Revised Guidelines to regulate and control Ground Water Extraction in India

Context:

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has asked the Centre to “not give effect” the December 12, 2018 notification issued by the Union Water Resources Ministry on the extraction of groundwater.

Revised Guidelines to regulate and control Ground Water Extraction in India, December 12th 2018

  1. Water Conservation Fee (WCF):The revised guidelines introduced the concept of water conservation fee to discourage inefficient use and wastage of groundwater. It is the certain amount of fee to be paid depending upon the use of abstracted water, area of abstraction and amount of abstracted water.

Who all need to pay the fee?

  • All industrial units
  • All business establishments; hotels and hospitals
  • Infrastructure projects such as residential and office buildings
  • Individual households that draw groundwater using a delivery pipe of a greater than 1” diameter

Exemptions

  • Agricultural users,
  • Users employing non-energised means to extract water,
  • Individual households (using less than 1-inch diameter delivery pipe)
  • Armed Forces Establishments during operational deployment or during mobilization in forward locations
  1. NOC for groundwater extraction: All industries, business establishments, infrastructure projects and even certain individual households have to obtain NOC through a web-based application system for ground water abstraction. Exemptions for NOC are the same as that of WCF.
  2. Use of recycled and treated sewage water:It seeks to encourage the use of recycled and treated sewage water by industries.
  3. Penalties: Guidelines have provision of action against polluting industries
  4. Groundwater monitoring Instruments: It envisages mandatory requirement of digital flow meters, piezometers and digital water level recorders.

Exemptions:

  • Installation of piezometers not mandatory if extraction below 10 m3/day.
  • Installation of Digital Water Level Recorders not be mandatory for projects requiring ground water up to 50 m3/day in safe and semi critical assessment units and up to 20 m3/day in critical and overexploited assessment units
  1. Water Audits: Guidelines insist mandatory Water audits for industries extracting groundwater 500 m3/day or more in safe and semi-critical and 200 m3/day or more in critical and over-exploited areas
  2. Rain water harvesting: It calls for mandatory roof top rain water harvesting except for specified industries (industries falling in red and orange categories as per CPCB)
  3. Prevent Groundwater Contamination: It envisages measures to be adopted to ensure prevention of groundwater contamination in premises of polluting industries/ projects.

Significance:

  1. In the backdrop of growing dependence on groundwater, over-extraction and consequent lowering of water tables, the rules are significant. The concept of WCF which has been introduced in groundwater governance for the first time, is definitely a much-awaited reform.
  2. The high rates of WCF are expected to discourage setting up of new industries in over-exploited and critical areas
  3. Further, the WCF will act as a deterrent to large scale ground water extraction by industries, especially in over-exploited and critical areas
  4. The WCF would also compel industries to adopt measures and technologyto use water efficiently and avoid any wastage.
  5. It would also discourage the growth of packaged drinking water units, particularly in over-exploited and critical areas.

Issues with the Guidelines:

  1. Liberalization of extraction of groundwater: The NGT has criticised the guidelines for liberalizing the extraction of groundwater adding to the groundwater crisis which could prove detrimental to the environment.
  2. Water Conservation Fee: According to critics, the water conservation fee virtually gives license to harness groundwater to any extent even in the over-exploited and critical areas
  3. Provision for groundwater recharge: Previously industries engaging in extraction were required to recharge the groundwater sources as well. However, the task would now be carried out by governmental authorities, raising questions not only about effective surveillance but also actual execution.
  4. Exemption to Agriculture: Given that irrigation is the highest consumer of groundwater in India, completely exempting agriculture from WCF has been criticized by critics.
  5. Exemption to households: The guidelines have been criticised as it has exempted households to draw groundwater from single dug well/bore well/tube well through the delivery pipe of up to 1-inch diameter and certain other categories, even if there is an existing supply of drinking water.
  6. Wastewater treatment and recycle measures not mandatory: Wastewater treatment and recycle measures have not been made mandatory for infrastructure projects.
  7. Reuse of wastewater: There is no mandatory requirement or specified limits for reuse of wastewater by industries.
  8. No check on pollution: The NGT has observed that there is no check on the injection of pollutants in the groundwater in the notification
  9. No check on water quality: NGT points out that there is no provision with regard to checking on water quality and its remediation if there is contamination.
  10. Lack of institutional mechanism: NGT observes that there is no institutional mechanism to monitor removal and replenishment of groundwater and the guidelines have no does not have provisions for adequate impact assessment or monitoring and compliance mechanism.

Way forward:

  1. Promoting Judicious Use of groundwater in agriculture:
  • It is important to formulate policies that promote judicious use of groundwater in agriculture as well.
  • Groundwater extraction should be minimized by encouraging the adoption micro-irrigation techniques (drip and sprinklers).
  • It is also important to promote and incentivize crop diversification to less water-intensive crops
  1. Wastewater Treatment: Treatment and reuse of wastewater practices and processes must be significantly improved and industries, municipalities should be encouraged to treat and reuse wastewater.
  2. Community-based groundwater management:
  • Efforts should be taken to institutionalise and strengthen community-based groundwater management.
  • Generating awareness about the status of local groundwater resources, education and social mobilisation should form the core elements of community-based groundwater management.
  1. Recharge: Artificial recharge of groundwater should be focussed upon. It is important to adopt, encourage and promote rainwater harvesting structures
  2. Addressing Leakages: It is important to have technology-based solutions to reduce leakages during water supply
  3. Prevent Pollution: Sustained measures should be taken to prevent pollution of water bodies, contamination of groundwater and ensure proper treatment of domestic and industrial wastewater before discharging

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