India is one of the world’s biggest crop producers and more than half of its 1.3 billion people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods and India will face a reduction of over 16 % in food supply due to water and heat stress in 2050. The groundwater that makes up 40% of the country’s water supply has been steadily depleting for years. India faced one of the most severe droughts in recent years. This drought affected half of the country, leading to significant consequences. Poor water management and the interconnected nature of water, energy, and food exacerbated the crisis. The annual per capita water availability has declined by 75% – from 6,042 cubic meters to 1,486 cubic meters. The study found that over use of groundwater could cause winter harvests in some regions of the country to fall up to two thirds by 2025. Indian food production has skyrocketed since the 1960s, as farmers began widely using tube wells, which draw water from deep underground. This has allowed them to continue farming even during dry seasons when there isn’t rain or sufficient surface water – but over-extraction has left “critically low groundwater availability” in the country’s northwest and south. Many studies have shown that India has large groundwater depletion, but to date it has been unclear what the impacts of this depletion could have on agricultural production. The researchers found that if farmers in over-exploited regions lose all access to groundwater, and if that irrigation water isn’t replaced by water from other sources, winter harvests could decrease by 20% nationwide and by 68% in the most severely affected areas. Not only are we facing groundwater depletion and surface water pollution, but also the disappearance of water bodies – ponds, lakes, reservoirs, wetlands – due to illegal occupation. Provisional data from the country's first census of water bodies shows that 18,691 out of 9.45 lakh water bodies – or 2% – have been encroached upon. This figure is likely higher as figures for states such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are not yet available.

Fortunately, people are waking up to this crisis, and several projects aimed at reviving rivers and recharging groundwater are now underway. The Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA), launched in 2019, is a movement for water conservation, groundwater recharge and rainwater harvesting in 256 water-stressed districts. Today, the JSA covers all 740 districts in the country. States implement it, while the central government provides support. In addition, states are establishing an inventory of water bodies, which should make illegal occupation in the name of building infrastructure or establishing industries more difficult.

However, problems remain, including policy and legislative gaps in overall water management. Water sharing between states is often a source of political conflict, because water is a state jurisdiction. The water sector also suffers from a lack of integration between surface water and groundwater, between drinking water and irrigation, and a lack of coordination between departments. This is a worst-case scenario, and the damage could be mitigated if authorities take action and adopt alternative irrigation options, the study said. The government has already been widely pushing the adoption of canal irrigation, which diverts surface water from lakes and rivers, and could help offset some of the losses. The National Water Policy is heavily focused on irrigation, which ignores rain-fed agriculture, which contributes significantly to India's food security.