Introduction

It has been estimated that groundwater contributes 9% to India's gross domestic product (GDP) (Vaidyanathan, 1999). Most of this contribution comes from the use of groundwater in agricultural and livestock production. Put the other way, agriculture and livestock - the two chief sources of livelihood for the masses of India - have come to depend heavily on groundwater use. While this use has brought much benefit to these sectors and the people who depend on them, the historically water-focused, narrow engineering approach of the government, combined with the tendency of people to 'make the most when available, otherwise the neighbour will take it away' has led to secular decline in groundwater levels in many parts of the country (Janakarajan, 1993, 2003). This has resulted in what may be termed the 'tragedy of the open access'. The increasing number of dark and grey zones,1 and the persisting dependence of millions of farmers on groundwater indicate the chaos that will likely continue in the groundwater sector. The description of groundwater governance in India as a 'colossal anarchy' seems apt (Mukherji and Shah, 2003).

The groundwater problem in India is particularly acute in arid and semiarid areas. Here, private investment has largely driven the groundwater boom. Farmers now chase the water table by digging and drilling deeper and investing in higher-capacity pump sets. These actions have far-reaching impacts that go beyond the simple economics of groundwater abstraction (Mudrakartha, 2004).

There is already a serious shortage of irrigation water, whether sourced from surface water or groundwater. In many areas, the situation has become so precarious that any shortfall in rainfall even in one season immediately generates a 'drought condition' affecting the lives of people in many ways. The falling groundwater levels also have resulted in drinking water scarcity, in particular where the centralized piped water supply schemes2 source from groundwater (Mudrakartha and Gupta, 2004). Farmers are compelled to respond and adapt ┬ęCAB International 2007. The Agricultural Groundwater Revolution:

Opportunities and Threats to Development (M. Giordano and K.G. Villholth) 243

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