Great News! NGT Rejects Government’s Notification On Groundwater Extraction

The National Green Tribunal has rejected the 12 Dec Notification on Groundwater Extraction, which the water brigade of the country had deemed Flawed.

The National Green Tribunal has asked the central government Not To Give Effect to its December notification on Groundwater Extraction as it has ‘serious shortcomings’. It did not stop there, the panel directed to set up an expert panel for the formulation of a sound policy which can conserve precious water.

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We think the NGT should have sought an independent Panel and not a committee of similar govt officials. There is also the need for restructuring a totally ineffective Central Ground Water Authority or CGWA. In its 32 years of existence, the government body has yet to outline an effective plan to stop wastage of water in the country. More than 40% of supplied water is wasted in India.

The Government notification on Groundwater Extraction had raised many eyebrows due to its sheer ‘Blindness’ for water management.

Few guidelines and its critique:

  • The guidelines come into force from June 1, 2019 (The Implementation could have been immediate). Groundwater use for individual households for drinking purposes for supply line up to 1-inch diameter does not require mandatory rainwater harvesting. Installation of digital water meter is also not mandatory in this case.
  • Infrastructure projects/industries/mining /public water supply agencies for drinking/ domestic water use up to 12.5 cubic meter/day do not mandatorily require the use of recycled/treated sewage for flushing/green belt etc. Installation of piezometers is not mandatory if extraction is below 10 cubic meters per day. No condition for compulsory treatment and recycling of sewage.
  • Industries abstracting groundwater to the tune of 500 cubic meters/day or more in safe and semi-critical and 200 cubic meters/day or more in critical and over-exploited assessment units do not require a water audit. Those that require a water audit need to get it done through “CII/FICCI/NPC-certified auditors”. It misses a credible exercise.
  • “Industries except those falling in red and orange categories as per the CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board)” to implement rainwater harvesting. We want to understand why should red and orange-category industries be given exemption?
  • “Existing industries, which have already obtained NOC and implemented recharge measures as specified in the NOC, shall be exempted from paying the water conservation fee (WCF). However, if the industry is going in for expansion, WCF will have to be paid for the additional quantum of groundwater withdrawal as per applicable rates.”
  • Shockingly, there is no impact assessment, no public consultation, monitoring or compliance mechanism for any of the massive groundwater extraction proposals.
  • On agricultural water use, the guidelines say: “State departments concerned (agriculture/irrigation/water resources) shall be required to undertake suitable demand and supply side measures to ensure sustainability of groundwater sources. An indicative list of demand-side measures is given.” We think the CGWA needs to provide more detailed and effective measures, including community-governed groundwater regulation. The list given does not even include water-saving methods such as the system of rice intensification or a similar method for other water-intensive crops.
  • The notification again mentions no restrictions, no ban on water use even in overexploited and critical areas, where essentially there is no groundwater available for exploitation. Everyone, including bottled water and soft drink manufacturers, is allowed to extract as much as they want, even from overexploited areas, as long as they pay the WCF. “Other industries” have to pay just one-fifth to one-sixth the WCF compared to packaged drinking water units. These industries clearly include soft drink companies. Mining and infrastructure industries have to pay even lower, up to one-third the WCF compared to “other industries”.
India’s biggest problem is that of rampant water-waste in agriculture that consumes around 78% of India’s total freshwater resources. Just rice and sugarcane, consume more than 60% of the irrigation water in the country while occupying just around 24% of the total gross cropped area.

To this effect, the NGT gave a serious rebuke to the Authorities

– The NGT said the provisions of the ministry’s notification show that withdrawal of groundwater has been, for all practical purposes, made unregulated in all areas including the OCS areas. “The so-called regulation is illusory. The so-called conditions are incapable of meaningful monitoring, as shown by past experience also.

– The water conservation fee virtually gives license to harness groundwater to any extent even in OCS areas. There is no institutional mechanism to monitor removal and replenishment of groundwater. Delegation provision is virtual abdication of authority,” it said. The tribunal added that there was no check on injection of pollutants in the groundwater in the notification and there is no provision with regard to check on water quality and its remediation, if there is contamination.

– “… instead of conservation of groundwater which is necessary for providing access to drinking water in OCS areas, as well also other needs of environment, including sustenance of rivers and other water bodies, it will result in fast depletion of groundwater and damage to water bodies and will be destructive of the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution,” it said.

The Green bench has directed the MoEF&CC to constitute an expert committee by including representatives from IIT Delhi, IIT Roorkee, IIM Ahmedabad, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), NITI Aayog and any other concerned agency or department.

The panel will examine the issue of an appropriate policy for conservation of groundwater with a robust institutional mechanism for surveillance and monitoring to enhance access to groundwater for drinking purposes in OCS areas through replenishment practices which can be properly accounted and measured for.

The policy will also relate to sustaining the floodplains of rivers in terms of e-flows and other water bodies, it said, adding that the MoEF&CC and MoWR may finalize the issue of subject remain inter-se with regard to groundwater reserve and its quality.

The bench said the committee be constituted in two weeks and its report be furnished to the MoEF&CC and the tribunal in two months.

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