Drinking Water Security in Gujarat: The Current Scenario

01 Dec 2023

Water security entails guaranteeing access to safe drinking water, efficiently managing water resources, and mitigating the threat of water-borne diseases. In this article, Amitava Bhattacharya presents a situational analysis of drinking water security in Gujarat, highlighting the government’s initiatives to ensure access to safe drinking water in the State. Additionally, the author delves into the groundwater quality monitoring plan in Gujarat, emphasizing the idea that by purifying water today, we can ensure cleaner drinking water for the future.

Water scarcity is not unusual, even in countries with ample water resources. It is obvious that climate change, along with human factors, is increasingly depriving people of their right to access to safe water and sanitation. This may be because of a number of factors, such as crumbling infrastructure and distribution systems, contamination, conflict, or inadequate management of water resources. Access to drinking water becomes restricted due to water scarcity.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by the United Nations makes it very apparent that everyone must participate for sustainable development to take place. It also emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive and human-centred approach to managing water resources. SDG 6, or clean water and sanitation, focuses on providing everyone equitable access to safe, inexpensive drinking water by 2030. The availability of freshwater is in an alarming state right now. Our world’s water resources are at a critical point due to factors including an increasing population, fast urbanization, declining water quality, and, of course, competing demands for freshwater and over-extraction of groundwater without sufficient recharge. According to the World Bank, India is one of the nations with the worst water stress.

Today’s water availability is about one-third of what it was in the 1950s. The total water demand, which was 710 billion cubic metres in 2010, has been estimated by the National Commission for Integrated Water Resource Development Plan to be 1180 billion cubic metres now. The demand for water in the nation is anticipated to double by 2030. To ensure that we can meet our future water needs, an integrated approach to water resource management has become necessary.

Situational Analysis of Gujarat Drinking Water Scenario

One of India’s most prosperous states is Gujarat, which is situated in the country’s western region. It boasts of a workforce that is fairly diverse, a diversified economy, and a relatively high per capita income. The state spans an area of 196,000 sq. km, and its geo-physiological features are quite varied, ranging from dense forests and hilly regions in the south to parched desert regions in the north and northwest.

Gujarat is a state with a water shortage, with just 1137 m3 of fresh water available per person. Even now, there are persistent water shortages in several parts of the state. Potable water is in poor supply in several areas of the state, especially in North Gujarat, Saurashtra, and Kachchh. Water security in recent years has, relatively speaking, improved from the scenario that existed earlier, with an assured water supply assisting significant economic and agricultural growth, however, concerns about an inconsistent water supply in the outlying rural communities persist. Despite efforts to supplement resources, there are still issues with appropriate water supply due to the state’s geology, growing population, and rapid industrialization.

It has been estimated that rural areas have a relatively small share in the total water supply meant for drinking and domestic use. Though the rural population constitutes about 65 per cent of the total population, it consumes about 42 per cent of the total domestic water supply. The estimation is that during the summer months of drought years (which are not infrequent in Gujarat), more than 50 per cent of villages suffer from a shortage of adequate potable water (Master Plans of different years of GWSSB). Poor quality of water supply: Another major problem of rural water supply is its quality. Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB) has been providing data on the habitats which have excess fluoride, excess salinity, and excess nitrates in their water supply.

Government Initiatives towards Security of Drinking Water

In view of the fact that Gujarat is prone to drought, it has been difficult for the state government to ensure that a sizable population in Kachchh, Saurashtra, and North Gujarat has access to safe and reliable drinking water, which has forced policy planners of the state to plan for these water- starved regions. Multifarious institutions and organizations such as the Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB), Gujarat Jalseva Training Institute (GJTI), Gujarat Water Infrastructure Limited (GWIL), Gujarat Water Resource Development Centre (GWRDC), Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL), Water and Sanitation Management Organisation (WASMO) and Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board (GIDB) are responsible for ensuring that potable water is supplied to the rural population with enough quantity, which is not only safe but also affordable.

Narmada Master Plan

A project to supply drinking water from the Narmada Canal was started through a State Wide Drinking Water Grid that provides access to water to roughly 75 per cent of the state’s residents. GWSSB and Gujarat Water Infrastructure Ltd (GWIL) are working together to implement the Narmada Master Plan, which is intended to cover 9490 villages and 173 towns in Gujarat (www.wasmo.org, n.d.). GWSSB and GWIL receive water from the Narmada Nigam. By the end of March 2019, 8911 villages and 165 towns had been granted access to drinking and residential water pipelined from the Narmada. Additionally, the Narmada Nigam has been providing water directly to 28 Industries in the state as well as the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, Bharuch, Kapadvanj, and Tharad Nagarpalika.

Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM)

The Prime Minister announced Jal Jeevan Mission – Har Ghar Jal on August 15, 2019 while addressing the nation on Independence Day. The Mission, under implementation, in partnership with the states, aims to enable every household in villages to have Functional Household Tap Connection (FHTC) by 2024. It is envisaged that with FHTC, each household will have potable water supply in adequate quantity (at least 55 lpcd) of prescribed quality (as per BIS 10500:2012) on regular- and long-term basis.

In October 2022, Gujarat was designated as a “Har Ghar Jal” state, which means that all rural families now have access to clean drinking water from faucets, ensuring that “No One is Left Out.” All 9,173,378 homes in the state now have access to water, according to government data.

Atal Bhujal Yojana

The Atal Bhujal Yojana, or the Atal Jal scheme, was launched by the Prime Minister of India in 2020 with the primary objective of uplifting the institutional framework for community-based participatory groundwater management and bringing behavioural changes at the community level for the management of the nation’s groundwater resources. The plan envisions achieving this through a variety of interventions, such as awareness campaigns, capacity building, the fusion of current and new programmes, and advanced agricultural techniques. The Atal Bhujal Yojana has designated Gujarat as one of its priority states for implementation. A combination of “top down” and “bottom up” approaches are being used by the Department of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India, to address identified groundwater stressed blocks in seven states that represent a variety of geomorphic, climatic, hydrogeologic, and cultural settings. Among them is Gujarat.

Quality over Quantity: The Current Scenario

One of the main factors influencing public health is access to quality and sufficient quantity of water. Clean water sources and adequate water produce significant synergy in the outcomes and outputs of human growth. Thanks to the efforts of the concerned institutions and strengthened public policies, in a significant number of Gujarati villages and towns, the availability of water has had a favourable impact on many facets of personal, household, and societal well-being. However, the quality of supplied water is critical to usability and cannot be overlooked. Much of the groundwater in Gujarat is naturally saline or has geo-morphologically occurring contaminants.

Groundwater Quality Monitoring Plan

Monitoring groundwater quality is an essential effort to gather data on the chemical quality by representative sampling in various hydrogeological units. In May 2020, a total of 518 water samples were obtained by the Central Groundwater Board (WCR), Ahmedabad, and were monitored for the fundamental factors determining electrical conductivity, nitrate, and chloride, amongst others. According to the analytical findings, the bulk of the water samples taken from the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) observation wells throughout a significant portion of the state fall into the desired or permitted category, making them suitable for drinking. However, it has been shown that some well waters have chemical concentrations that are over the permissible limits. Such water is unfit for human consumption and dangerous to health upon continuous consumption. The major findings of the analysis are given below.

Electrical conductivity

A water body’s salinity or amount of dissolved salts depends on its electrical conductivity (EC), total dissolved solids, or salinity. In general, water with an EC of 1500 to 15,000 uS/cm is regarded as fresh water, 1500 to 15,000 uS/cm as brackish water, and more than 15,000 uS/cm as saline water. The EC value is generally found to be very high, ranging from 3200 uS/cm to 15,000 uS/cm and more, in the majority of the State. Out of 539 water samples, it was found that 106 samples had an EC value greater than 3200 uS/cm, indicating a serious salinity problem in the region.


All waters from natural sources include chloride because it is highly soluble and easily permeates rock and soil. Except in circumstances where inland salinity is common and in coastal locations, the chloride concentration of groundwater is typically below 250 mg/l. In drinking water, the BIS has suggested an acceptable limit of 250 mg/l of chloride; in situations where no alternate supply of water is available with the necessary concentration, this concentration limit can be increased to 1000 mg/l of chloride. According to the analytical results, out of the 601 samples that were evaluated, 53 samples were found to have high chloride levels of over 1000 mg/L, indicating that most of the state’s water is saline. The state’s western regions have the highest concentrations of chloride, which reach >5000 mg/l and indicate significant salinity.


In the soil, nitrogen and oxygen mix to generate the naturally occurring molecule nitrate. Groundwater contamination from septic tank and sewage discharges, leaching of chemical fertilizers and animal manure, and other non-point sources are the main sources of nitrate in groundwater. The maximum recommended level of nitrate concentration in groundwater is 45 mg/l according to the BIS standard for drinking water. Despite the fact that nitrate is generally believed to be non-toxic, a high nitrate concentration in drinking water is a hazard for environmental health since it increases the risk of methaemoglobinemia, specifically in newborns. Nitrate levels have been found to be between 1 and 500 mg/l, and 193 samples out of the 601 that were analysed contained high nitrate levels (> 45 mg/L), indicating high nitrate pollution brought on by the use of nitrogen-containing fertilizers, domestic and agricultural waste, and human-made anthropogenic activities. All regions of the state have sporadic observations of the maximum nitrate levels.


The majority of the fluoride in groundwater is naturally occurring and results from the weathering and deposition of air particles, the disintegration of rocks and soils, or both. It is generally known that fluoride in small doses (>1.0 mg/l) has been shown to help prevent tooth decay. Water sources in communities are frequently treated with sodium fluoride or fluorosilicates are used to maintain fluoride levels between 0.8 and 1.2 mg/l, which lowers the likelihood of dental caries. However, high quantities (>1.5 mg/l) have caused dental enamel discolouration, and greater levels of fluoride (> 5.0 mg/l) further exacerbate the serious issues such bone stiffness. The BIS has set a maximum desired limit for fluoride concentration in drinking water at 1.0 mg/l, which can be increased to 1.5 mg/l in the absence of a reliable alternative source of water. Water with a fluoride concentration of 1.5 mg/l or more is not fit for human consumption. Out of the 601 water samples studied, high fluoride levels of >1.5 mg/l, which are mostly attributable to geogenic circumstances ranging from 0 to 8.6 mg/l, have been found in 83 water samples.

Arsenic problem in the state

During the weathering of rocks and minerals, which is followed by subsequent leaching and run-off, arsenic (As) is released into the soil and groundwater. Globally, hundreds of millions of people are at serious risk for grave health problems due to geogenic arsenic poisoning in groundwater.

In a study published in June 2020, Wu et al created groundwater arsenic hazard and risk maps for Gujarat State at a resolution of 1 km using logistic regression models of secondary groundwater arsenic data and research-informed secondary soil, climate, and topographic variables as principal predictors. They created a pseudo-contour map of groundwater arsenic concentrations by combining models based on various arsenic concentrations. However, the data generated by the private survey seems to be dated and it is desirable that the state government in the Narmada and water supply department constitutes an expert group to conduct a fairly widespread survey in the areas mentioned in the survey report by these water supply experts in 2020. In case groundwater samples in the districts of Saurashthra, North Gujarat, and central Gujarat show consistently high levels of arsenic (WHO standards for acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water being 0.01 mg/L), serious view needs to be taken by the state government and policy planners not only to stop groundwater supply from underground aquifers via hand pumps, stand posts or any other means but also intense door-to-door audiovisual campaign to make the villagers living in these areas aware of the dangerous side effects of using this water, not only for drinking but also for any other household activity.

Simultaneously, the reach and quality potential of surface water to these areas needs to be augmented through a distributive model using 3-tier Panchayati Raj system and also using the wide reach of WASMO in the area of water management in rural Gujarat.

Way Forward

Gujarat as a role model among the states was the first state off the block to plan on a micro and macro level for ensuring the accessibility and quality of drinking water in general and household consumption waters in particular in the last two decades, resulting in the complete wiping out of “no source” villages, even in the arid regions of Kachchh, Saurashthra, and Northern Gujarat. However, some issues regarding quality of especially drinking water from underground sources in the form of excess fluoride, salinity, and scattered incidences of arsenic remain. The scenario, however, is far better than most states in India.

Apart from the general suggestions of improving the problems of leakage and breaking of water pipelines, especially in the arid regions of Saurashthra, North Gujarat, and Kachchh, the water management and pricing system through the WASMO model, is a model which is just and matching with the state’s cooperative spirit. However, care needs to be taken to solve inter-regional, outer district/ Taluka/ village disputes about water supply, especially during summer months and lean rainfall seasons needs to be evolved apart from the usual governmental system of development commission and panchayat department solving through their field department. Perhaps, a nyaya panchayat kind of body with power to help solve inter-district Taluka/village water dispute can be set up under the district panchayat or regional level so that these problems can be solved at the grassroots level itself.

Amitava Bhattacharyya, is a retired IAS and he was in TERI as Distinguished Fellow till September 2022. His principal areas of interest include climate change, corporate social responsibility issues, drinking water and quality, sustainability issues, and energy sector.

He could be approached via bhattacharyya_aceo@yahoo.co.in

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Wastewater treatment
Water efficiency
Water quality
Water resources
Water scarcity