Gujarat passes groundwater bill

The legislation makes it mandatory for farmers to get licence for extracting water

By Anupam Chakravartty
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

IN 1973, Gujarat became the first state to introduce legislation that restricted farmers from extracting groundwater. For a water-stressed state the Groundwater Conservation Bill was godsend, said water experts. But the then chief minister, Chimanbhai Patel, refused to sign the bill fearing its impact on the state’s 0.3 million farmers.

Forty years later on February 27, the Gujarat government, led by Chief Minister Narendra Modi, passed a bill which drew the ire of his opponents in the light of growing industrialisation. If implemented, the bill would require farmers to get licence to draw underground water exceeding proscribed depth (45 metres). As per the bill, all the 5.5 million farmers in the state have to declare their source of irrigation water.

The Irrigation and Drainage Bill of 2013 seeks to replace and repeal the existing Gujarat Irrigation Act of 1879. It proposes appointment of canal officers who would have the power to detain farmers violating the rules. It prescribes provisions to monitor irrigation schemes, water distribution, set up and maintain water-gauges. The bill makes it mandatory for a farmer to apply for a licence from the canal officer of his area if he wants to construct a tubewell or borewell or an artesian well, exceeding the depth of 45 metres. It also seeks to charge farmers for irrigation water reaching cultivated land within 200 metres of a canal either by percolation or leakage, surface flow or by means of a well-sunk from the canal.

The bill proposes penal action against “errant” farmers, including imprisonment up to six months or fine to the extent of Rs 10,000.

Source: Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board

“The bill is meant for equitable distribution of water resources,” says state water resources minister Babubhai Bokhiria. But leaders from the opposition, mainly the Congress and the Gujarat Parivartan Party, have challenged the bill, saying industry gets more water than farmers in Gujarat. “When it comes to groundwater extraction, there is no cap for industry. Why a poor farmer has to pay the price?” asks Congress leader Balwantsinh Rajput.

A recent report by the developers of Dholera Special Investment Region (SIR), which would feed the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, pegs water requirement at 947 million litres per day. The water resources would be used for activities like water sports and fish farms, says the report. In the absence of perennial rivers and groundwater, the nodal agency to oversee the completion of the Dholera SIR, Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board, demanded water from the Narmada dam.

But Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which regulates the distribution of Narmada water, declined, stating that two per cent of the Narmada water meant for industries is already being utilised.

Who will quench the thirst?

Despite the presence of a canal network, groundwater continues to be scarce in Gujarat. The state is yet to devise a plan to bring canal water to the arid parts, namely Saurashtra and Kachchh. A 2007 study by the Central Ground Water Board found that of the state’s 184 talukas, 131 were extracting more groundwater than the annual recharge. Data compiled by the state’s Groundwater Resources Development Corporation for 2011 shows the groundwater level in the state has declined by 80 metres in the past three decades. Decline in groundwater levels average about three metres per year.

Will the bill be able to stop overextraction of groundwater? Tushaar Shah of International Water Management Institute (IWMI) says such regulations can have a bearing on the voting trend, even as the decision to introduce the bill seems to be a planned move after Modi’s re-election. “Over the years, groundwater irrigators (those who extract groundwater) in Gujarat have become a powerful pressure group that can mobilise large numbers of votes in the state’s general elections around their common concern about irrigation,” Shah writes in his paper published in the journal Agriculture Water Management in 2008.

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  • Modi this time no vote for

    Modi this time no vote for you, my mistake voted for you,... feeling sorry

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • Everything, which he is doing

    Everything, which he is doing is for the betterment of Gujarat & with proper planning to solve drought & flood conditions.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • It is a wise move.

    It is a wise move. Indiscrimate tapping of ground water is the cause for drought. In Tamil Nadu some time back Farmers have done away with cultivation in one season to save ground water. We must think of our future generations.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • Sardar Patel Sahakari Jal

    Sardar Patel Sahakari Jal Sanchaya Yojana in 2000. The programme focused on the stateÔÇÖs arid Saurashtra, Kachchh, Ahmedabad and Sabarkantha regions. The programme achieved a remarkable success in Saurashtra. Official statistics show 38 per cent of the 70,719 check dams built across the state till March 2012 are in the Saurashtra region.& The joy of reaping a good harvest amid drought is not limited to Mespur. Hundreds of villages across Saurashtra are sailing through drought with little impact on agriculture. Prafulla Faldu, trustee of non-profit Saurashtra Jaldhara Trust, says unlike droughts of the 1990s, water scarcity this time is mostly felt in urban areas. WhatÔÇÖs more, the region that was once known for its partially desert topography and severe droughts, now drives the stateÔÇÖs agricultural growth of 9.6 per cent. THESE THINGS SAY DIFFERENT STORY - Now there is an increase in groundwater level, leading to a boom in agriculture in the region. Girdhar Satasia, a farmer in Boria village of Rajkot, says groundwater level was 182 metres below the ground in 2001; now it is at 6 metres. ÔÇ£We grow three crops a year. Over 800 farm workers from textile town of Jetpur and faraway central Gujarat work in our fields,ÔÇØ says Patel.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply