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Order will impact 450 ongoing projects
The Punjab and Haryana High Court has ordered the Haryana authorities to seal all tubewells at construction sites in Gurgaon. They have been given two weeks to execute the order. The court has also directed the administration to take action against builders of both commercial and residential projects who have got licences after 2008 and are illegally using groundwater. The order will affect developers of 450 ongoing projects who will not be able to use groundwater, the levels of which have been declining rapidly in the Millennium City.
The court’s acting chief justice, Jasbir Singh, directed the Gurgaon deputy commissioner to set up a committee that will check illegal tubewells at construction sites. The court also directed the commissioner to equip authorised tube wells with meters to monitor the quantity of water being drawn. The order is to be executed by the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA), the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon and the Town and Country Planning Department (TCPD), according to the deputy commissioner P C Meena.
This order follows an earlier order of July 16, in which the court had restrained HUDA from issuing new licences to developers in Gurgaon unless they give an undertaking that groundwater would not be consumed for construction work.
The Central Ground Water Board estimates there are 11,000 borewells in Gurgaon, though unofficial estimates put the number at around 30,000. The principal secretary of TCPD, S S Dhillon, said total groundwater extraction is around 628 million gallons a day (2,855 million litres). Because of this, groundwater levels have declined at the rate of one to two metres a year over the past decade.
The court has fixed August 21 as the next date of hearing. It has directed the state government to provide information about the main source of water for construction work in Gurgaon, as well as how the administration plans to tackle the city's water problems. During the hearing, the court observed the administration’s casual attitude towards the problem, stating that there seemed to be a collusion between them and the builders. The court instructed the administration to produce data about the total requirement of water for Gurgaon and how much is used for construction.
The court’s order is in response to a petition filed in 2008 by Sunil Singh, a lawyer, alleging that real estate giant DLF was illegally operating 28 wells to service its commercial office hub, Cyber City. The scope of the case expanded to check rampant extraction of groundwater across the city and also ensuring adequate piped water supply.
Amit Singh, the petitioner’s lawyer, said: “If the development and construction is not sustainable then a moratorium should be issued, and the court is in agreement with us. The respondents are behaving as if unabated construction is a god given right.”
But a complete ban of groundwater, although desirable, may be impractical. People have invested in projects where more than 20,000 labourers are employed. But then piping more and more water from great distances is not a viable solution. This is why the court in March this year had directed the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) to file a comprehensive affidavit by May 1, outlining how it would regulate groundwater use.
CGWA has sought extension of the court's deadline. The court has been asking CGWA to give details of groundwater levels in the fast expanding industrial and financial hub since May last year.