A Win-Some Lose-All Game
Social Differentiation and Politics of
Groundwater Markets in North Gujarat
Agriculture in India has gone through enormous changes since the Green Revolution. Based on external inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, high-yielding variety seeds (HYVs) and irrigation, Green Revolution technology became popular in many states of India. Large surface irrigation schemes were initiated in the sixties, and subsidy for HYVs and fertilizers was provided with the aim of making India self-sufficient in food production. However, the new technology also demanded more control over irrigation, which canal systems were unable to provide. Well irrigation was seen as an alternative to the bureaucratically controlled canal systems and this perception led to increased groundwater irrigation in many locations. Today, groundwater accounts for more than 50 percent of total irrigation in India. As a result of intensive groundwater-based farming, problems of large-scale overdevelopment of aquifers have emerged. Gujarat, a western state of India, is a case in point. In this state, groundwater supports more than 77 percent of total irrigation requirements.
Due to this increased dependence on groundwater for irrigation purposes, many parts of Gujarat have changed from water-abundant areas into waterscarce areas in only four decades. Groundwater overdraft, coupled with increasing scarcity and pollution of surface water supplies, has resulted in groundwater “mining” in many parts of Gujarat. As a consequence, an increasing number of areas are now categorized as overexploited. The latest figures released by the government show that, whereas in 1984 88 percent of the subdistricts were under the “white,” or safely exploited, category, this has decreased to about 51 percent in 1997.1 The number of overexploited subdistricts has increased from just one in 1984 to thirty-one in 1997. Salinity intrusion into the groundwater is another problem caused by excessive withdrawal of groundwater, especially in areas close to the seashore or in marshy areas like Kutch and coastal Saurashtra.