In water-stressed Gujarat, government proposes to punish farmers who draw groundwater

Bill introduced in Assembly says errant farmers can be imprisoned up to six months or fined up to Rs 10,000

By Anupam Chakravartty
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Groundwater is scarce in Gujarat. Nonetheless the state government led by Chief Minister Narendra Modi introduced a bill in the state Assembly on Tuesday which seeks to penalise farmers who draw water from 45 metres (147.64 feet) or more below the ground without permission.

Introduced by state water resources minister, Babubhai Bokhiria, the Irrigation and Drainage Bill of 2013 seeks to replace the existing Gujarat Irrigation Act of 1879. Further, the bill also seeks to charge farmers for irrigation water reaching any 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. Opposition parties, Congress and Gujarat Parivartan Party, have strongly criticised the proposed bill, saying if enacted it would terrorise the farmers already reeling from water scarcity.

Licence mandated for well digging

The bill makes it mandatory for a farmer to apply for a licence from the canal officer of his area if he or she wants to construct a tubewell or borewell or an artesian well for extracting groundwater if it is exceeding the depth of 45 metre. The Bill also seeks to cover existing wells on any agricultural land.

For the implementation of this law, the Bill proposes appointment of canal officers who would have the powers to detain the farmers violating the rules. The new Bill prescribes provisions to monitor irrigation schemes, water distribution, maintenance of irrigation channels, set up and maintain water-gauges. “And only upon grant of licence from the canal officer can he construct a tubewell or borewell or artesian well,” the Bill says. The Bill also proposes penal action against errant farmers, including imprisonment of up to six months or fine up to Rs 10,000.

Meanwhile, the Congress leaders have already planned to take the issue to the farmers. “There is no such cap for the industries drawing water resources from the state but a poor farmer has to pay for drawing groundwater,” said Congress leader and member of Legislative Assembly, Balwantsinh Rajput. Bokhiria later issued a statement in which he rationalised the  introduction of the Bill, stating that it is meant for equitable distribution of water resources.

“At present irrigation through surface water and ground water is regulated by the Gujarat Irrigation Act. Consistent with the principles and guidelines for equitable and efficient irrigation through adoption of rotational water distribution system and supply of water, levy of water rates on volumetric basis and participation of farmers in irrigation management, it is considered necessary to enact the fresh legislation replacing the Gujarat Irrigation Act,” he adds.

According to the state government's own reports, groundwater table especially in several areas across Gujarat has declined precipitously since 2001. Groundwater Resources Development Corporation (GRWDC) data of 2011 states that the ground water levels in the region have declined by about 80 metre in the past 30 years. The current levels are anywhere from 100 metre to 200 metre below the surface. Decline in ground water levels average about 3 metres per year.



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