Margaret Bourke- White/The LIFE Picture Collection
Can you imagine drawing water, by hand, from a well 370 feet deep? That is equivalent to dropping a pail down a 35 storied building, multiple times, just to fill a pot. Of course, you would first have to dig down the height of a 35 storied building.
But such wells exist, by the government's own admission, in parts of Rajasthan. In Maharashtra, they go even deeper.
To tackle this crisis of groundwater depletion, the central government has come out with a new policy.
It is a welcome and timely movie. The key question now is, will it work?
The government observes water levels before every monsoon in 13,000 wells across the country. In its study in 2015, it found that water levels in over half its observation wells had dropped from last year.
In almost all states, the water level in 2015 was lower than even the average of the last 10 years.
The situation was severe in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
In Tamil Nadu, 95% of open wells are dry, and water levels in the rest drop by five feet every year.
These were formulated by the Central Groundwater Authority, or CGWA, under the water resources ministry.
The guidelines restrict industries from drawing groundwater in places where it is over-exploited.
The rules identify 14 industries - like bottled water and soft drinks plants, paper factories - as "water intensive". These are now banned from drawing groundwater in over-exploited areas.
In a first, the rules mandate that industries can use groundwater in deficient regions only if they recharge it. In the most stressed regions, they would have to recharge almost double the amount of water they plan to draw.
In "notified areas" - such as several blocks of Punjab and Haryana - water can be drawn only for drinking purposes.
However, the biggest challenge in regulating groundwater is the difficulty in monitoring. To keep tabs on borewell digging, a large number of inspectors would be required.
There is already a staff crunch in state bodies that would carry out such inspections.
Implementing the policy is left almost entirely to "authorised officers" on the ground. This leaves scope for corrupt practices.
The monitoring is especially difficult given the scale. India draws twice as much groundwater as the US, but would have to enforce the new rules on 100 times as many irrigators, according to a study by Tushaar Shah, senior fellow at the International Water Management Institute.
According to Shah, the rules can be effective only if backed by law. But while a model groundwater bill has been doing the rounds for four decades, it has ever actually been passed into law.
Even if such a law is passed, there are prohibitive costs to "enforcing it on millions of scattered borehole owners in the countryside," according to the study by Shah.
Perhaps, the most important aspect of the policy is how it plans to control the industrial use of groundwater.
"The new guidelines are a significant step forward," says Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Centre, which been fighting against industrial exploitation of groundwater.
"But a lot depends on whether the CGWA will apply the guidelines in letter and spirit."