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Land And Water Resources

Land And Water Resources


  • Land is the basis for most biological and human activities on Earth. Agriculture, forestry, industries, transport, housing and other services use land as a natural and/or an economic resource. Land is also an integral part of ecosystems and indispensable for biodiversity and the carbon cycle.


  • Land cover refers to the biophysical coverage of land (for example, crops, grass, broad-leaved forest, or built-up area);
  • Land use indicates the socioeconomic use of land (for example, agriculture, forestry, recreation or residential use).
  • Land cover and land use data forms the basis for spatial and territorial analyses which are increasingly important for:
  • the planning and management of agricultural, forest, wetland, water and urban areas;
  • nature, biodiversity and soil protection, and;
  • the prevention and mitigation of natural hazards and climate change.

LAND RESOURCE IN INDIA | Land And Water Resources

  • Ministry of Agriculture in 1949 suggested a 9-fold classification of the total land available. The following are the 9-fold classification followed in India since independence:
  • Forests
  • Area under non-agricultural uses
  • Barren and uncultivable land
  • Permanent pastures & other grazing land
  • Land under miscellaneous tree crops
  • Culturable wasteland
  • Fallow land other than current fallows
  • Current fallows and
  • Net area sown
  • India is the 7th largest country in the world with a total geographical area of 328.37 million hectares of which 305.27 million hectare is reporting area. Table 1 shows the land use pattern during 1950-51 to 2007-08. Following trends can be observed from Table 1.
  • Forest cover in absolute as well as relative terms has significantly increased from 14.2 percent to 22.80 percent of the total geographical area;
  • Area not available for cultivation has declined over the years indicating the spread of farm land while the pace of growth in land put in non-agricultural uses has outpaced the rate of growth in area available for cultivation;
  • Net area sown has not increased in proportion to the rate of growth in population is worth taking note of.
  • At present, India has more than half of the total area under cultivation (net sown area + fallow land = 54%). India stands seventh in the world in terms of geographical area, but second in terms of cultivated land after USA. Forests cover one fifth of the total area of India. About 5.8% of land surface is barren and physically uncultivable. Permanent pastures are around 3.63% while around 5% area is classified as culturable waste which can be brought under cultivation with efforts. Finally around 14% of total land is used for non-agricultural purposes such as housing, industries, roads, railway, etc.


  • Under the stress of increasing population and its economic requirements of land, following issues emerge for land resource management:
  • Land reforms for agriculture
  • Decreasing availability of fertile land for agriculture
  • Land records modernization
  • Land acquisition for urbanization and industrialization and associated issues
  • Management of sustainable urbanization on the available land e.g. Solid-liquid waste management.
  • Land Degradation

WATER RESOURCE | Land And Water Resources

  • The water resource development is a must for economic prosperity and for enhancing the quality of life of the people. India is among the foremost countries in the world in exploiting its river water resources for conservation of water for irrigation, flood control, generation of hydro power and water supply, industrial and various other miscellaneous uses. A large number of projects, dams, barrages, hydro power structures, canal network etc. have come all over the country in successive five year plans.

RAINFALL | Land And Water Resources

  • The rainfall in the country is mostly confined to four monsoon months between June to September during which almost 80% of the total rainfall takes place. The average annual precipitation over the India is estimated at 4000 BCM of which a part goes towards increasing ground water storage, a part is lost as evapo-transpiration and the remaining appears as surface water. The water resources potential of the country which occurs as natural run off in the rivers is estimated to be about 1869 BCM, considering both surface and ground water as one system. Due to various constraints of topography, uneven distribution of resource over space and time, and geographic only about 1122 BCM of the total potential can be put to beneficial use, 690 BCM through surface water resources and 432 BCM by ground water.

RIVER BASIN WATER | Land And Water Resources

  • We have a total of 12 Major River Basins (catchment area more than 20,000 sq.kms each) with total catchment area of 252.8 mha and 46 Medium River Basins (catchment area between 2,000 and 20,000 sq.kms each) with total catchment area of 24.6 mha and 8 minor river basins with catchment area of less than 2000 and 6 desert river which flow for some distance and are lost in desert. The Ganga—Brahmaputra­-Meghna basin has the largest catchment area of about 110 mha accounting for approximately 43% of the catchment area of all major rivers in the country followed by Indus(32.1 mha), Godavari(31.3 mha), Krishna(25.9 mha) and Mahanadi(14.2 mha). The Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna system is also the major contributor to total water resources accounting for approximately 60% of the total water resource potential and 40% of the utilisable surface water. The other sources of inland water resources include canals, reservoirs, tanks & ponds, beefs, oxbow lakes, derelict water and brackish water covering an area of approximately 7.4 mha.

GROUND WATER | Land And Water Resources

  • A part of rainwater percolates in the rocks and soils and is available to us as groundwater. Only 22% of total average annual rainfall of 118 cm percolates under the ground. As per Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) 2003 report, total replenishable ground water resource in the country is more than 443 BCM/year. Of this total resource, the irrigation uses 80%. Remaining 20% is used for other uses like domestic and drinking purpose. On the other hand the level of ground water development is 41%. Ground water development means replenishment of exploited groundwater.


  • Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are some of the large states which have total replenishable ground water resource more than 30 BCM/year. These States plus Assam and Bihar have large ground water resource for irrigation i.e. more than 20 BCM/year. Smaller states obviously have less groundwater reserves. For ground water development we have critical situation. Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan receive less than 40 cm annual rainfall and are deficient in surface water resources. Therefore, these States exploit more than 85% of available ground water for irrigation through tube wells. As a result ground water table is falling alarmingly. Now even at 400-500 m depth water is difficult to get. In comparison, recharging of ground water is too insignificant. This problem is also contributing to the spread of desertification. The peninsular States have hard rock base and it is not suitable for developing ground water reserves while exploitation of groundwater there too is increasing due to increased demand and climate change effects on the availability of surface water.

WATER STRESS | Land And Water Resources

  • The per capita water availability in the country has reduced to 1545 m3 as per 2011 census from 6000 m3/year/person in 1947. It was 1816 m3/year/person in 2001. Due to limited availability but growing demand of water due to growing population, industrialization and urbanization India is facing water stress. Additionally, due to contamination of water sources and poor water treatment facility, it is often difficult to get safe drinking water. The Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) has exceeded desired water quality criteria in 121 rivers. As per 2011 census, 36% households do not have access to safe drinking water, while 53% households do not have latrine facility. When annual per capita replenishable fresh water in a country or a region falls below 1700 m3, it is said to be a situation of ‘Water Stress’. If the availability is below 1000 m’, it is a situation of ‘Water Scarcity’. And when availability falls below 500 m’, it is called ‘Absolute Scarcity’.


  • The average annual rainfall in the country has been estimated to be about 1170 millimetres (mm). This, along with the total snowfall and glacier melt in terms of volume works out to about 4000 billion cubic meters (bcm). However, due to losses through evaporation and evapotranspiration, the water availability in the country has been assessed to be about 1869 bcm. Even this available water cannot be fully utilized due to topographical constraints and hydrological features and utilizable water has been estimated to be about 1123 bcm comprising of 690 bcm of surface water and 433 bcm of replenishable ground water. This availability is further marked by very large temporal and spatial variations. Estimated annual requirement of water in India (Unit: BCM) (Source: Central Water Commission). The National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development (NCIWRD) has assessed that about 83% of water in the country is used for irrigation and the remaining for domestic, industrial and other purposes. The Commission has assessed the projected demand as 1180 bcm for the high demand scenario for the year 2050, assuming improvement in the efficiency of both surface water and ground water systems and also in the efficiency of water use in agriculture and other sectors. Although the requirement for irrigation water would increase over time, its share in the overall demand has been estimated to reduce from the present level of about 83% to about 69% and a corresponding increase in domestic and industrial water use by the year 2050.


Development of water resources in the country has revolved largely around creation of irrigation potential, providing safe drinking water to people, meeting industrial water demands, and addressing environmental issues.


  • Only about 62 million hectare (mha) or about 44% of the cropped area in the country is reported as irrigated today. This is despite an estimated irrigation potential of about 140 mha. Although creation of irrigation potential has increased way above the 22.6 mha at pre-Plan stage in 1951, there is an urgent need to expedite the harnessing of balance available irrigation potential through better water management practices. This is a challenging task, more so in view of the fact that easy and best options for the development of water resources have since been tapped and the new water resources development projects are bound to come up against major hydrological and topographical constraints. However, some way out could be found by interlinking of rivers to utilize surplus water and by artificial recharge of ground water. The former is expected to create an additional irrigation potential of about 35 million hectares, while the latter can make about 36 bcm of water available for use.

Drinking water supply

  • The access to safe drinking water sources in urban areas of India was about 90% in the year 1990 and 93% in the year 2000 and this has improved to about 96% by the year 2008. In rural India, access to safe drinking water sources has increased from about 58% in 1990 to about 73% in the year 2008. Similarly, as per the reports of the Joint Monitoring Programme of World Health Organization and UNICEF, the use of improved sanitation coverage in rural areas of India was 7% in the year 1990 and this increased to about 21% in 2008. The urban sanitation coverage was 49% in 1990 and increased to about 54% by the year 2008. Obviously, a lot more needs to be done in this regard, especially since we aim to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of improved sanitation facilities in the rural areas by the year 2013.


  • India is endowed with estimated hydropower potential of more than 1, 50,000 megawatts. However, only about 21 % of the potential has been developed so far, and a further 10% is being developed. Among the main reasons for the slow development are difficult potential sites, rehabilitation, environment and forest related issues and interstate issues. In addition, long gestation periods and geological surprises are important issues which need to be addressed so that this eco-friendly and renewable form of energy which also has comparatively lower running and maintenance costs can be developed to its maximum potential.

Flood management

  • The total flood prone area in the country has been estimated to be about 46 million hectares. However, the area provided with reasonable degree of protection through structural measures is about 19 million hectares. Along with structural measures, efforts have also been made to adopt non-structural measures. A network of 175 flood forecasting station is also maintained which provide reasonably accurate forecast to help in warning and advance actions to reduce the damages from incoming floods. There is need for adopting the non-structural measures like flood plain zoning etc.


  • The water sector in the country is faced with challenges like reducing per capita availability of water due to increasing population, deterioration in quality, over-exploitation of ground water resources leading to decline in the ground water table in many areas, sub-optimal utilization of the created facilities and relatively lower efficiency of the facilities for water utilization. The per capita availability of water in 1951 was assessed to be 5177 cubic meter. Due to increase in population, urbanization and industrialization this has come down to about 1650 cubic meter. Unplanned development and lack of proper laws to govern extraction of ground water has led to its overexploitation and a resultant decline in ground; water table in many areas. About 15% of the Blocks / Talukas / Mandals in the country are presently in the category of over­exploited. Another challenge relates to over-use of surface water which has resulted in irrigation drainage problem causing water logging in some areas. Pollution of rivers and deterioration in the quality of ground water are well known. A large share of pollution is caused by untreated sewage from the urban areas and effluent from the industry. Excessive use of chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides is also a major cause of pollution.
  • Further, water is also central to another major challenge of our times, namely climate change. Although precise quantitative assessment of the impact of climate change on water resources is yet to be made, various reports indicate that there could be further intensification of the temporal and spatial variation in the availability of water and particularly the extreme events of flood and drought. Therefore, there is an urgent need for taking up research for assessment of the impact of climate change in quantitative terms and plan adaptation measures. The Ministry of Water Resources has initiated such studies involving apex organizations like Central Water Commission, Central Ground Water Board, National Institute of Hydrology, Brahmaputra Board and academic institutions.



  • As per the Indian Constitution, water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage, water storage come under the purview of state governments. One of the very important roles of the union government is, therefore, to ensure utmost coordination with and among the state governments and resolve the issues of interstate rivers in the best possible and consensual manner.
  • With a view to accelerate the pace of water resources development and address the various water related issues, the Ministry of Water Resources has been implementing some important programmes and schemes which include Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP), Command Area Development & Water Management (CAD&WM) Programme, Flood Management Programme, Scheme for Repair. Renovation and Restoration of Water bodies (RRR), etc. A scheme related to the artificial recharge of ground water through dug wells has also been taken up.
  • In order to overcome temporal variations in water availability, we have to resort to various means of conservation of water resources through storages in reservoirs, ground water aquifers and traditional water bodies. The high spatial variation can be addressed through various measures for diverting water from surplus basins to deficient basins or regions. Government of India has already taken up the works related to preparation of feasibility reports or detailed project reports in respect of projects identified under National Perspective Plan for interlinking of rivers which aims at utilizing the surplus flood water by diverting the same to deficient regions. The Ministry also promotes rainwater harvesting and various means of ground water recharge and demonstrative schemes have been taken up by the Central Ground Water Board.

The situation of water stress and scarcity has been described above. Following measures have to be taken to conserve water on urgent basis.

Watershed Management

  • By adopting watershed as a unit, different location specific measures should be taken. Considering that 60% of net sown area in country is rainfed area (<75 cm rainfall), watershed management should be priority. The Government is implementing National Watershed Development Programme for Rainfed Agriculture since 1986-87 as well as Integrated Watershed Management. Dry-land farming is promoted in dry areas. The use of drip and sprinkler irrigation saves nearly 30 to 60% of water. NABARD provides subsidized loans for these techniques. At present only about 0.5% of irrigation is under each of drip and sprinkler irrigation. There is severe need to reduce over-irrigation through canals. Government is mooting water pricing policy for canal water use under draft National Water Policy, 2012. The successful watershed management experiences of Sukhomajri in Haryana, Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra need to be emulated in all parts of the country.

Rainwater Harvesting

  • The collection of water from a catchment surface is referred as rainwater harvesting. In general water harvesting is the activity of direct collection of rainwater. The collected water can be stored for direct use or can be used for recharging ground water.
  • Rainwater harvesting can be done by following major techniques:
  • In urban areas roof top rain water harvesting through — Recharge pit, Tubewell, Recharge Well, Recharge trench.
  • In rural areas through — Gully plugs, Contour band, check dam / bandhara / Nala band, Percolation tank, Dugwell recharge.

Recycling of water

  • Water is a cyclic resource and it can be used again and again. Treatment of sewage water from municipal use and effluents from industrial use will make valuable amount of water available for urban use. The centrally sponsored National River Conservation Plan has taken up pollution abatement covering 40 rivers in collaboration with State Government.

Improved Management

  • Adoption of better management practices and proper regulation, budgeting and auditing of water uses is very important in increasing the water use efficiency. One of the major factors for relatively poor maintenance of the created facilities is the inadequate funding for operation & maintenance (O&M). It is necessary to ensure financial sustainability of irrigation facilities through rationalization of water charges and adequate provision for O&M of irrigation facilities. 13th Finance Commission has considered this aspect and provided special water sector management grant of Rs 5000 crores for four years i.e., from 2011-12 to 2014-15, which is subject to setting up of a Regulatory Authority and achieving the normatively assessed state-specific recovery of water charges.

Optimizing utilization of created facilities

  • The sub-optimal utilization of the created facilities is yet another challenge. Only about 85% of the created potential has repeatedly been utilized. The gap has continuously increased over time. Some of the factors which contribute to the underutilization of created potential include (a) lack of proper operation & maintenance (b) incomplete distribution system (c) non-completion of command area development (d) changes from the initially designed cropping pattern, and (e) diversion of irrigable land for other purposes. Obviously, the modern tools for system improvement in the form of hardware and better management practices in the form of software can play very important role.

Improving the efficiency of water storage and use

  • The present level of efficiency of the irrigation system in India is relatively low and there is considerable scope for improvement. The National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development has assessed that irrigation efficiencies from surface water in India can be improved from the present level of 35 to 40% to about 60% and ground water from 65% to about 75%. With the improvement in efficiency — both through efficient end water use as well as by improving the efficiency of facilities created for irrigation. Measures such as proper operation and maintenance, extension renovation and modernization of projects, repair, renovation and restoration of water bodies on the one hand and use of agricultural practices such as moisture conservation, micro-irrigation etc. on the other hand are required to be adopted urgently. Simultaneously, it is necessary to ensure financial sustainability through regular revision of water rate and promoting participatory management by encouraging formation of Water Users’ Association etc. It is very important that best technologies and practices are transferred to the farmers to enable them to translate the slogan “More Crop and Income per Drop of Water” into reality. Ministry of Water Resources is implementing “Farmers’ Participatory Action Research Programme (FPARP)” through Agriculture Universities and agricultural research institutes to demonstrate available technologies for increasing productivity / profitability of agriculture. Interim reports indicate that there is very good response from farmers and the programme has helped in increasing yield and saving in water. Apart from measures for improving the efficiency of larger water facilities, due emphasis has to be given to measures like waste water treatment, reuse of water, rainwater harvesting and ground water recharge, watershed development etc.

Participatory management

  • Participatory management is very important. The government encourages participatory irrigation management and promotes formation of Water Users’ Associations (WUAs). So far about 57,000 WUAs have been formed. They have to be made operational and effective. Draft bill for participatory irrigation management (PIM) has also been circulated to States and 13 States have already enacted appropriate legislation. The matter is being pursued with other States.

NATIONAL WATER MISSION | Land And Water Resources

  • A National Water Mission has also been constituted under the National Action Plan on Climate Change launched by Hon. Prime Minister in 2008. The objectives of National Water Mission is conservation of water, minimizing wastage and ensuring its more equitable distribution both across and within states through integrated water resources development and management. The five goals identified for the National Water Mission are:
  • Comprehensive data base in public domain and assessment of impact of climate change on water resources;
  • Promotion of citizen and state action for water conservation and augmentation;
  • Focused attention to vulnerable areas including over-exploited areas;
  • Increasing water use efficiency by 20%; and
  • Promotion of basin level integrated water resources management.
  • The Ministry of Water Resources has taken up the development of a web-enabled Water Resources information System in cooperation with the National Remote Sensing Centre of Department of Space.

DRAFT NATIONAL WATER POLICY, 2012 |Land And Water Resources

  • National Water Resource Council in 2012 approved the draft National Water Policy for implementation by National Water Board. Its important recommendations are as following:
  • Setting up a permanent Water Tribunal at the Centre.
  • Water pricing policy — State will be less of a ‘service provider’ and more of a ‘regulator’. At least maintenance cost of water should be recovered.
  • Water User’s Association to collect part of water charges for maintenance by reservoirs.
  • Inter basin transfer of water at small and medium level.
  • Conservation of River Corridors, water bodies through National River Conservation Plan; River Basin Authorities, etc. besides prevention of encroachment on water bodies, Ground Water recharging, Integrated Water Resource Management.
  • Demand Management and water use efficiency through Regulatory Agency, water saving in irrigation and focus on micro irrigation, removal of electricity subsidy to avoid wasteful use of water, recycling of water.
  • Adaptation to climate change.
  • Establishment of National Water Informatics Centre for aquifer mapping, collection of water related data, etc.




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