Industries seek relief from govt on groundwater use
The policy vacuum triggered by a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order on the use of groundwater has impacted businesses across sectors. In view of the regulatory uncertainty, industry bodies have now approached the Jal Shakti ministry seeking relief on the use of groundwater, considering that more than 20,000 applications for no-objection certificates (NOCs) have been put on hold by the authorities.
In January 2019, the NGT had ordered the Centre to put on hold its new norms on groundwater use.
Representatives of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) wrote to Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar on 16 June to resolve the regulatory uncertainty over granting NOCs.
The Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA), which issues the NOCs, has put the process on hold for critical and overexploited blocks since early 2019, following the NGT order involving a hospitality firm.
The tribunal further ordered in January 2020 that permission should be granted on the basis of a study of groundwater availability and periodical report that replenishment had resulted in improvement.
Non-renewal of the NOCs has become a thorny issue for the industry as a large number of businesses may find themselves on the wrong side of the law despite complying with all the riders that were part of the existing guidelines.
According to an industry executive, about 20,000 applications are pending before the CGWA. Around 800,000 companies fall in overexploited, critical and semi-critical blocks, representing 36% of 3,881 groundwater assessment units, he said, requesting anonymity.
CII said in its representation that non-renewal of the certificates is causing immense hardship to the industry, resulting in closure of businesses and job losses. The industry bodies sought intervention from policymakers to address the issue by way of an ‘interim extension’ to the NOC applications till a clear policy is adopted.
This extension may be granted to businesses submitting an impact assessment by an external agency empanelled by the CGWA, and promise to comply with the new guidelines once they are issued.
“We fully appreciate the concerns expressed by the NGT on the issue of sustainable use of groundwater resource and support any action plan that may be suggested with due consultation with the industry. However, a paralysis of the approval processes needs to be resolved immediately,” said the CII representation to the government, signed off by its director general Chandrajit Banerjee. Mint has reviewed the contents of the letter.
A former government official with direct knowledge of the CGWA guidelines, which were shot down by the NGT, said the Jal Shakti ministry had submitted three reports to the tribunal on further tightening the norms, but all were rejected. “There is merit in the industry’s appeal. No industrial project is approved without water recycling norms. Just because someone breached the norms, is it fair to deny all newcomers a chance? There is no policy to that effect,” he said, also requesting anonymity.
Emailed queries to the Jal Shakti ministry and CGWA remained unanswered till press time.