The economic returns to groundwater irrigation motivated tremendous growth in the use of groundwater since 1970s. This development was actively supported through soft loans from institutional finance, free electrical power to lift groundwater, some provisions of the land reforms act, institutional finance and refinance to groundwater dependent enterprises and the overall demonstration effect. In some areas, this development has resulted in cumulative well interference leading to reduction in water availability due to competitive race for groundwater gradually abandoning using their wells. Apart from this abandonment (or well failure) during operational stage, the failure of wells is also increasing at the installation (or the construction) stage itself.

In Karnataka, about 50 per cent of the wells are owned by small and marginal farmers. The analysis of such abandoned and failed wells would be necessary to estimate the societal loss in real investment of both equity and borrowed capital, the economic impact on different classes of farmers in different situations of cropping pattern, revenues from marketing groundwater, the structural adjustments on different classes of farmers and the probability of the success of a well. This study is a modest attempt to locate which type of farmers, crop patterns and locations contribute to well failure for policy implications on abandoned and failed wells. The need for a separate study of failed and abandoned wells was suggested in the Ford Foundation sponsored workshop on " Groundwater policy and management in hardrock areas " held at TamilNadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, in October 1989. Though a few studies related to failed dug wells are available, studies on failed borewells in hard rock areas are not available.

A study on expost evaluation of dug well investments in hard rock areas of Karnataka, dealt with a few case studies of failed dug wells Deshpande, Chandrakanth and Chandrashekar, 1984). In a case that of a small farmer who had borrowed funds from the Primary Land Development Bank, her economic position would be have been better, had she not borrowed for the dug well which failed. The procedure for establishing failed well was complicated and it took sufficient time to get failed well subsidy on the loan amount. The transaction cost of declaration of a failed well was high in terms of number of trips to be made to the concerned offices and the time involved in administrative procedures.

Boring inside the dug wells was a profitable venture in a hard rock watershed area providing an IRR of 32.5 %. However about 58 per cent of the farmers were not successful in obtaining adequate water from in ‑bores. For farmers who planned to drill, the value of information on availability of groundwater though the electro‑sensitivity sounding method was more than its cost. But yet the method was not adopted by them (Engelhardt, 1985).

Swaminathan and Kandasamy (1989) studied the impact of groundwater over‑draft on different classes of farmers in an overexploited block (Avinashi taluk) and in a taluk where there was large scale financing for wells (Perianaickenpalyam taluk) in Coimbatore district, Tamilnadu. A majority of the marginal and small farmers jointly owned the wells in the area. and The impact was (1) the wells of marginal farmers were deeper than that of small farmers, (2) all the classes of farmers spent more money on deepening existing wells compared with costs of initial digging (for instance the cost of deepening formed 134 per cent of the cost of initial sinking of wells of Marginal farmers in Avinashi taluk) (3) farmers left 50 per cent of their cultivable area fallow as they were not getting adequate water, nevertheless growing high water crops like sugarcane, turmeric and cotton realizing higher net returns from intensive farming.

A recent study by NABARD, Bangalore regional office (1990) on borewell financing indicated that about 7 per cent of the borewells financed were abandoned as they had poor discharge or were not utilized fully. The banks finance the borrowers only if the borewell drilled have a yield of at least 2 liters per second. It may hence be even difficult to obtain the list of farmers who have abandoned their wells or whose wells failed.

Clients for the study

  1. Failed / abandoned borewell farmers

  2. NABARD, PCARDBs, Commercial Banks, Rural Banks ‑ who provide institutional finance to farmers

  3. Operators of Schemes like Hundred Wells Scheme and IRDP

  4. Department of Mines and Geology, Government of Karnataka, who are planning to enact a legislation for regulation of use of groundwater for irrigation

  5. Karnataka Electricity Board, who provide power for the groundwater irrigation at a flat rate

  6. General Insurance Corporation of India who were involved in insuring wells.
  7. Karnataka Rajya Ryata Sangha, a recognized farmers' association playing a dominant role in shaping the policies relating to groundwater development.


Motivation for private profits, increased density of irrigation wells, reduction in the rainfall and the number of rainy days have all contributed to well failure.

Information gaps and consequent value of new or improved (research) information.

The impact on well failure differs in relation to when it fails (at the time of installation or during operation stage). This further has differential impact on the class of farmers depending upon their ability to bear the risks and face contingencies. The perception of the causes of well failure according to farmers may be different from that of the hydrogeologists for instance. These perceptions are useful in convincing farmers and policy makers about the need for an efficient groundwater management policy including irrigation efficient device, power tariff and insurance policies. In addition it is necessary for policy makers to know the differential impacts of well failure on classes of farmers and classes of crops for policies on crop substitutions and the role of relative prices in effecting changes in crop patterns.

Research Design

The study considers failed and abandoned bore wells. In addition, a few case studies of failed dug wells and failed dug‑cum‑bore wells will be made. Hence the sample is purposive. Since the definition of failed wells differs according to the client, the field definition of failed well as perceived by the farmer will be considered for self‑financed and non‑institutional financed wells, while the definition of NABARD (that a failed well is one which yields below 2 liters per second) will be considered for the NABARD refinanced and wells financed by other institutional sources. A random sample of 30 small farmers (below 5 acres) and 30 large farmers (above 5 acres) will be drawn from one white, one grey and one dark taluk (as defined by the Karnataka State Department of Mines and Geology) since the NABARD refinance is limited to white and grey blocks only. The dark block is chosen to examine, whether the macro level declaration of areas as white, grey or dark gets reflected in greater well failures at the micro level also.

The researchable questions

(I). Whose well failed first in the area under question?

  1. What measures did the farmer(s) took to meet the situation ; for instance changed the cropping pattern, / drilled another well / deepened the existing well / changed to a higher or lower pump capacity / used less water by using efficient irrigation methods of drip / sprinkler irrigation.

  2. How many more wells failed surrounding the existing failed well

  3. Do failed well farmers recognize the need for institutional means of meeting the situation and if so, what are the recognizable institutions adopted to meet the eventuality

  4. Whose wells (surrounding the failed well/wells) are still working and what are the characteristics of the successful wells in terms of size of irrigation, cropping pattern adopted in the well command, size of the pump used, frequency of irrigation.

  5. Are they early?comers or later?comers?

(II). Where the irrigation wells are failing? with what intensity / probability? (based on post stratification)

  1. in areas where groundwater is overexploited?

  2. in areas where density of wells is high? and if so, which type of well (surface borewell / dug cum bore well etc)

  3. in areas where wells are in the command of a tank or other surface irrigation structures

  4. where the rainfall is low

  5. where the number of rainy days is low

  6. where the area under mulberry / vegetables / paddy / sugarcane under the well command is high

  7. in well commands which use furrow / flood irrigation (compared to drip / sprinkler irrigation)

  8. where electricity supply is very good

  9. where the well is not financed by institutional sources

  10. (because non financial institutional sources do not insist on geophysical survey and other quality control requirements)
  11. where minimum interwell spacing requirement is not followed

  12. where higher capacity pumps are installed

  13. where wells are observably connected

  14. where there are no institutional arrangements to use well water

  15. frequency of failure high after 1970 / 1980

  16. where farmers over irrigate or where frequency of irrigation is more than the norm prescribed (package of practices of UAS)

  17. where it is close to a public bore well (for drinking water) or a public groundwater lift irrigation scheme

  18. where groundwater is sold against where groundwater is not sold

  19. in the upstream, midstream or downstream area of a watershed

  20. where the drilling point shown by a geologist was not followed by the farmer

  21. where the well was drilled according to the point shown by water witch.

(III) When did the well fail?

  1. at the time of installation

  2. number of years it still worked well before finally abandoning

  3. failed only certain years but worked in certain other years

(IV). Which type/s of well are failing ? (through group interviews)

  1. only dug wells

  2. only dug cum bore wells

  3. bore wells


(I) Identification of the causes of well failure

(II) Exploring the institutional arrangements adopted by failed well owners (if any) in order to meet the situation they are facing

(III) Examine how market for:

  1. lifted groundwater

  2. different types of pumps

  3. electricity

  4. well drilling services

  5. institutional credit

  6. noninstitutional credit influence the well failure.

(IV) Explore the measures adopted by failed well owners (if any) in order to meet the situation they are facing

  1. institutional

  2. agronomic adopting drip, sprinkler systems

  3. economic growing low water high value crops

  4. totally giving up using groundwater

  5. going for more explorations

  6. deepening existing well

  7. buying water from elsewhere

  8. land sale and out migration

(V) Are the water sellers tending to become water lords? (by exploiting buyers by charging high prices ? is there any correlation between higher the sale of water higher the well failure, because of greater exploitation?)

(VI). How much of capital is being invested in exploring of groundwater (data from borewell drillers association if any) ? data from local water diviners, geologists, Karnataka State Agro Industries Corporation Variables and sources of variation

  1. Number and type(s) of irrigation wells in the overexploited area

  2. Rainfall data, number of rainy days, rainfall magnitude

  3. Nature of soil, geology of area dominating the failed wells

  4. Magnitude of institutional finance

  5. Historical data on institutional finance to well irrigation as well as enterprises dependent on well irrigation

  6. Electricity data from Electricity Board on the magnitude of power being consumed by all the irrigation wells (if available)

  7. Area under different types of crops usually followed by irrigated well farmers

  8. Historic data on water levels in the wells (from Dept of Mines and Geology and Central ground water board)

  9. Historic data from borewell owners on where and to what depth they have drilled irrigation wells, have they received information on well failure, how many wells they deepened etc

  10. Number of wells under the tank command and other surface irrigation structures.

  11. Whether farmers do want to take up drilling if there is insurance against well failure


  1. T. Engelhardt, Assessing risk in drilling in?well bores: Evidence from a watershed in south peninsular India, ICRISAT, Patancheru, July 1985.

  2. R.S. Deshpande, M.G. Chandrakanth and H. Chandrashekar, Expost evaluation of dugwell investments in hard rock areas of Karnataka (Kolar district report), Institute for Social and Economic Change, Nagarabhavi, Bangalore, 1984.

  3. National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development, Borewell financing in Chitradurga and Kolar Districts ? Karnataka (An expost evaluation study), Regional Office, Bangalore, 1990.

  4. L.P. Swaminathan and P. Kandasamy, Groundwater development and its consequences in Coimbatore district, Tamilnadu, paper presented at the Workshop on efficiency and equity in groundwater use and management, IRMA, Anand, Gujarath, Jan?Feb 1989.

  5. M.P. Vasimalai, Discussants report on 'Equity issues', in the Ford Foundation sponsored workshop on Groundwater policy and management in hardrock areas, Tamilnadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, Oct 1989.