Please zoom in or out and select the base layer according to your preference to make the map ready for printing, then press the Print button above.

Gujarat groundwater depletion, India


Groundwater scarcity due to aquifer depletion is an increasing problem in peninsular India leading to well failure, falling water tale and saline water intrusion. For more than 20 years Gujarat has been at the forefront of debates concerning water scarcity and a declining groundwater table. Water for drinking and irrigation is of critical concern, particularly in low rainfall and groundwater recharge areas. In Gujarat's Mehsana district, groundwater pricing inequity between members of well organisations and non-members has lead to conflict. The potential for group-owned well organisations to profit from water sales has resulted in unlimited and unsustainable groundwater extraction. [1] Similarly, in "Water Conflicts in India: A Million Revolts in the Making", researchers Anjal Prakash and R. K. Sama noted a well and pipeline project that attempted to meet the drinking water needs of poor landless villagers in Surendranagar district exposed the challenging internal dynamics of the community. Landed farmers opposed the well, fearing a smaller share of the aquifer. “It highlighted the fact that power structure and social and economic hierarchy go hand I hand and unless the issue of resource inequity is tackled through policy and advocacy, the real issue will not be solved,” Prakash and Sama said. [2] A 2013 study found the incidence of poverty was significantly higher where groundwater irrigation required more capital-intensive submersible pumps, while conflicts over irrigation water greatly increased in these villages. [3] Researcher Avinash Kishore notes the situation is more dire in water scarce regions such as the Mehsana district in North Gujarat. "Here, aquifers are so depleted that digging deeper wells and installing more powerful pumps does not allow to access more water. Often even deep wells have low and unreliable discharge, brackish water and a high rate of failure. While groundwater scarcity is found in large areas of India, pockets like Mehsana represent the more advanced stages of depletion." Kishore found groundwater depletion was also causing displacement as farmers and laborers migrated to cities. Young men are leaving for large cities at higher rates, while those staying behind in more water scarce villages shifting to non-farm occupations. One Gujarat sarpanch (village head) told him “Young men have all moved to Ahmedabad now. You will not find anyone here. What will they do here? There is no water.” [4]  While geo-hydrological factors could be identified as important constraints in the availability of water in parts of the state, the crisis can be attributed to sheer mismanagement of the sources: neglect of groundwater recharge efforts; rationalisation and control of water use by competing sectors (especially, those diverting water for unbridled commercial uses); and lack of initiative in rejuvenating and enhancing the capacity of water sources through scientific intervention, including that of numerous traditional water harvesting systems. Given the major crisis in water management, ensuring an adequate supply of ‘safe’ potable water on a regular basis, especially in the arid and semi-arid zones, is a serious challenge. Age-old caste-based conflicts can also flare when water resources are stretched. In fact, in both the social and political arena, inadequate water supply continues to evoke strong responses such as ‘water riots’ during drought years. [5] In February 2015 women protesting lack of access to safe drinking water were "lathi-charged" (beaten with sticks) by police, resulting in several women, some in their 50s and 60s, being hospitalized [6], while in 2001 eight people were injured when police stepped in to stop them from self-immolating and about 5000 people were fired on when they pelted stones at police [7]. Water contractors were being promoted by Rajkot municipal authority, which was only able to supply water three days per week, further depleting groundwater. The field is ripe for more frequent conflicts over dwindling water resources and contending needs into the future.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Gujarat groundwater depletion, India
State or province:Gujarat
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Specific commodities:Water

Project Details and Actors

Project details

For more than a decade, relevant and comprehensive official statistics on drinking water and sanitation are unavailable or not easily available. It is a daunting task to access official information on the implementation of various schemes like regional or group schemes, individual schemes, Narmada based pipeline scheme, and so on. Moreover, there is hardly any data on regularity, adequacy and quality of drinking water by habitation and season. Practically nothing is known about whether socially marginalised communities have been sidelined under Water and Sanitation Management Organisation schemes. The absence of and inaccessibility to such documents restricts analysis and course correction. [5]

Affected Population:25,000,000
Relevant government actors:Central Ground Water Board
Water and Sanitation Management Organisations
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Swadhyay movement
C. L. Kotak

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Landless peasants
Forms of mobilization:Street protest/marches
Hunger strikes and self immolation


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Specific impacts on women
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood


Project StatusIn operation
Proposal and development of alternatives:Emphasis must be placed on collective action through user groups and co-operatively managed irrigation systems to complement state regulation, especially in the wake of economic and environmental externalities created by the unabated over-utilisation of the resource in many parts of the country. [1] Endeavours to regulate pumping and/ or pricing provoke significant political and legal opposition. The onus of managing groundwater resources falls on sustainable institutions that can be built around the rules, norms and procedures that determine access. [5]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] McKay, Jennifer., and Diwakara, H. 'Groundwater irrigation in Northern Gujarat: Digging deep for answers', Water conflicts in India: A million revolts in the making, 2007.

[2] Prakash, Anjal., and Sama, R. K. 'Social undercurrents in a Gujarat village: Irrigation for the rich versus drinking water for the poor', Water conflicts in India: A million revolts in the making, 2007.

[5] Das, Keshab. 'The sector reform process in rural drinking water and sanitation: A review of the role of WASMO in Gujarat', Reform initiatives in domestic water and sanitation in India, Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India, 2015.

[3] Wells, water and welfare: The impact of access to groundwater on rural poverty and conflict

[4] When wells fail: Farmers' response to groundwater depletion in India

[6] Row over water sparks riots - February 2015

[7] Water riots - May 2001

Meta information

Contributor:Water Conflict Forum
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2306



Groundwater exploitation in Gujarat

Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board data, cited in Down to Earth