Groundwater extraction by households with regular piped connections and industries in scarce water zones was prohibited with effect from Monday under a new rule that poses a resource management as well as enforcement challenge.
The Central Ground Water Board guideline will be applicable for residential houses in 6,607 notified areas in one-fourth of districts in the country, including most regions of Rajasthan, Punjab, Maharashtra and districts of south, south-west and Yamuna flood plain in Delhi, the entire Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and Ballabgarh.
Though a similar rule was in force in Delhi after a Supreme Court order in 2004, implementation had been poor primarily because of a manpower crunch.
“We will discuss with the Delhi government and see if it is possible and feasible to implement this,” said RS Tyagi, member secretary of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB).
The guideline says permission to extract groundwater will be granted only for such cases where a public water supply system does not exist and will cease once such supply is provided. The rule also prescribes norms for capacity of the motor and width of the extraction pipe to be used for domestic purposes and says the permission will not be transferable.
Sukhvir Singh, a resident of Bhogal in south Delhi, said the guideline would pose problems in the absence of adequate supply from the Jal Board.
“We use DJB water for drinking and cooking and borewell water for other domestic purposes. DJB water comes in the morning and afternoon and is not enough to take care of all our water needs. There will be problems if these borewells are sealed,” Singh said.
India’s average groundwater level fell from 28.7 metres in 1950 to 61.2 metres in 2009. A NASA study of June 2015 based on satellite imagery highlighted that groundwater was fast disappearing from India, especially the northern and eastern regions.
The guideline will apply to all industries and infrastructure projects, including real estate development, with more stringent norms in notified areas than in others. It prohibits allowing industries in 1,071 regions identified as over-exploited, where the recharge is much less than the extraction.
In critical groundwater areas, industries will have to recharge twice the level of extraction and in semi-critical regions, the same will have to be 100%.
Arvind Varma of the Indian Beverage Association said if the guidelines are for new industries, they would be followed. “But for existing plants, you can’t put new conditions overnight,” he said.
Coca-Cola and PepsiCo spokespersons refused to comment, saying they were studying the guidelines.
The politically sensitive farm sector has been left out of the purview of the new regulation. Though Central Ground Water Board officials refused to speak on it, a water resources ministry official admitted it was “too sensitive” a sector for them to touch. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana get subsidised power to extract groundwater for irrigation, a reason for its fast depletion.