Believe it or not. But it is a fact. Over a century old British era law, providing absolute rights to people on the groundwater is still in operation.
It is proving to be an impediment for all government initiatives to check the over-exploitation of the precious resource particularly for commercial use.
Alarmed by the fast-dipping groundwater levels in various parts of the country, the government is contemplating to amend the 125-year-old Indian Easement Act and provide a comprehensive policy framework in the 11th Five Year Plan for this purpose.
The framework would entail considering levying a cess on groundwater extraction (read commercial use) to be spent on its recharge, as also looking into the possibility of making water a concurrent subject. Presently, water is a state subject.
A strong feeling is expressed by the hydrologists that the country would become water stressed after two decades if over-exploitation of groundwater was not checked. Water Resources Ministry has decided to widely debate the crucial issues as a prelude to the proposed policy frame-work. Presently, only some parts of the country are facing a serious groundwater crisis.
Echoing the experts' concerns on the subject, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia admitted that the country lacked a "sensible groundwater management policy".
Talking to Hindustan Times on the sidelines of a national symposium on 'Ownership of Groundwater and its Pricing', in New Delhi on Tuesday, he said an expert committee headed by the Commission member Kirit Parekh was studying the subject. Its recommendations would be key to the policy formulation.
Given the politically sensitive nature of the subject, all issues should be thoroughly debated before taking a final decision, he said. Supporting Ahluwalia's views, Water Resources Minister Saif-ud-din Soz disclosed that a Groundwater Congress would be held next month to further discuss the issue. Lack of attention to water conservation, efficiency in water use and groundwater recharge has led to water scarcity, he added.
Ahluwalia expressed surprise that a most crucial aspect of the National Water Policy declaring it as a 'Precious National Asset' had been ignored. This is where the policy framework would be needed to protect this valuable commodity, he said adding: "The existence of a 125-year-old Act is fundamentally inconsistent with the National Water Policy."
Saleem Romani, Chairman Central Ground Water Board and KD Sharma, Director National Institute of Hydrology said serious problems had arisen due to misuse of groundwater. Incidentally, India is the largest user of groundwater followed by USA.