Updated: Jul 16, 2020

Collective action games trigger conversations around the nature of the invisible and

immeasurable common resource - ground water

Nobody is too old to learn or play, especially the kind of games that are woven around themes that are central to their being. This is true for the groundwater games that have seemingly created a ripple of excitement amongst the practitioners and communities. There are no fictitious role plays here, only simulation of real life situations for the farmers who play the game.

India is, by far, the world’s largest groundwater economy. India’s annual withdrawal of fresh groundwater (253 Billion Cubic Metres in 2013) amounts to one fourth of the global total and is more than that of China and the US combined. Over 80% of water extracted is used in agriculture. The share of tubewells in net irrigated area rose from a mere 1% in 1960-61 to over 40% in 2013-14. Tubewells now are the single largest source of irrigation in India. More significantly, 66 per cent of the wells and tubewells in India are owned by small and mar­ginal farmers, which show the dependence on groundwater for the survival of these farmers.

Over the years, many regions of India have seen a worsening of the groundwater situation on account of excessive withdrawal of water. As large swathes of the country come under the grip of water scarcity, it has become clear that crisis situation cannot be reversed without mobilizing communities to protect groundwater. In this context, many grass-roots organisations have been using the groundwater game as a participatory tool, showing its potential to trigger discussion within com­munities to improve the local governance of groundwater.