the Union government recently asked the states, in no uncertain terms, to get their act together in 'groundwater management' and do it fast. The ministries of agriculture and water resources jointly summoned top bureaucrats from all states and union territories to formulate an action plan on "how to use water more efficiently". Groundwater was the most critical issue on the table at the two-day conference, the first of its kind, held in New Delhi. Everything related to it was discussed at the meet: methodology to estimate the levels of water table; artificial and natural recharge methods; pricing the resource for bulk users; and most importantly, enactment of legislation on groundwater by the states.
Much of the deliberations revolved around the irrigation sector, which consumes more than 85 per cent of the country's 'utilisable' water resources, according to government figures. The chief secretaries, principal secretaries and command area authorities discussed efficiency levels of irrigation systems; rationalisation of water charges for irrigation; flood management; large-scale reservoir siltation; and groundwater exploitation.
Experts suggest adopting a tough stand towards the states due to their dismal track record. "Most states fail to come up with the required information on time for our estimation records," complains a Central Groundwater Authority (cgwa) official. At the meet, the defaulters promised to complete their work by December 2004. No such deadlines were, however, set for enacting state groundwater laws, a long overdue commitment. The process had begun way back in 1969 but till now only four states -- Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala -- and the union territory of Lakshwadeep have enacted the law. These laws are vital, especially since the government is now proactively talking about pricing groundwater for bulk consumers.