16% of India’s water bodies unused, threatening water security

A recent report titled “State of India’s Environment 2023 in Figures” released by the Center for Science and Environment on World Environment Day sheds light on the alarming state of the country’s water bodies. The report reveals that a staggering 16% of the total water bodies, equivalent to 3,94,500 bodies, are not in use.

Reasons for non-use of these water bodies include drying, construction activities, sedimentation, irreparable damage, salinity, and contamination by industrial effluents. The report further highlights that almost one in four bodies of water in urban areas and one in seven bodies of water in rural areas remain unused.

The states with the worst conditions in terms of the use of water bodies are Karnataka, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Haryana. These states and union territories have the highest proportion, with up to 40% of their water bodies unused.

Unused Water Bodies

State/Union TerritoryPercentage of unused water bodiesWater bodies in urban areas not in useWater bodies in rural areas not in use
KarnatakaUp to 40%No water bodies in use78% of 27,013 water bodies
DelhiUp to 40%No water bodies in use
Madhya PradeshUp to 40%1,172 water bodies44,214 water bodies
PunjabUp to 40%93 water bodies8,239 water bodies
BiharUp to 40%21,737 water bodies
Tamil NaduUp to 40%
PuducherryUp to 40%
HaryanaUp to 40%

Surprisingly, Karnataka and Delhi have no water bodies in use within their urban areas. Similarly, Karnataka, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Bihar are also facing dire situations in their rural areas, with 50% or more of their water bodies unused. In Karnataka, a staggering 78% of the total 27,013 water bodies in the state remain unused, leaving only 5,878 water bodies in use in rural areas.

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Delhi follows close behind as the state with the second largest number of unused water bodies. Of the 893 water bodies in Delhi, only 237 are currently in use, leaving 73% of the state’s water bodies in an unusable condition. Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Bihar also face significant challenges, with more than 50% of their water bodies unused.

In Madhya Pradesh, 44,214 water bodies in rural areas and 1,172 in urban areas are not in use. Punjab has 8,239 water bodies in rural areas and 93 in urban areas that are not used, out of a total of 16,012 water bodies. In Bihar, non-use is attributed to construction or encroachment, affecting 23% of the state’s water bodies.

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States leading in water body conservation

StatePercentage of unused water bodiesWater bodies in urban areas not in useWater bodies in rural areas not in use

On a more positive note, Gujarat, Tripura and Maharashtra are leading the way in water body conservation. These three states are the only ones where the percentage of unused water bodies is one or less. For example, out of a total of 97,062 water bodies in Maharashtra, only 1,029 are not in use, with 1,027 of them located in rural areas and only 2 in urban areas.

Similarly, in Gujarat, out of 54,069 water bodies, only 166 are unused, all of them in urban areas. Tripura boasts an impressive record, with only 4 unused water bodies out of a total of 36,239. The situation in Assam is also commendable as only 2% of the water bodies are classified as ‘not in use’.

Of the 1,72,492 water bodies in Assam, the vast majority of 1,69,352 are in use, with only 3,049 water bodies in rural areas and 91 in urban areas unused. The northeastern states of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur also show positive numbers, with only 3 to 5 percent of water bodies unused.

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