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Ganges River in Varanasi, India. | Credit: Matt Zimmerman  

Groundwater Depletion and Ma Ganga: Programs and Policies in Place

Atal Bhujal Yojana (2020-2025) 

Prime Minister Modi approved Atal Bujal Yojana’s launch in 2019, which serves as a large-scale groundwater management program. Its focus is on community participation and scientific communication in order to preserve the groundwater resources of greatly exploited areas in India. These areas encompass many along the Ganga River, and include the states of Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh, and reach about 78 districts and over 8,000 village-based political institutions (6). Currently, a standardized system and process for monitoring groundwater and developing Water Security Plans (WSP) are being developed. There is also work to build foundations to promote community participation as well as a focus on educating the villages on the importance and future of groundwater sustainability. It also encourages a decentralized approach to groundwater management, where power is allotted significantly to states and districts. This program includes an incentive-based approach, in which states receive financial incentives in meeting pre-defined goals in groundwater management, including a certain amount of water use and the corresponding improvement of groundwater use (7).

Har Khet Ko Pani - “Water to Every Farm”

A program called Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) was developed with the aim of expanding irrigation accessibility with the slogan “har khet ko pani” and improving the efficiency of water use - “more crop per drop”. The national program aims to enhance the recharge of aquifers and analyze sustainable water solutions, such as purifying wastewater and seeking greater private investment in irrigation systems . It is supported by the Ministries of Agriculture, Water Resources, and Development. This program aims to give states the ability to develop their own irrigation plans based on district and state plans. This program includes the promotion of micro-irrigation, a method of irrigation that requires less water flow and can increase yields while decreasing the usage of water. Other conserving solutions include drip and sprinkler irrigation systems, which encourage farmers to limit water usage while still providing adequate water to their crops. This program oversees many states alongside the Ganges, which include Uttarakhand, Bihar, West Bengal, and Haryana (8). 

WWF-India’s Rivers for Life 

From 2007-2012, WWF-India implemented the Rivers for Life Programme and worked with over 2,000 farmers in 40 villages in Uttar Pradesh in the Ganga Basin. The farmers learned of proper soil-health testing and drought-tolerant planting, which would allow for more efficient use of irrigation systems to limit the over-extraction of groundwater (11). WWF-India is currently working to expand its groundwater management education to large-scale areas along the Ganges River Basin (12). 

The National Aquifer Mapping and Management Programme (NAQUIM) 

The National Aquifer Mapping and Management Programme (NAQUIM) was implemented as part of the Ground Water Management and Regulation Scheme to accurately map and depict aquifers to plan for groundwater management and enhancement. These characterizations and plans are shared with state governments by the State Ground Water Coordination Communities and include involvement from state and district leaders for specific plans based on terrain and geography. Public interaction programs (PIPs) are also being developed to promote the participation of farmers and local stakeholders within the communities with exploited groundwater. These states include Haryana, Assam, Bihar, and Uttarakhand (9). 

Agricultural and Electricity Shifts

A potential solution to groundwater exploitation includes the promotion of low-water intensive nutritious grains, such as nutri-cereals, in school systems for farmers to focus on these crops. This solution holds great potential, especially in the context of India’s problem of access to proper nutrition and the recent focus of nutri-cereals in the National Food Security Act (2013). In addition, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research developed a program to improve the production of rice and wheat in eastern India while using water resources sustainability. Also, electricity reforms, like terminating electricity subsidies, have the potential to significantly lower groundwater use in nearly a dozen overexploited groundwater states in India, such as West Bengal. However, there is not information to make a final say on the effects of electricity tariffs but officials emphasize it as a potential solution for policymakers to consider (13). 

India-EU Water Partnership

In 2017, the Working Group of the India-EU Water Partnership (IEWP) developed the IEWP Action Plan. There are nine priorities set forward by this action plan, which includes Ganga Rejuvenation. As part of this plan, an interactive dashboard with essential and relevant information on the river's water quality is in the works. The organization is also working alongside the World Bank’s Water Resources Group 2030 and the Netherlands to develop strategies pertaining to basin and groundwater management. The organization also plans to provide training on E-flows, river basin management, groundwater management, irrigation efficiency, water reuse, etc (10).

Underground Transfer of Floods for Irrigation (UFTI) 

The Groundwater Solutions Initiative for Policy and Practice (GRIPP) tested the Underground Transfer of Floods for Irrigation (UTFI) in the Indo-Gangetic Plain in India. This initiative works to use excess water from flooding to recharge aquifers, which store water for irrigation. The test in a specific Ganges plain in India was successful for a period of 3 years. The UTFI system has the potential to strongly benefit farmers by being a potential solution to cheaper alternatives for irrigation than groundwater extraction. In terms of future outlook, stakeholders are looking to expand this practice on a greater scale in the Ganges River basin and are focused on educating those around the areas on the benefits of this technology as a potential solution to excess groundwater extraction (14). UTFI outlook was formally recognized in the Rampur district, focusing on sites with the greatest groundwater exploitation (15). 

Crop Sowing

Credit: WIX

Rice Crop

Credit: WIX

What Can Communities and Individuals Do? 


There are many successful state or village-based programs that have shown great improvement in groundwater accessibility when a decentralized, community-based approach is taken with a focus on education as well. These include Participatory Irrigation Management Systems (farmers involved in irrigation), Water User's Associations (formal organizations with farmers elected as representatives),  and Participatory Groundwater Management Programs (collaboration with NGOs to promote a shared resource approach). For more community resources, visit our page here


  • Rainwater Harvesting - rainwater collection on roofs or other surfaces by individuals, can be used either to use as water supply that would otherwise runoff or for groundwater recharge. 

  • Greywater Reuse - reusing shower water, kitchen water, laundry water, etc.

    • Build your own greywater system by building furrows!​​

  • Afforestation - planting trees along the river allows more water to sink into the soil as groundwater recharge 


1. Mukherji, Aditi. "Sustainable groundwater management in India needs a water‐energy‐food nexus approach." Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy 44.1 (2022): 394-410.

2. Dangar, Swarup, and Vimal Mishra. "Natural and anthropogenic drivers of the lost groundwater from the Ganga River basin." Environmental Research Letters 16.11 (2021): 114009.

3. Verma, Rashmi. “By 2050, 115 Million May Face Food Insecurity Due to Reduced Water Level in Ganga.” Down To Earth, 28 Aug. 2018,

4. Sedagat, Lillygol. “‘Sea to Source: Ganges’ Dispatch: The River Just Needs to Flow - on Pollution, Population, and the Fate of the Ganga.” National Geographic Society Newsroom, 15 June 2019,

5. Mukherjee, Abhijit, Soumendra Nath Bhanja, and Yoshihide Wada. "Groundwater depletion causing reduction of baseflow triggering Ganges river summer drying." Scientific Reports 8.1 (2018): 1-9.

6. Viji. “Atal Bhujal Yojana - Vikaspedia.” Atal Bhujal Yojana,

7. About Atal Jal, Ministry of Jal Shakti Department of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation,

8. Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana,

9. Priya, Annu. “Water Resources River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Management of Ground Water.” Indian Govt Scheme - Sarkari Yojna - सरकारी योजना, Blogger, 7 Feb. 2019,

10. “India-EU Water Partnership.” IEWP - India-EU Water Partnership ,

11. Kaushal, Nitin, et al. "Towards a healthy ganga—improving river flows through understanding trade offs." Frontiers in Environmental Science 7 (2019): 83.

12. “About Rivers for Life, Life for Rivers Programme.” WWF,

13. Mukherji, Aditi. "Sustainable groundwater management in India needs a water‐energy‐food nexus approach." Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy 44.1 (2022): 394-410.

14. Sandaruwan. “Utilizing Floodwaters for Recharging Depleted Aquifers and Sustaining Irrigation: Lessons from Multi-Scale Assessments in the Ganges River Basin, India. - Gripp.” Groundwater Solutions Initiative for Policy and Practice (GRIPP), 12 Jan. 2021,

15. Ahmed, Farah. “Community Interaction on Underground Taming of Floods for Irrigation (UTFI).” Water, Land and Ecosystems,

16. Gandhi, Vasant P., et al. "Institutional structure, participation, and devolution in water institutions of Eastern India." Water 12.2 (2020): 476.

This webpage written by Tehreem Qureshi

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