Govt notifies groundwater rules, fails to address major concerns

There’s neither a limit on reusing water extracted by industries, nor is there any clause making them recharge groundwater sources

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Friday 14 December 2018
Credit: Getty Images

The guidelines to regulate and control groundwater extraction have been notified without incorporating any key expert recommendations. This step, taken by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, overrides the earlier set of rules which were in effect from November 2015.

Water reuse limit

The draft rules, which were released last year for public suggestions, had done away with the mandatory limit of reuse of water extracted by the industries. This is when the earlier set of rules had very specific limits depending upon the type of area. It ranged from 40 per cent to 100 per cent depending on if the area was safe, semi-critical, critical or over-exploited for groundwater. However, those limits do not exist anymore.

What remains is just a norm saying, “Industries shall minimise the use of fresh groundwater through recoiling and reuse of waste water.” While applying for a no-objection certificate (NOC), the industry will have to present a document with detailed measures on how it would ensure the reuse, say the new rules, which would be implemented from June 1, 2019.

A 2016 report by the Parliamentary Committee on Restructuring the Central Water Commission and the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) says, “The growing dependence on groundwater has taken the form of unsustainable over-extraction, which is lowering the water table and adversely impacting drinking water security.” Hence, the significance of the rules.

One can withdraw water for industrial purposes only from “non-notified” areas which are further classified as “safe”, “semi-critical”, “critical” and “over-exploited” based on groundwater resources estimation.

Water conservation fee

All the project proponents who would withdraw groundwater were supposed to recharge the groundwater sources as well. The draft rules did away with the clause and instead introduced what is called water conservation fee. Every project proponent is supposed to pay certain amount of fee depending upon the use of abstracted water, area of abstraction and amount of abstracted water. Experts say the more one pays, the more they withdraw water.

Although the new rules have revised the rates and they have been increased as to what were given in the draft rules. For example, in the case of mining and infrastructure projects, the current fee structure range from Rs 1-3 cubic metre (as against Rs 1.5-2 per cubic metre) or safe areas, Rs 2-4 per cubic metre  (as against Rs 2-3 per cubic metre ) for semi-critical areas,  Rs 3-6 per cubic metre (as against Rs 3-4 per cubic metre) for critical areas and Rs 4-7 per cubic metre (as against Rs 4-6) for over exploited areas depending upon the quantum of water extracted.

Such revisions have been made in other two categories of use—packaged drinking water units and domestic water uses classified as infrastructure projects. This fee would go to the authorities, who would in turn, do artificial recharge.

“Who would monitor the quality of recharge being done by the government authorities? Earlier, there was a scope of prosecuting the private proponents if they did not do proper recharge, what now,” asks a Delhi-based hygrogeologist.

Issuing NOCs

One concern has been addressed. The draft rules notified had said that even the district magistrates had power to give NOCs if the abstraction of water was 20-50 cubic metre per day depending upon the type of the area. The experts had doubted if the DMs had the technical know-how to address the issue and that they are more mostly occupied with administrative matters. The state groundwater boards were also given the authority to give permission. The notified rules have withdrawn this clause.

Now, like the 2015 rules, only Central Groundwater Authority (CGWA) has the authority to give such approvals. However, they have now authorised DMs to monitor the compliance of the rules. Even sub-divisional magistrates have been authorised for the purpose.

The rules notified state that the DMs or the officials concerned can seize drilling rig, sealing of tubewell/borewell if so constructed and can also disconnect electricity supply to the energised well. A copy each of the NOC issued by the CGWA would be forwarded to the respective District Magistrate/District Collector for monitoring of compliance.

In case of any violation of the directions of Central Ground Water Authority and conditions laid down in the NOC, the authorised officers can file cases under sections 15 to 21 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 in appropriate courts. The authorised officers can also file cases for environmental compensation under the NGT Act, 2010.

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