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Drive against borewells holds no water

gurgaon Updated: Nov 15, 2012 02:33 IST
Sanjeev K Ahuja
Sanjeev K Ahuja
Hindustan Times
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Despite the promise of crackdown on illegal use of groundwater in the wake of a Punjab and Haryana High Court order by the district administration, the misuse of the precious resource continues unabated.

Although the administration has filed cases against a few developers and sealed borewells, developers manage to get their way around, thanks to inefficient surveillance.

The court had on July 16 asked the state government not to give go-ahead to any new construction project in Gurgaon district unless the builder gives an undertaking that he would not use groundwater for construction work.

A pressure group has written to the directorate of town and country planning, urging it to check groundwater extraction as well as the licences given to the developers for building townships.

In its letter, Mission Gurgaon Development explains how “Gurgaon falls in high-risk seismic zone IV, making it highly vulnerable to earthquakes. ".

"On March last year, I had theorised that fast depleting groundwater levels in Gurgaon are not only a risk from the point of view of water security, but also from the point of view of manifold increased damage and loss of life in case of an earthquake. The Sohna faultline also lies within the district," says Sarvadaman Oberoi, secretary, Uniworld Garden Apartment Owners Association.

Oberoi is also a member of Mission Gurgaon Development.

When HT sought the opinion of Prof Anita Sinvhal of School of Earthquake Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee, it found that the residents' fears were not unfounded.

"In case of the Latur earthquake (1993, magnitude 6.4), it was suspected (by the victims) that the cause of the earthquake was excessive pumping of groundwater for agricultural purposes," she said.

"Excessive, fast and continued pumping of water not only creates an underground cavity, but is also capable of changing the stress regime in the area —the primary cause of earthquakes. This condition can be aggravated in an area where prevailing seismotectonic conditions already betray frequent low magnitude earthquakes," she added.

If the groundwater level came down by one meter per year in Old Gurgaon localities, it plummeted by seven metre a year between 2007 and 2011 in new Gurgaon where privately-developed townships witnesses large-scale construction.

The residents fear that if there is a fall in groundwater level by more than 50 metre (164 feet) from the optimum level, the damage risk from an earthquake is increased several times as was seen in the cases of Bhuj, California and recently in Spain.

In Gurgaon, the groundwater level fell by 40-50 metre in the last three decades and the average decline touched 2-3 metre in 2012 on account of sudden spurt in construction activities.

"This is nothing short of a suicidal act by the state government. Models have been developed that can calculate the stress change or perturbation caused by groundwater related unloading process. Earthquakes are certain to occur, but the amount of damage it can cause is in our hands," Oberoi said. When contacted, a senior town and country planning department official said that he would "seriously" look into the matter.

Qutab Enclave Residents Welfare Association (DLF City) and one Sunil Singh had filed a petition with the high court in 2009 on depleting groundwater.