This is a sight becoming common in Pune.
A drilling rig is often the first order of business for many new constructions on commercial and residential premises. It reflects both an increased consumption of water due to affluent lifestyles and a growing uncertainty about water security often due to lack of piped water supply especially in the suburbs and despite claims from the Pune Municipal Corporation that surface water reservoirs have enough capacity to provide for future population growth and increased use.
I guess people want to ensure that they have a water supply under their control in case of future inability of the city to provide them with piped water. I talked recently with a geologist with years of experience in the groundwater situation in Pune and I heard the same ominous story that is reverberating all over India.
The deeper aquifer in Pune which means drilling to depths of 150-200 feet seems to be experiencing overdraft as unregulated bore-wells extract more than natural recharge. The city is trying to address the problem by proposing that it will limit the number of bore-wells based on surveys of aquifer capacity. This kind of aggregate limit however will not regulate current and future use by individual wells already in operation. Indian groundwater law allows the owner of a property unlimited use of the groundwater and increased reliance on groundwater in the future will keep depleting the resource if not managed scientifically.
And therein lies the problem because just how much water lies underneath is at best only sketchily understood. Any blanket limit going by watersheds imposed on extraction makes little sense because the deeper aquifers in Deccan basalts are not congruent with the surface water contours. They show extreme laterally variability and are compartmentalized. So for proper groundwater management the underlying aquifers need to be mapped, monitored and a scientific database on aquifer capacity needs to be built before any allocation plan that is sustainable is finalized.
Besides understanding the limits of extraction, just how the city is going to regulate individual use of groundwater remains a thorny issue. There is extreme reluctance to price the use of groundwater by metering bore-wells. The reasons are manifold. It will be an "enforcement headache" (read we are too lazy) is one excuse I have heard. Besides, there is a cultural tendency in India to look at groundwater as a free resource. The focus for long on groundwater use as been on rural consumption for agriculture. Making farmers pay a price for electricity and water is considered political Harakiri in India. So politicians keep tip-toeing around making any serious amendments to groundwater law.
Indian cities however are growing and reliance on groundwater by urban users is bound to increase. There needs to be a sensible re-look at groundwater laws for the urban consumer. Water allocation for well owners based on the aquifer capacity, the need to limit new well permits, mandating artificial recharge structures to augment refilling, and getting urban consumers to pay for the water they are pulling out of the aquifer are all ideas that need to be debated and thrashed out if we want to move towards a more sustainable use of this resource.