ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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What Determines Groundwater Exploitation in India?

An Analysis of 235 Districts

The authors are thankful to an anonymous referee for making very constructive comments and useful suggestions on the earlier version of the paper and the Alagappa University, Karaikudi for providing research assistance for writing this paper from the RUSA Phase 2.0 Scheme. The views expressed in this paper are the authors’ own. A Narayanamoorthy ( is senior professor and head, K S Sujitha ( is research associate, R Suresh ( is an assistant professor, and P Jothi ( is adjunct lecturer at the Department of Economics and Rural Development, Alagappa University, Tamil Nadu.

An attempt is made in this paper to find out the determinants of groundwater exploitation using data from 235 Indian districts covering two time points—1990–93 and 2017–20. It shows that the percentage of area under water-intensive crops to the cropped area and pump set intensity are the most important factors in positively influencing groundwater exploitation. The percentage of surface irrigated area to net irrigated area and the annual rainfall have helped to reduce groundwater exploitation. The analysis suggests that the influence of the factors in determining groundwater use has changed considerably over time.

Groundwater has been used for various purposes in the last four decades in India (Shah 2009; Narayanamoorthy 2010; Shankar et al 2011; Sinha and Densmore 2016). It presently contributes over 68% to irrigation, 85% to rural water supply, and 50% to urban water supply (CGWB 2021). India’s annual groundwater draft now is the largest in the world estimated at 245 billion cubic metre (BCM), which is more than twice the United States’s (US) withdrawal level. This accounts for about 64% of India’s total groundwater potential (398 BCM) in 2020. While about 89% of groundwater is used for irrigation purposes alone, the net irrigated area (NIA) of groundwater has increased from 7.30 million hectares (mha) in 1960–61 to about 48 mha in 2018–19 (MoAFW 2022). The share of groundwater in the total irrigated area has increased from 29% to 68% during the same period.

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Updated On : 21st Nov, 2023
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