Centre proposes nixing recharge requirement for industries extracting groundwater

Published on Oct 16, 2017 11:49 AM IST

The proposed rules replace the requirement to ensure groundwater recharge with a ‘water conservation fee’ to be paid to states for effective groundwater management.

If current trends for groundwater exploitation continue almost 60% of India’s aquifers will be in a critical condition within 20 years, according to the World Bank.(PTI photo)
If current trends for groundwater exploitation continue almost 60% of India’s aquifers will be in a critical condition within 20 years, according to the World Bank.(PTI photo)

Under a set of proposed revisions to groundwater extraction guidelines, the Ministry for Water Resources, River development and Ganga Rejuvenation, has sought to replace requirements for industries to recharge groundwater they extract with a ‘water conservation fee.’

The revenue from the fee will be used by states for “effective groundwater management.”

Groundwater resources in India are heavily exploited with almost 70% of the rural population reliant on groundwater to meet its water needs. Of the 6,607 assessment units (blocks, mandals, talukas and districts), 1,071 are over-exploited, 217 are critical, 697 are semi-critical, 4,580 are safe and 92 are saline, according to a 2011 government assessment.

“If current trends continue, within 20 years, 60% of all aquifers in India will be in a critical condition,” a 2012 World Bank report warned.

Regulation of groundwater extraction has been lax and uneven across the country, spawning many disputes that have ended up in the country’s apex green tribunal, National Green Tribunal. In 2014, the NGT called for levying charges for groundwater extraction.

The proposals are seen as an attempt to rationalise the guidelines and ensure better implementation. Experts say that the guidelines would mark a shift in the regulation regime and do very little to address the underlying issues of implementation.

“As the first step it is good, in the long run one doesn’t know whether payment of a fee will lead to improved action on the ground, in the form of effective recharge and efficient groundwater conservation,” Himanshu Kulkarni, Founder Trustee and Executive Director, ACWADAM, said.

Groundwater cannot be extracted from notified areas except for drinking water and domestic purposes.The guidelines laid down by the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) govern withdrawal of groundwater in non-notified areas.

There are two mechanisms for regulation: issuing No Objection Certificates (NOCs) for development of extraction points and ensuring recharge of the water extracted, which the proposed rules replace with charging for water extraction.

“All industries, mining, infrastructure dewatering projects, whether existing, new, under expansion which are already drawing/proposing to draw groundwater through energized means,” need an NOC. Farmers do not need an NOC.

Currently, the authority to issue NOCs lies with the CGWA, but the draft guidelines delegate the power for certain categories of users to district magistrates, deputy commissioners, state groundwater authorities/state nodal agencies, who will have to decide based on the use, the area and the quantum of water to be extracted. Some experts believe these authorities are not equipped for the function or to ensure groundwater management.

“The powers vested in various authorities and the basis of different categories are just too simplistic to ensure equity and efficiency in the system,” Kulkarni said. “The capacities of different state agencies on this subject are far too variable to ensure an equitable and just application of the rules.”

There are four other categories of groundwater users who could pay differential rates depending on the use, classification of the aquifer they seek to exploit and the quantity of water to be extracted.

“Government infrastructure projects, government water supply agencies and Group Housing Societies/ Private housing societies with only basic amenities,” are exempt from paying water charge under the draft rules. The other kinds of users are infrastructure projects, that pay the lowest charges, packaged drinking water, mineral water, soft drink manufacturers, breweries and distilleries that fall in a higher bracket. Mining projects and infrastructure dewatering projects are liable to pay the highest charges. However, government mining operations are exempt.

”There is a huge scope for misuse in the name of agriculture and drinking water purposes even in notified areas,” “ Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), a network of organizations and individuals working on water issues, said.

The larger problem is that groundwater aquifer mapping in the country is incomplete and outdated. The last assessment of groundwater resources was released in 2011 and assesses resources based on administrative divisions. A more scientific way of mapping aquifers is currently underway in India. Of 23 lakh sq km of mappable area in the country, aquifer maps and management plans have been developed for 5.20 lakh sq km area, the water ministry said in a reply to Parliament in February.

Kulkarni suggested, “the application of these new guidelines in areas where aquifer mapping is complete” rather than as a blanket execution to all the regions of the country.

The ministry dispatched the draft guidelines for the issuance of NOCs to all state governments on Wednesday, seeking comments over the next 60 days.

Over-Exploited Assessment units (As on March 2011)

1. Andhra Pradesh 41

2. Chhattisgarh 1

3. Gujarat 24

4. Haryana 71

5. Himachal Pradesh 1

6. Jharkhand 6

7. Karnataka 63

8. Kerala 1

9. Madhya Pradesh 24

10. Maharashtra 10

11. Punjab 110

12. Rajasthan 172

13. Tamil Nadu 374

14. Telangana 42

15. Uttar Pradesh 111

16. Daman & Diu 1

17. Delhi 18

18. Puducherry 1

Grand Total : 1071


    Malavika Vyawahare tells science and environment stories using words, photos and multimedia. She studied environmental journalism at Columbia University and is based in Delhi.

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