The ministry has submitted its report, comprising 45-point decadal action plans for next 50 years and several short-term suggestions, to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) which may next month take its call on the larger issues of groundwater conservation and regulation while hearing a petition on the issue. The ministry submitted the report on NGT’s direction.
Once the NGT takes its final view, the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) will come out with a quantum and mechanism on levying such fee and even consider the concept of ‘water credit’ – credit earned by user agencies from water conservation measures.
The ministry’s report, submitted to the NGT on July 18, said that the money deposited as ‘water conservation fees’ may be used for groundwater recharging projects as identified by the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) or state government. The fees may be deposited in central depository account and maintained by the Centre for releasing to the states, it added.
The ministry, however, made it clear that the extraction of groundwater in the over-exploited blocks would be considered “only for drinking water purposes and only for important social infrastructure activities” (such as hospitals and schools) with suitable restrictions.
Besides industries and infrastructure projects, mining agencies and packaged drinking water plants will also come under the ambit of conservation fees.
“These guidelines are mainly focusing on water conservation fee. The exploitation of groundwater should not be allowed after taking money as ‘water conservation fees’ from users. The extraction must depend only on hydrological condition of particular area,” said environmentalist Vikrant Tongad, one of the petitioners in the Tribunal.
He said, “These guidelines are not very different from the previous draft. We don’t agree with all points in the latest guidelines. Authorities have to control groundwater exploitation and focus on reuse of water in all sectors, keeping in view critical groundwater situation in the country.”
Though the CGWB had earlier come out with the concept of such a fee in its draft guidelines in December last year, the NGT had in January directed the ministry to get the draft examined by an expert committee comprising of representatives from IIT Delhi, IIT Roorkee, IIM Ahmedabad, CPCB, Niti Aayog and other agencies.
“We have now submitted the report, endorsing certain points of the earlier draft and extending suggestion on other new areas including one on agriculture sector,” said an official, confirming the ministry’s submission.
Recommendations on agriculture sector have come up for the first time, noting how groundwater is one of the most important water resources in India which contributes 63% of the country’s irrigation needs.
The ministry suggested that all farmers with individual land holdings of more than three-five hectares of land may be covered under regulation with nominal charges by the CGWA or state authority. If this recommendation is accepted, nearly 10% of country’s total 14.5 crore farmers will come under the ambit of the regulation for groundwater use.
The ministry in its report also talked about crop diversification so that farmers can switch over from cultivation of water-guzzling crops such as surgarcane and paddy to water efficient farm produce like millets.
The report also recommended different regulatory rules for water deficit zones, keeping in mind large number of over-exploited blocks in the country. At present, 1,034 blocks (ground water assessment units) out of 6,584 are over-exploited – it means withdrawal of ground water is more than recharge in those particular units. Additionally, 934 blocks are in various stages of ground water criticality.