Yesterday, Members of Parliament in Lok Sabha discussed the situation of drought and drinking water crisis in many states.  During the course of the discussion, some MPs also raised the issue of ground water depletion.  Last month, the Bombay High Court passed an order to shift IPL matches scheduled for the month of May out of the state of Maharashtra.  The court cited an acute water shortage in some parts of the state for its decision. In light of water shortages and depletion of water resources, this blog post addresses some frequently asked questions on the extraction and use of ground water in the country. Q: What is the status of ground water extraction in the country? A: The rate at which ground water is extracted has seen a gradual increase over time.  In 2004, for every 100 units of ground water that was recharged and added to the water table, 58 units were extracted for consumption.  This increased to 62 in 2011.[1]  Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, saw the most extraction.  For every 100 units of ground water recharged, 137 were extracted. In the recent past, availability of ground water per person has reduced by 15%.  In India, the net annual ground water availability is 398 billion cubic metre.[2]  Due to the increasing population in the country, the national per capita annual availability of ground water has reduced from 1,816 cubic metre in 2001 to 1,544 cubic metre in 2011. Rainfall accounts for 68% recharge to ground water, and the share of other resources, such as canal seepage, return flow from irrigation, recharge from tanks, ponds and water conservation structures taken together is 32%. Q: Who owns ground water? A: The Easement Act, 1882, provides every landowner with the right to collect and dispose, within his own limits, all water under the land and on the surface.[9] The consequence of this law is that the owner of a piece of land can dig wells and extract water based on availability and his discretion.[10]  Additionally, landowners are not legally liable for any damage caused to  water resources as a result of over-extraction.  The lack of regulation for over-extraction of this resource further worsens the situation and has made private ownership of ground water common in most urban and rural areas. Q: Who uses ground water the most? What are the purposes for which it is used? A: 89% of ground water extracted is used in the irrigation sector, making it the highest category user in the country.[3]  This is followed by ground water for domestic use which is 9% of the extracted groundwater.  Industrial use of ground water is 2%.  50% of urban water requirements and 85% of rural domestic water requirements are also fulfilled by ground water. IMAGEThe main means of irrigation in the country are canals, tanks and wells, including tube-wells.  Of all these sources, ground water constitutes the largest share. It provides about 61.6% of water for irrigation, followed by canals with 24.5%. Over the years, there has been a decrease in surface water use and a continuous increase in ground water utilisation for irrigation, as can be seen in the figure alongside. [4]   Q: Why does agriculture rely most on ground water? A: At present, India uses almost twice the amount of water to grow crops as compared to China and United States.  There are two main reasons for this.  First, power subsidies for agriculture has played a major role in the decline of water levels in India.  Since power is a main component of the cost of ground water extraction, the availability of cheap/subsidised power in many states has resulted in greater extraction of this resource.[5]  Moreover, electricity supply is not metered and a flat tariff is charged depending on the horsepower of the pump.  Second, it has been observed that even though Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) are currently announced for 23 crops, the effective price support is for wheat and rice.[6]  This creates highly skewed incentive structures in favour of wheat and paddy, which are water intensive crops and depend heavily on ground water for their growth. It has been recommended that the over extraction of ground water should be minimized by regulating the use of electricity for its extraction.[7]  Separate electric feeders for pumping ground water for agricultural use could address the issue.  Rationed water use in agriculture by fixing quantitative ceilings on per hectare use of both water and electricity has also been suggested.[8]  Diversification in cropping pattern through better price support for pulses and oilseeds will help reduce the agricultural dependence on ground water.[6]     [1] Water and Related Statistics, April 2015, Central Water Commission, [2] Central Ground Water Board website, FAQs, [3] Annual Report 2013-14, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, [4] Agricultural Statistics at a glance, 2014, Ministry of Agriculture; PRS. [5] Report of the Export Group on Ground Water Management and Ownership, Planning Commission, September 2007, [6] Report of the High-Level Committee on Reorienting the Role and Restructuring of Food Corporation of India, January 2015, [7] The National Water Policy, 2012, Ministry of Water Resources, [8] Price Policy for Kharif Crops- the Marketing Season 2015-16, March 2015, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture, [9] Section 7 (g), Indian Easement Act, 1882. [10] Legal regime governing ground water, Sujith Koonan, Water Law for the Twenty-First Century-National and International Aspects of Water Law Reform in India, 2010.

On October 2, 2021, Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) celebrates its seventh anniversary.  It was launched on October 2, 2014 to fulfil the vision of a cleaner India by October 2, 2019.  The objective of the Mission was to eliminate open defecation, eradicate manual scavenging, and promote scientific solid waste management.  In this blog post, we discuss the sanitation coverage leading up to the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission and the progress made under this scheme.

Nation-wide sanitation programmes in past

According to the Census, the rural sanitation coverage in India was only 1% in 1981.  

The first nationwide programme with a focus on sanitation was the Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP), which was started in 1986 to provide sanitation facilities in rural areas.  Later, in 1999, CRSP was restructured and launched as the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC).  While CRSP was a supply-driven infrastructure-oriented programme based on subsidy, TSC was a demand-driven, community-led, project-based programme organised around the district as the unit.

By 2001, only 22% of the rural families had access to toilets.  It increased further to 32.7% by 2011.  In 2012, TSC was revamped as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) to accelerate the sanitation coverage in rural areas through saturation approach and by enhancing incentives for Individual Household Latrines (IHHL).

In comparison to rural sanitation, fewer programmes were enacted to tackle deficiencies in urban sanitation.  In the 1980s, the Integrated Low-Cost Sanitation Scheme provided subsidies for households to build low-cost toilets.  Additionally, the National Slum Development Project and its replacement programme, the Valmiki Ambedkar Awas Yojana launched in 2001, were programmes that aimed to construct community toilets for slum populations.  In 2008, the National Urban Sanitation Policy (NUSP) was announced to manage human excreta and associated public health and environmental impacts.

On October 2, 2014, the Swachh Bharat Mission was launched with two components: Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) and Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban), to focus on rural and urban sanitation, respectively.  While the rural component of the Mission is implemented under the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the urban one is implemented by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.  In 2015, the Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan under NITI Aayog had observed that the key difference between SBM and previous programmes was in the efforts to attract more partners to supplement public sector investment towards sanitation.

Swachh Bharat Mission – Gramin (SBM-Gramin)

The Sub-Group of Chief Ministers (2015) had noted that more than half of India’s 25 crore households do not have access to toilets close to places where they live.  Notably, during the 2015-19 period, a major portion of expenditure under the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation was towards SBM-Gramin (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Expenditure on Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin during 2014-22

Note: Values for 2020-21 are revised estimates and 2021-22 are budget estimates.  Expenditure before 2019-20 were from the erstwhile Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. 
Sources: Union Budgets 2014-15 to 2021-22; PRS.

The expenditure towards Swachh Bharat – Gramin saw a steady increase from 2014-15 (Rs 2,841 crore) to 2017-18 (Rs 16,888 crore) and a decrease in the subsequent years.  Moreover, during 2015-18, the expenditure of the scheme exceeded the budgeted amount by more than 10%.  However, every year since 2018-19, there has been some under-utilisation of the allocated amount. 

As per the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, 43.8% of the rural households had access to toilets in 2014-15, which increased to 100% in 2019-20 (see Figure 2).  However, the 15th Finance Commission (2020) noted that the practice of open defecation is still prevalent, despite access to toilets and highlighted that there is a need to sustain the behavioural change of people for using toilets. The Standing Committee on Rural Development raised a similar concern in 2018, noting that “even a village with 100% household toilets cannot be declared open defecation-free (ODF) till all the inhabitants start using them”.  The Standing Committee also raised questions over the construction quality of toilets and observed that the government is counting non-functional toilets, leading to inflated data.

Figure 2: Toilet coverage for rural households

Sources: Dashboard of SBM (Gramin), Ministry of Jal Shakti; PRS.

The 15th Finance Commission also noted that the scheme only provides financial incentives to construct latrines to households below the poverty line (BPL) and selected households above the poverty line.  It highlighted that there are considerable exclusion errors in finding BPL households and recommended the universalisation of the scheme to achieve 100% ODF status.

In March 2020, the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation launched Phase II of SBM-Gramin which will focus on ODF Plus, and will be implemented from 2020-21 to 2024-25 with an outlay of Rs 1.41 lakh crore.  ODF Plus includes sustaining the ODF status, and solid and liquid waste management.  Specifically, it will ensure that effective solid and liquid waste management is instituted in every Gram Panchayat of the country.

Swachh Bharat Mission – Urban (SBM-Urban)

SBM-Urban aims at making urban India free from open defecation and achieving 100% scientific management of municipal solid waste in 4,000+ towns in the country.  One of its targets was the construction of 66 lakh individual household toilets (IHHLs) by October 2, 2019.  However, this target was then lowered to 59 lakh IHHLS by 2019.  This target was achieved by 2020 (see Table 1).

Table 1: Toilet construction under Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (as of December 30, 2020)


Original Target

Revised Target  
(revised in 2019)

Actual Constructed

Individual Household Latrines




Community and Public Toilets




Sources: Swachh Bharat Mission Urban - Dashboard; PRS.

Figure 3: Expenditure on Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban during 2014-22 (in Rs crore)

Note: Values for 2020-21 are revised estimates and 2021-22 are budget estimates. 
Sources: Union Budget 2014-15 to 2021-22; PRS.

The Standing Committee on Urban Development noted in early 2020 that toilets built under the scheme in areas including East Delhi are of very poor quality, and do not have adequate maintenance.  Further, only 1,276 of the 4,320 cities declared to be open defecation free have toilets with water, maintenance, and hygiene.  Additionally, it also highlighted in September 2020 that uneven release of funds for solid waste management across states/UTs needs to be corrected to ensure fair implementation of the programme. 

The Standing Committee on Urban Development (2021) also expressed concern about the slow pace in achieving targets for source segregation and waste processing.  The completion of their targets stood at 78% and 68% respectively of the goal set under SBM-Urban during 2020-21.  In addition, other targets related to the door-to-door collection of waste also remained unfulfilled (see Table 2).

Table 2: Waste management under Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (progress as of December 30, 2020)



as of March 2020

as of December 2020

Door to Door Waste Collection (Wards)


81,535 (96%)

83,435 (97%)

Source Segregation (Wards)


64,730 (75%)

67,367 (78%)

Waste Processing (in %)




Sources: Standing Committee on Urban Development (2021); PRS.

In February 2021, the Finance Minister announced in her budget speech that the Urban Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0 will be launched.  Urban Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0 will focus on: (i) sludge management, (ii) waste-water treatment, (iii) source segregation of garbage, (iv) reduction in single-use plastics and (v) control of air pollution caused by construction, demolition, and bio-remediation of dumpsites.  On October 1, 2021, the Prime Minister launched SBM-Urban 2.0 with the mission to make all our cities ‘Garbage Free’.