The National Green Tribunal has ordered the closure of 34 packaged drinking water units in Noida and Greater Noida for extracting ground water and operating illegally. The tribunal has also extended the ban on extraction of groundwater for construction purposes in Noida and Greater Noida till March 21.
The court directed that all these units should stop operations immediately. The ban followed an affidavit filed by chairperson of Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, Bhure Lal. It stated that there are 34 packaging drinking water units operating in Noida and Greater Noida without permission of any authority, including Central Ground Water Authority and Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board.
The affidavit specifically stated that these units were polluting units, and that they are also exploiting ground water.
Earlier on January 11, the tribunal had extended the ban on use of groundwater for construction in Noida and Greater Noida till February 28, stating it was threatening the groundwater levels. The state authorities had also submitted that the use of groundwater by builders "does cause wastage and pollution of the water".
The tribunal had issued show-cause notices to three Noida developers—Cosmic Group, Ramtirth Group and Omaxe—for flouting the order banning use of groundwater, asking them as to why they should not be punished. They had been ordered to appear before the bench on February 28.
Rohtas Goel, managing director of Omaxe, failed to appear in the court while Cosmic Structures Limited, which is developing the Cosmic Corporate Park, and Ram Ratan Real Estate, Greater Noida, sought time to file affidavit. They have been given two weeks to do so; till then the ban would continue.
The earlier ban imposed by the tribunal on drawing groundwater for construction purposes had stirred up a hornet's nest with builders of 3,000 proposed housing units, stalling work in various sectors of Noida. While the builders and buyers of flats in these housing estates are crying foul over the ban, scientists claim that if over-extraction of ground water continues, not only would water table in adjacent Delhi areas fall but there could be also chances of land subsidence. Activists who sought the ban claim that despite so much of hullabaloo, 40 per cent of construction is still going on using groundwater on the sly.
“Even though the Noida Development Authority is monitoring the projects so that they do not extract groundwater, about 40 per cent of construction projects are still doing it,” said Vikrant Kumar Tongad, a member of non-profit Noida Greens and a resident of Noida, who was also the petitioner in the case. On his request, the Central Ground Water Board was also impleaded as a respondent in the case.
The tribunal had also observed that “the underground water utilised for the purposes of construction hardly re-percolates into the earth for the fact that it is a tree-free zone, has concrete base and the water largely is wasted as it flows into drains.” It added that the guidelines that have been duly notified by the Central Ground Water Authority, have been "violated with impunity".
Builders contended that if the ban continues, they will have to bring water from other areas, which would add to the cost of construction. They said that they will have to pay for the water. Besides, they will have to bear the transportation cost. The builders' lobby has sent a budget to the Noida Development Authority on the cost escalation if water from Yamuna is treated and used for construction.
The Noida and Greater Noida authorities have, however, assured that the problem will be sorted out through discussions with real estate developers in a meeting soon. “There should not be any major scarcity of water for construction work as over 90 million litres are discharged daily from water recycling plants and sewage treatment plants. Developers will be required to obtain NOCs from the Central Groundwater Board to have their project layout plans sanctioned. The authority will discuss the issue of cost escalation with developers to find a solution,” said Sanjeev Saran, chief executive of Noida Authority.
“We cannot afford to halt construction work in the absence of groundwater. If water has to be purchased, it will push up prices of projects and buyers will have to bear the burden,” said Geetamber Anand, vice president, Confederation of Real Estate Developers Associations of India (CREDAI).
Developers say that imposing a blanket ban on extraction of groundwater is not a solution to stop its depletion. “The tribunal should have first ordered for a proper assessment of the levels of depletion of groundwater and subsequently devised a solution for its conservation and recharge while undertaking construction work,” added Anand.
CREDAI (west UP) has said pumping out groundwater is necessary for laying foundations of highrise buildings in the region as there is abundance of the resource due to its location between the Yamuna and the Hindon. “There are provisions for recharging groundwater. All developers have been asked by CREDAI to adhere to the guidelines,” said R K Arora, vice-president, CREDAI (west UP).
Thought groundwater can never be taken out completely since as soon as water table falls, water from another channel would balance it, but still, if we suppose that the whole of Noida is cordoned off and ground water is drained out, there would be land subsidence,” says P S Datta, former principal scientist (hydrology), Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI). He added that Noida is located on a fault zone, so it is more vulnerable to subsidence. Moreover, due to over-extraction in Noida or Greater Noida, water table in adjacent areas of Delhi would fall. There could also be microbial formation in the groundwater, he added.
“Over-extraction and misuse of groundwater today could lead to severe drinking water problems in the region later,” he said.