2021 Summer: North India staring at severe water crisis?

The water scarcity alarm bells have started ringing in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, both Himalayan states bestowed with plenty of natural water sources including springs, glaciers lakes and rivers. The reservoirs inside and at the border areas of these states that cater to water needs of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are at low levels.

2020 Monsoon, Post Monsoon and 2021 Winter Rainfall in North India

The 4 Union Territories (UTs) and 6 states in North India have received significant deficit in rainfall during June to September monsoon months, October to December post monsoon months in 2020 and January-February 2021 months.

The rainfall was deficient by 67% in Ladakh during monsoon (June-Sept) and 72% in post monsoon months of Oct-Dec 2020 and 64% in winter months of Jan-Feb 2021. Similarly the J&K got -34%; -19% and -45% rainfall than normal in these periods. In Himachal rainfall has been deficit by 26%, 15% and 70% while the Uttarakhand witnessed 20%, 71% and 56% less rainfall than normal in monsoon, post monsoon 2020 and winter months of 2021.

For Punjab the rainfall was 16%, 21%, 72% below normal in this period and Haryana received 14%, 56%, 15% less rains than normal in monsoon, post monsoon 2020 and winter months of 2021.  In Chandigarh the rainfall deficit is recorded 7%, 42%, 77% below the normal while Delhi registered 20% and 92% less and 1% more rainfall rainfall during these seasons.

Out of 75 districts of UP, the 42 districts in East Uttar Pradesh division got below normal rain by 37%, 83% and 45%. Similarly, out of 33 districts, the 23 districts in East Rajasthan division registered rainfall deficit by 2% and 64% in monsoon and post monsoon 2020 and 57% more than normal in winter months. 

The links for district wise rainfall analysis by SANDRP is here June 2020[i], June-July 2020[ii], June-August 2020[iii], June-September 2020[iv], post monsoon October-December 2020[v] and winter months January –February 2021[vi].

Apart from rainfall deficiency, there has been serious anomalies in rainfall distribution in the north India during monsoon, post monsoon 2020 and winter rains 2021 determining the river flows and reservoirs storage.

For example, during monsoon out 12 districts in Himachal Pradesh 4 districts recorded normal rainfall while 7 were deficient and 1 was large deficient. Similarly in post monsoon period 1 district got rainfall in excess, 7 normal rainfall and in 4 rainfall was in deficit category. In winter months 2021, out of 12 districts 3 were in rainfall deficient and 9 in large deficient category. 

Himachal received only 30 mm of rain in September 2020, which was 77% per cent below normal, and the driest September[vii] since at least 2004. The highest rainfall recorded during the month in the past 17 years was 270 mm (93% above normal) in 2018, while the second lowest was 38.5 mm in 2004.

There has been deficit in rainfall[viii] during July 2020, 8 times in the last 17 years. The highest July rainfall in these years was in 2013, when HP received 241 mm, 143 % above normal.

Likewise in Uttarakhand, out of 13 districts 1 was in excess rainfall category while 4 in normal and 8 in deficient category at the end of monsoon 2020. In post monsoon months 1 district was in normal rainfall category while 2 were in deficient and 10 in large deficient category. At the end of winter rains 2021 9 districts are rainfall in deficient and 4 in large deficient category.

High Temperatures The High temperatures in North India currently and in summer would worsen the water situation. IMD (India Meteorological Department) has declared that March 2021 temperatures in Delhi were the highest in last 11 years. The Mean March temperature in National Capital was 33.1 degrees C, the earlier high was in March 2010 at 34.1 degrees C. On March 29, 2021, Delhi experienced the hottest March temperature in 76 years. Earlier IMD had declared that summer (March-May 2021) is going to be hotter than normal in North India and some other parts of India.

The impact of climate change is clearly visible in the situation, and climate scientists have been predicting that such impacts would only increase in future.

Himachal Pradesh

In Himachal Pradesh, Mahender Singh, the Irrigation and Public Health (IPH) Minister himself has issued dire warning of famine like situation[ix] in summer while speaking in State Assembly on March 15, 2021. As per his statement the Rohtang Pass area has barely 3-4 feet snow cover as against the usual 30-40 feet. He attributed this to low rainfall and snowfall during winter in Himachal Pradesh.

The Minister said that the water level in Beas River has started going down and in summer the river may even turn dry. “It’s an alarming situation[x]. Wells, nullahs and khads have started drying up already. Even river water levels have gone down. At some places, people can now simply wade through the Beas river to cross it,” the Minister said.

In a video report[xi] he says that all gravity schemes have dried up by 60-65 per cent. He suggested a master plan including linking all the running water schemes during March 23 meeting to deal with crisis, apart from approving new bore wells and hand pumps. However Harmesh Bhatia, AGM, Shimla Jal Prabandhan Nigam Limited and other officials said that they are prepared and disagreed that it would be a repeat of 2018 like water crisis.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said that the state received only 59 millimetres of precipitation during winter (January 1 to February 28) season, which was 69 per cent less than normal.  The extent of the problem this year will become clearer in the summer months. The HP water minister said that it has never been so dry before in Himachal so early during the year.

Even in November 2020, a report quoting Naveen Puri, Chief Engineer, Jalshakti has mentioned that the reduction in monsoon rainfall has rendered 25 to 75 percent less water[xii] in 335 drinking water schemes in HP affecting 74.84 percent of rural population depending on these schemes. The water scarcity had also affected horticulture and sowing of Rabi crops. In October 2020 9 out of 12 districts of state received zero actual rainfall[xiii].

The latest report in The Tribune mentions about major water shortage in Kangra[xiv] valley and water amount going down upto about 25 per cent in water supply sources in the district. As per IPH water sources of Bhagsunag catering to Ram Nagar, Shyam Nagar water supply have gone dry and the tourist hub Mcleodganj getting disruption.

Interesting the IHP attempt to lift water from Manji river has been resisted by villagers who feel if IPH goes ahead there would be no water in kuls for irrigation. As per the report major rivers Neugal, Binwa and Baner, which feed over 200 water supply schemes in the district, are left with little water and discharge in most of the natural water sources, particularly in Palampur, has come down to 20-30 per cent.


The situation is worrying in Uttarakhand too. On January 19, 2021 water level fell[xv] to 5 feet in Naini lake of Nainital owing to death of rain and snowfall. There was negligible snowfall in other hill stations of the state including Mussoorie, Dhanaulti and Mukteshwar.

As per another report of January 20, 2021, drought like condition[xvi] was prevailing in 8 districts due to low rainfall in monsoon and winter and less snowfall during winter. The situation was so dire that the snow day was celebrated with the artificial ice in Auli, Chamoli. It was for the first time in 30 years that there was no snowfall in Munsyari, Pithoragarh till half of January 2021. The dearth of rainfall and snowfall has severely affected horticulture and Rabi crops.

The water level in Gola river, a source of drinking water to Haldwani city is seen receding even in January 2021, finds a January 27, 2021 report.

The ETV Bharat, March 1, 2021 report describes the developing water scarcity[xvii] in several parts of Rudraprayag district attributing the problem to low rainfall for past five months. It also mentions that after a decade the water level was seen falling in the Punad river which supplies water to Rudraprayag town. The officials feared the situation would turn worse in summer and 5 tankers were engaged to supply water to about 20 villages.

Before this, a February 15, 2021 report has mentioned about migration[xviii] of villagers from Bhardar Patti to other areas due to emerging water scarcity. 

The prevailing scenario has also raised concerns[xix] of water availability for Har Ghar Nal Jal scheme under Jal Jeevan Mission. About 500 water sources are on the verge of running dry.

Hinting at emerging water crisis in Pithoragarh, a March 18, 2021 report states that the district has received[xx] only 36.4 mm, 12.1 mm and 17 mm rainfall against the average of 50.3 mm, 59.3 mm, 56.6 mm in in the months of January, February and March (upto 18) 2021 while there was 146.1 mm, 64.1 mm and 128.1 mm rainfall in the district in same months last year.

It mentions of unusually rising temperature of upto 21 degree Celsius even before the March in the district. All this cumulatively has resulted in drying up of water sources, falling water level in the rivers and reduction in Rabi crop production.

A World Water Day report mentioned that impacts of low rainfall has started manifesting in widespread water crisis[xxi]. About 50 percent of water sources have started drying up on the hilly districts while parts of Tehri and Almora are facing severe drinking water crisis.

Uttarakhand is also reeling under significant rise in forest fires incidents. Since October 2020, there have been 551 large forest fire[xxii] events over about 670 hectares of forest lands destroying about 9000 trees and causing financial losses of about 25 lakhs to forest department. The destruction of vegetation and resultant rise in temperature is bound to aggravate the water problems in the multiple ways in future. [For more details on forest fires, see April 4, 2021 article by Bharat Dogra: https://countercurrents.org/2021/04/increased-risk-of-forest-fires-in-himalayan-region/%5D

Jammu & Kashmir

Punjab, Rajasthan

Punjab and Rajasthan could face an irrigation crisis during the upcoming paddy-sowing season as the water level in the Bhakra reservoir is nearly 55 feet lower[xxiii] than the last year. The water level in reservoir may decline due to scanty snowfall in the winter season. The water level at Bhakra on March 17 was at 1,548 feet against 1,604 feet on the corresponding day last year. The water level in Ranjit Sagar Dam is 1,615 feet against 1,659 feet the same day last year. In Pong Dam, the water level is 1,304 feet against last year’s 1,359 feet.

[On Apr 5, 2021 The Hindustan Times reported: On Apr 4, 2021, the water level in Bhakhra dam’s reservoir was 1,533.3 feet (Min level is 1462 ft), 64 feet lower than the level at the same time last year, and nine feet lower than the 40-year average; Pong dam had water level at 1298.8 feet (Min level is 1260 ft), 60 feet lower, and at least 23 feet below its 40-year average. The Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) has called an emergency meeting. Partner states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan will attend this technical committee meeting (TCM), where a plan for conservation of water will be drawn up. A BBMB source said the meeting would take place before April 10.]

As per the latest update[xxiv] on live storage for Northern region covering Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan by Centre Water Commission (CWC) issued on March 25 the 8 reservoirs in the region have 4.99 billion cubic metre (BCM) water storage against the capacity of 19.17 BCM which is just 24 % of total storage capacity. This is also half the amount against 48 percent for the corresponding period last year and less than ten year average of 36 percent.

With rise in temperature, several parts in Mohali have started facing water crisis[xxv] as the city was getting only 13 million gallon water per day (MGD) against the demand of 25 MGD.

Zirakpur depends on water supply from 80 bore wells many of which are in need of repair to manage rising demand during summer. Last year, Municipal Corporation had planned to dig 10 new bore well but could install only 5.


There has been significant reduction in Bhakra and Yamuna canal based water supply in Haryana. At the end of Feb 2021, the water level in Bhakra dam has fallen by 40 feet and there have shortfall[xxvi] of upto 2500 cusec in Western Yamuna Canal (WYC) system, ensuing water supply problems in Mahendragarh, Bhiwani, Rewari and Charkhi Dadri.

At Khubru Head the water availability was only around 1400 cusec whereas the demand was of 2550 cusec. The Irrigation Department was having tough time to maintain the water supply according demand. It has increased the rotation cycle with little help to ease the situation. In coming month there would be severe water crisis.

The March 11, 2021 report finds that the water supply from Yamuna river has fallen[xxvii] further forcing water cuts in the demand.   


The discharge of untreated effluents in Yamuna river from Haryana often affects the Wazirabad and Chandrawal water treatment plants which cater to supply of Central Delhi including VIP areas. The sedimentation load in Ganga canal following Chamoli disaster disrupted the water supply from Sonia Vihar treatment plant for couple of days in February.

In last week of February 2021, with the Punjab government deciding to close down Nangal channel for a month from March 25 to April 24, 2021 to undertake repairing work rendered the Delhi government breathless as the channel caters to 232 MGD which constitutes about 25% of total water supply to Delhi through Bhakra system. After intervention by Supreme Court the crisis has been averted for the time being.

In second week of March 2021, several parts in East and North East Delhi suffered acute water shortage for about 48 hours on account some repairing work of an interconnection pipeline by Delhi Jal Board (DJB). 

Summing Up The significant rainfall deficiency in catchment area of Sutlej-Ravi-Beas-Chenab-Jhelum-Indus, Yamuna, Ganga basin & in the hilly areas of J&K, Himachal and Uttarakhand in monsoon, post monsoon 2020 and winter 2021 has caused a remarkable dip in water level in these rivers and reservoirs. Further there has been considerably low snowfall in the Himalayan region in North India.

Several parts of Himachal and Uttarakhand including rural and urban areas are already in the grip of water shortage as being warned by officials and reports. The adverse impact on horticulture and Rabi harvest is evident in these states.

With each passing day the shadow of water scarcity is growing larger over mainland states including Punjab, Chandigarh, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan which are greatly dependent on Himalayan rivers and reservoirs to meet potable and irrigation water needs.

The summer time also witnesses further decline in groundwater table which is the main water lifeline in the region and already being exploited unsustainably.

The prevailing scenario warrants advance planning to deal with the unfolding situation and better management of available water resources. Such crisis response planning is required from each state, each district, each block, each project and also from the Central Govt. Otherwise an intense water crisis is just lurking over North India to further aggravate interstate water disputes and make our tap run dry. The poor will suffer the most if we do not wake up in time. Action is particularly required when the Covid graph is rising rapidly with no peak in sight immediately.

Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

End Notes:

[i] https://sandrp.in/2020/06/30/district-wise-rainfall-in-india-in-june-2020/

[ii] https://sandrp.in/2020/07/31/district-wise-rainfall-in-india-in-june-july-2020/

[iii] https://sandrp.in/2020/08/31/district-wise-rainfall-in-june-aug-2020-in-india/

[iv] https://sandrp.in/2020/09/30/monsoon-2020-district-wise-rainfall/

[v] https://sandrp.in/2021/01/01/state-wise-post-monsoon-2020-rainfall/

[vi] https://sandrp.in/2021/03/01/district-wise-winter-2021-rainfall-in-india/

[vii] https://indianexpress.com/article/india/himachal-experiences-driest-september-in-at-least-17-years/

[viii] https://indianexpress.com/article/india/hp-records-28-deficit-rainfall-in-july-6533581/

[ix] https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/himachal-pradesh-stares-at-famine-like-situation-226338

[x] https://indianexpress.com/article/india/himachal-minister-warns-of-looming-water-crisis-says-sources-drying-up-7236307/

[xi] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X96HrPzUkLA&t=43s

[xii] https://www.amarujala.com/shimla/himachal-suffering-from-drought-people-suffering-from-drinking-water-crisis

[xiii] https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/335-water-supply-schemes-on-verge-of-drying-up-in-rain-deficit-himachal/story-84knxhVJLYmo3Si2i0sCIO.html

[xiv] https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/sources-drying-up-kangra-stares-at-water-paucity-231893

[xv] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/no-rain-or-snow-water-level-in-naini-lake-hits-two-year-low/articleshow/80334129.cms

[xvi] https://www.livehindustan.com/uttarakhand/story-less-rainfall-results-in-drought-like-conditions-in-uttarakhand-glaciers-affected-due-to-scanty-rainfall-farmers-face-problem-tourism-sector-affected-3757632.html

[xvii] https://react.etvbharat.com/hindi/uttarakhand/state/rudraprayag/drinking-water-crisis-deepening-in-various-areas-of-rudraprayag/uttarakhand20210301101615382

[xviii] https://www.abplive.com/states/up-uk/many-families-migrated-due-to-water-shortage-in-rudraprayag-ann-1773559

[xix] https://www.jagran.com/uttarakhand/nainital-water-distribution-plan-is-good-but-where-will-the-water-come-from-21433963.html

[xx] https://www.amarujala.com/dehradun/world-water-day-50-percent-water-source-in-uttarakhand-drought-water-supply-mountain-thirsty?pageId=1

[xxi] https://www.amarujala.com/dehradun/world-water-day-50-percent-water-source-in-uttarakhand-drought-water-supply-mountain-thirsty?pageId=1

[xxii] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/ukhand-lost-670-ha-forest-land-to-551-wildfires-in-last-5-months-forest-dept/articleshow/81418062.cms

[xxiii] https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/bhakra-water-level-dips-farmers-worried-227240

[xxiv] http://cwc.gov.in/sites/default/files/25032021-bul.pdf

[xxv] https://www.jagran.com/punjab/chandigarh-drinking-water-crisis-deepens-as-summer-arrives-21448980.html

[xxvi] https://www.bhaskar.com/local/haryana/rohtak/narnaul/news/water-level-of-bhakra-and-yamuna-decreased-water-crisis-deepens-in-gt-road-belt-and-southern-haryana-before-summer-128259681.html

[xxvii] https://www.jagran.com/haryana/panchkula-possibility-of-large-water-crisis-in-summer-by-water-from-yamuna-river-to-haryana-reached-to-half-21452445.html

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