Strict Conditions For Commercial Use Of Groundwater

  • Recently, in a major revamp of regulations, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has set out stringent conditions for commercial groundwater use.
  • The NGT order came while hearing a plea filed by a Haryana-resident alleging illegal extraction of groundwater and discharge of polluted water into drain by an industrial unit in Panipat (Haryana).
  • In addition, NGT has also struck down the Central Ground Water Authority’s (CGWA) 2020 guidelines, saying they were against the law.
  • The 2018 version of the guidelines had been struck down by the NGT last year.

Need for Conditions

  • Extraction of groundwater has been liberalised, adding to the crisis, unmindful of the ground situation and likely impact it will have on the environment.
  • India was at the bottom of the water quality index, at 120 among 122 countries.
  • 54% of India’s groundwater wells have decreased in levels, with 21 major cities across the country expected to run out of groundwater by 2020.
  • India accounted for 25 percent of the total annual global water extracted, with the extraction level steadily increasing.
  • According to a report by the Central Water Commission (CWC), the annual replenishable groundwater resources in India (2017) are 432 BCM, out of which 393 BCM is the annual “extractable” groundwater availability.
  • No state in India has shown any confidence inspiring attempt to regulate groundwater use or ensure that groundwater recharge mechanisms are protected and enhanced.
  • If the present rate of groundwater depletion persists, India will only have 22% of the present daily per capita water available in 2050, possibly forcing the country to import its water.

New Conditions laid by NGT

  • NGT has specifically banned the general permission for the withdrawal of groundwater, especially to the commercial entities without an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).
  • Industries must expect a complete overhaul in the manner in which the permits are issued for the extraction of groundwater for commercial activities. They must ensure that all the conditions are complied with.
  • Permits must be for the specified quantity of water and must be monitored with digital flow metres and audited every year by the third parties.
  • Strict actions, including prosecution and blacklisting, must be taken against those who will fail the audit.
  • As per the new rules, the authorities are given three months to make water management plans for all the overexploited, semi-critical, and critical areas.

Impact and Associated Concerns

  • The policy vacuum triggered by a NGT order on the use of groundwater has impacted businesses across sectors.
  • These directions may put rigorous requirements on the businesses at a time when they have been trying to find their way amid COVID-19.
  • Further, the restrictions make access of groundwater very difficult.
  • The move by NGT has also been interfering with the legislative functions of the Jal Shakti Ministry.

Way Forward

  • In order to address various issues related to ground water, keeping in view the climatic change, there is a need to prepare a comprehensive road map with identified strategies for scientific and sustainablemanagement of the available ground water resources in the country so as to avert the looming watercrisis.
  • The strategies should also focus on the imbalances in ground water development in the country, reasons thereof and suggesting measures including accelerated development of ground water in areas with low stage of ground water development.
  • There is an urgent need to change the status quo with tough regulations. Besides appropriate pricing of groundwater, policies that promote judicious use of groundwater in every sector is required.
  • Efforts also needed to institutionalise and strengthen community-based groundwater management.
  • Generating awareness about the status of local groundwater resources, education and social mobilisation should form the core elements of community-based groundwater management.
  • State governments need to take policy action to facilitate formation of Groundwater User’s Associations which possess the power to manage, maintain and distribute water resources efficiently.
  • A groundwater literacy movement should be launched to highlight the irreparable consequences of its over-exploitation.

National Green Tribunal

  • Established in 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act, it is a specialized environmental court that deals with cases relating to environmental protection and the conservation of forests.
  • It has judicial powers that allow it to exclusively decide civil environmental matters.
  • The tribunal is guided by principles of natural justice and is not bound by the mainstream code of civil procedure.