Bringing Aquifers and Communities Together: Decentralised Groundwater Governance in Rural India

  • Dhaval Joshi
  • Himanshu Kulkarni
  • Uma Aslekar
Part of the Springer Water book series (SPWA)


India is the largest user of groundwater in the world, with an atomistic resource development paradigm. The millions of groundwater users across the diverse hydrogeological settings of the country have led to an overarching dependency on the resource for agricultural livelihoods, drinking water security and also meeting and increasing industrial and urban water demand. Increasing dependency has led to growing exploitation trends, often with concurrent contamination effects and complex competition around groundwater resources. Groundwater management efforts are emerging where science and participation of communities have led to management of aquifers as CPRs. However, such management has also revealed the urgent need for a groundwater governance agenda which tackles the problems through effective amalgamation of hydrogeology, stakeholder engagement and institutional arrangements. The article discusses the framework for an integrated groundwater governance paradigm in India that follows a bottom-up approach through decentralisation of the principles of governance and some examples of how this is evolving in conjunction with participatory groundwater management.


Groundwater Governance Hydrogeology India Stakeholder Regulation 



The authors would like to thank Arghyam Trust, Bengaluru and Bharat Rural Livelihood Foundation (BRLF), New Delhi, for supporting our work on participatory groundwater management and springshed management across India. We would also like to thank Ford Foundation, New Delhi, for supporting the work on groundwater governance in India. The engagement with stakeholders (communities, resource persons and government officials) in the field and the ensuing interactions deepen our understanding about the resource and its socio-economy, and hence our work will not be complete without acknowledging them all.


  1. ACWADAM (2014) Participatory groundwater management in Randullabad. Action Research Report ref no. ACWA/Hydro/2013/H28. Pune. Available at:
  2. Agarwal B (2001) Participatory exclusions, community forestry, and gender: an analysis for South Asia and a conceptual framework. World Dev 29(10):1623–1648CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Badarayani U (2009) Hydrogeological studies for improved groundwater management strategies in the dryland areas underlain by Deccan basalts: an initiative in Purandar taluka. Available at:
  4. Burke JJ, Moench MH (2000) Groundwater and society: resources, tensions and opportunities. Themes in groundwater management for the twenty-first century. Department of International Economic and Social Affairs, Statistical Office, United Nations. ISBN: 9789211044850Google Scholar
  5. Calow RC, Robins NS, MacDonald AM, MacDonald DM, Gibbs BR, Orpen WR, Appiah SO (1997) Groundwater management in drought-prone areas of Africa. Int J Water Resour Dev 13(2):241–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Central Ground Water Board (2011) Dynamic ground water resources of india (as on March 2009). CGWB PublGoogle Scholar
  7. Central Ground Water Board (2014) Dynamic groundwater resources of India (as on 31st March 2011) Ministry of Water Resources River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Govt of India. Available at:
  8. Central Ground Water Board (2017) Annual Report – 2015-16. Ministry of Water Resources River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Govt of India. Available at:
  9. Closas A, Molle F (2016) Groundwater governance in the Middle East and North Africa region. International Water Management Institute, Colombo. Scholar
  10. COMMAN (2005) Managing groundwater resources in rural india: The community and beyond. British geological survey commissioned report CR/05/354Google Scholar
  11. Cullet P (2014) Groundwater law in India: towards a framework ensuring equitable access and aquifer protection. J Environ Law 26(1):55–81. Scholar
  12. Custodio E (2002) Aquifer overexploitation: what does it mean? Hydrogeol J 10(2):254–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Das SVG, Burke J (2013). Smallholders and sustainable wells: a retrospect – participatory groundwater management in Andhra Pradesh (India), Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Rome, 2013. p 173. Available at:
  14. Deolankar SB (1980) The Deccan basalts of Maharashtra, India – their potential as aquifers. Groundwater 18(5):434–437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Department of Drinking Water Supply, Government of India (2006) Summary of nation-wide statistics from Rajiv Gandhi drinking water mission. DDWS, ministry of water resources, GoI, New DelhiGoogle Scholar
  16. Department of Drinking Water Supply, Government of India (2009) Mid-Term appraisal of the 12th Five Year Plan – Rural water supply, mimeo. DDWS, Ministry of water resources, GoI, New DelhiGoogle Scholar
  17. Dubash NK (2002) Tubewell capitalism: groundwater development and agrarian change in Gujarat. Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Scholar
  18. FAO (2016) Global framework for action: to achieve the vision on groundwater governance. Food and agriculture organisation, Rome.
  19. Foster S, Garduno H, Tuinhof A, Tovey (2010) Groundwater governance: conceptual framework for assessment of provisions and needs (English). GW MATE strategic overview series; no. 1. Washington, DC: World BankGoogle Scholar
  20. Groundwater Surveys and Development Agency (2014) Report on the dynamic groundwater resources of Maharashtra (2011–12). Pune. Available at:
  21. Janakarajan S, Moench M (2006) Are wells a potential threat to farmers’ well-being? Case of deteriorating groundwater irrigation in Tamil Nadu. Econ Polit Wkly 41(37):3977Google Scholar
  22. Joy KJ, Gujja B, Paranjape S, Goud V, Vispute S (2008) Water conflicts in India: a million revolts in the making. Taylor and Francis p441. ISBN: 978-0415424110Google Scholar
  23. Kulkarni H, Patil S (2017) Competition and conflicts around groundwater resources in India. Forum for policy dialogue on water conflicts in India. Pune, 38p. Available at:
  24. Kulkarni H, Vijay Shankar PS (2009) Groundwater: towards an aquifer management framework. Econ Polit Wkly 44(6):13–17Google Scholar
  25. Kulkarni H, Vijayshankar PS (2014) Groundwater resources in India: an arena for diverse competition. Local Environ 19(9):990–1011CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kulkarni H, Deolankar SB, Lalwani A, Joseph B, Pawar S (2000) Hydrogeological framework of the Deccan basalt groundwater systems, west-central India. Hydrogeol J 8(4):368–378CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kulkarni H, Vijay Shankar PS, Deolankar SB, Shah M (2004) Groundwater demand management at local scale in rural areas of India: a strategy to ensure water well sustainability based on aquifer diffusivity and community participation. Hydrogeol J 12(2):184–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kulkarni H, Badarayani U, Upasani D. (eds) (2009) Groundwater management- typology of challenges, opportunities and approaches. Arghyam- ACWADAM publ. ACWA H-09-2Google Scholar
  29. Kulkarni H, Shah M, Vijay Shankar PS (2015) Shaping the contours of groundwater governance in India. J Hydrol: Reg Studi 4:172–192Google Scholar
  30. Livingston M (2009) Deep wells and prudence: towards pragmatic action for addressing groundwater overexploitation in India. Report, World BankGoogle Scholar
  31. Llamas MR, Martínez-Santos P (2005). Intensive groundwater use: silent revolution and potential source of social conflicts. Available at:
  32. Megdal SB, Gerlak AK, Varady RG, Huang LY (2015) Groundwater governance in the United States: common priorities and challenges. Groundwater 53(5):677–684CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ministry of Water Resources (2009) Groundwater resource estimation methodology. Report of the Groundwater estimation committee, Ministry of water resources, government of indiaGoogle Scholar
  34. Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India (2013) “State of indian agriculture: 2012–13,” Department of agriculture and co-operation, Ministry of agriculture, government of india, New Delhi, p 221Google Scholar
  35. Moench MM (1992) Chasing the watertable: equity and sustainability in groundwater management. Econ Polit Wkly 27:51–52Google Scholar
  36. Mukherji A (2004) Groundwater markets in Ganga-Meghna-Brahmaputra basin: theory and evidence. Econ Polit Wkly 39(31):3514–3520Google Scholar
  37. Mukherji A, Shah T (2005) Groundwater socio-ecology and governance: a review of institutions and policies in selected countries. Hydrogeol J 13(1):328–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Narain S, Pandey P (2012) Excreta matters: how urban India is soaking up water, polluting rivers and drowning in its own waste. Centre for Science and Environment. ISBN: 9788186906552Google Scholar
  39. Ostrom E (1990). Governing the commons: the evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 978-0521405997Google Scholar
  40. Patil S, Kulkarni H, Bhave N (2017) Groundwater in the Mahanadi River basin. Forum for policy dialogue on water conflicts in India Pune. Available at:
  41. Phansalkar S, Kher V (2006) A decade of Maharashtra groundwater legislation: analysis of the implementation process. Law Environ Dev J 2(1):67Google Scholar
  42. Ranade R (2005) ‘Out of sight, out of mind’: absence of groundwater in water allocation of Narmada Basin. Econ Polit Wkly 40(21):2172–2175Google Scholar
  43. Reed MS (2008) Stakeholder participation for environmental management: a literature review. Biol Conserv 141(10):2417–2431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sandoval R (2004) A participatory approach to integrated aquifer management: the case of Guanajuato State, Mexico. Hydrogeol J 12(1):6–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Shah T (2005) Groundwater and human development: challenges and opportunities in livelihoods and environment. Water Sci Technol 51(8):27–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Shah T (2010) Taming the anarchy: groundwater governance in South Asia. RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  47. Shah M (2013) Water: towards a paradigm shift in the twelfth plan. Econ Polit Wkly 48(3):40–52Google Scholar
  48. Shah T (2014) Groundwater governance and irrigated agriculture. TEC Background Papers 19:69. Available at:
  49. Shah M, Kulkarni H (2015) Urban water Systems in India. Econ Polit Wkly 50(30):57–69Google Scholar
  50. Shah T, Verma S (2008) Co-management of electricity and groundwater: an assessment of Gujarat’s Jyotirgram scheme. Econ Polit Wkly 43(7):59–66Google Scholar
  51. Shah T, Singh OP, Mukherji A (2006) Some aspects of South Asia’s groundwater irrigation economy: analyses from a survey in India, Pakistan, Nepal Terai and Bangladesh. Hydrogeol J 14(3):286–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Shah T, Bhatt S, Shah RK, Talati J (2008) Groundwater governance through electricity supply management: assessing an innovative intervention in Gujarat, western India. Agric Water Manag 95(11):1233–1242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Shah T, Giordano M, Mukherji A (2012) Political economy of the energy-groundwater nexus in India: exploring issues and assessing policy options. Hydrogeol J 20(5):995–1006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Singh S (2012) Local governance and environment investments in Hiware Bazar, India. Ecological economics from the ground up. Routledge, London, pp 191–202Google Scholar
  55. Sivaramakrishnan A, John J (2014) Natural resource governance by Panchayati Raj Institutions: issues and opportunities. In: Paper presented at ‘Governing Shared Resources: Connecting Local Experience to Global Challenges, the Twelfth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Commons’, Cheltenham England. Available at:
  56. Tambe S, Kharel G, Arrawatia ML, Kulkarni H, Mahamuni K, Ganeriwala AK (2012) Reviving dying springs: climate change adaptation experiments from the Sikkim Himalaya. Mt Res Dev (International Mountain Society Publ) 32(1):67–72Google Scholar
  57. Varady RG, van Weert F, Megdal SB, Gerlak A, Iskandar CA, House-Peters L, McGovern ED (2013) Thematic paper no. 5: groundwater governance: a global framework for country action. Available at:
  58. Vijay Shankar PS, Kulkarni H, Krishnan S (2011) India’s groundwater challenge and the way forward. Economic and PoliticalWeekly XLVI (January (2)), 37–45Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dhaval Joshi
    • 1
  • Himanshu Kulkarni
    • 1
  • Uma Aslekar
    • 1
  1. 1.Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM)PuneIndia

Personalised recommendations