deadline, aiming to regulate water distribution and prevent price gouging.


  • ??Urbanization and Environmental Degradation: Bengaluru's rapid development and burgeoning population have placed immense pressure on the city's water resources. This growth has not only increased the demand for water but also led to significant environmental degradation, including the loss of water bodies and green cover, exacerbating the scarcity????.For instance, in the last four decades, Bengaluru has lost 79% of its water bodies and 88% of its green cover, which has detrimental effects on the city's water availability??.
  • Overdependence on Distant Water Sources: The city's primary water source is the Cauvery River, located over 100 kilometers away. Despite receiving around 1,450 million litres per day (MLD) from the Cauvery, Bengaluru faces a shortfall of 1,680 MLD. This situation is worsened by inter-state water disputes and the challenges of distributing water across a rapidly expanding urban area??.
  • Drying up of Bore wells and Groundwater Depletion: Over-exploitation of groundwater through bore wells in Bengaluru has significantly depleted groundwater levels. Private tankers extracting groundwater relentlessly are a major cause of this depletion.
  • Climate Change and Erratic Rainfall: Changing weather patterns, including erratic rainfall and prolonged droughts, have reduced the availability of water in Bengaluru's reservoirs and natural water bodies. The Indian Meteorological Department attributes some of the region's poor rainfall to the El Niño phenomenon.Bengaluru has experienced insufficient rainfall over the past few monsoons, severely impacting the Cauvery River—its main water source. 
  • Pollution of Water Bodies: Industrial effluents, untreated sewage, and waste dumping have heavily polluted Bengaluru's water sources. For instance, a study by the Environmental Management and Policy Research Institute (EMPRI) indicates that around 85% of the city's water bodies are contaminated.
  • Inadequate Infrastructure: Bengaluru's water supply and sewage systems have not kept pace with its explosive growth. This has hindered efficient water distribution, with the completion of Phase-5 of the Cauvery project, expected to benefit 12 lakh people, still pending as of May 2024.
  • Mismanagement and Inequitable Distribution: The city's water management is plagued by inefficiencies, including wastage, leakage, and unequal distribution. Old and leaking pipelines contribute to significant water loss, and the "tanker mafia" exacerbates the problem by controlling the supply and price of water, particularly in areas not served by the municipal supply????.

To tackle Bengaluru's water scarcity, integrated efforts in infrastructure, groundwater management, pollution control, and sustainable practices are vital. Cooperation among government, communities, and the private sector is essential to secure long-term water availability for all. For instance, Bengaluru was once known as the city of 1,000 lakes. These lakes helped manage the city’s water needs to a great extent. These lakes need to be redeveloped to ensure water security.


  • India has 4% of world’s water resources but supporting 16% of world’s population
  • According to the World Resources Institute, 54% of the total area in India is facing water stress.
  • A report titled “Composite Water Management Index (CWMI)”, published by NITI Aayog in June 2018, mentioned that India was undergoing the worst water crisis in its history; that nearly 600 million people were facing high to extreme water stress.
    • The report further mentioned that India was placed at the rank of 120 amongst 122 countries in the water quality index, with nearly 70 per cent of water being contaminated.
    • It projected the country’s water demand to be twice the available supply by 2030, implying severe scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual loss in the country’s GDP.


  • Social:
    • Increased demand for water for domestic, industrial and agricultural needs and limited surface water resources lead to the over-exploitation of groundwater resources.
    • As per the World Bank's website, around 17% of groundwater blocks in the country are considered overexploited, while 5% and 14% are in critical and semi-critical stages, respectively. This overexploitation has been exacerbated by factors such as the demand from the "green revolution," rural electrification, and the proliferation of modern pump technologies, which have led to an increase from 1 million to 20 million borewells over the last 50 years. ?
  • Economic:
    • Increasing Per capita income led to increased consumption of sugar, fruits, vegetables ,milk, eggs etc which led to increased water demand.
    • Intensive irrigation for agriculture through canals, tanks and wells or tubewells especially in green revolution regions like Punjab, West UP and Haryana.
    • Water intensive industrial growth
    • Dependence on thermal power generation (86% according to CEA ) which is highly water intensive.
    • Inefficiency in water distribution and management e.g. open canals.
    • Infrastructural gaps in water conservation.
  • Ecological:
    • Water Pollution from agriculture, industries and households leading to eutrophication.
    • Decline in groundwater table leads to increased concentration of arsenic and fluoride.
    • Saline water intrusion lowers the quality of freshwater sources
    • Deforestation decreasing water holding capacity of soil
  • Geographic:
    • Crystalline rocks decrease percolation and groundwater recharge. An example of this can be seen in the Deccan Plateau, which covers a large part of southern India.
    • Difference in rainfall distribution creates droughts in regions e.g. Rajasthan
    • Drier regions becoming more drier due to climate change.
  • Political:
    • Interstate water disputes hampers efficient utilisation of water e.g. Cauvery dispute
    • Comprehensive water framework law is absent in India.
    • Policy focus on surface irrigation led to neglect of ground water exploitation.
    • Unrealistic pricing of water led to wastage of water.
    • Privatisation of tankers led to more ground water extraction.


  • Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM): Ensures safe drinking water via household tap connections in rural areas by 2024.
  • National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP): Aims for safe and adequate rural drinking water supply with community participation.
  • Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABHY): Focuses on sustainable groundwater management and community involvement to increase water levels in stressed areas.
  • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY): Enhances water efficiency in agriculture with the "More Crop Per Drop" initiative.
  • Namami Gange Programme: Dedicated to cleaning and protecting the Ganga river, addressing pollution, and conserving biodiversity.
  • Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM): Indirectly contributes to water quality improvement by promoting sanitation and reducing open defecation.
  • National Water Mission (NWM): Aims to conserve water, reduce waste, and ensure equitable distribution through integrated management.
  • Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP): Works on ecological balance restoration by conserving soil, water, and vegetation, and improving groundwater levels.


  • Implementing 'One Water' Principles Nationwide: Adopt the 'One Water' approach across all levels of government and communities to ensure that all water systems are interconnected and managed sustainably. This includes recognizing the value of all water, promoting watershed-scale thinking, and fostering partnerships among all stakeholders.
  • Urban Water Bodies Revival: Prioritize restoration of urban lakes in cities like Bengaluru for groundwater recharge, flood reduction, and water security, with pollution protection.
  • Water Infrastructure Enhancement: Modernize and expand water supply and sewage systems, promote water recycling in industries and agriculture.
  • Sustainable Agricultural Practices: Promote micro-irrigation, organic farming, crop diversification, and participatory irrigation management to reduce water use and pollution.
  • Water Pollution Control: Increase water pollution mitigation efforts through law enforcement, community monitoring, and promoting household waste management.
  • Groundwater Management: Regulate groundwater exploitation, promote aquifer recharge, and encourage community involvement in projects like Atal Bhujal Yojana.
  • Climate Change and Environmental Action: Undertake afforestation, wetland restoration, and riparian buffer creation to combat climate change and soil erosion.
  • Policy and Governance Reforms: Rationalize water pricing, develop a comprehensive water law, and support decentralized water management for equitable access.


Q. Discuss the various factors contributing to the water stress in India. What strategies could be implemented to ensure sustainable water management in the country?(15 marks, 250 words)