The Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) has notified the new water-extraction guidelines recently.
What does the revised guidelines reveal?
• It has introduced the concept of Water Conservation Fee (WCF).
• The WCF payable varies with the category of the area, type of industry and the quantum of ground water extraction.
• It is designed to progressively increase from safe to over-exploited areas and from low to high water consuming industries as well as with increasing quantum of ground water extraction.
• Through this design, the high rates of WCF are expected to discourage setting up of new industries in over-exploited and critical areas.
• It also acts as a deterrent to large scale ground water extraction by industries, especially in over-exploited and critical areas.
• The WCF would also compel industries to adopt measures relating to water use efficiency and discourage the growth of packaged drinking water units, particularly in over-exploited and critical areas.
• It encouragesuse of recycled and treated sewage water by industries and a provision of action against polluting industries.
• It mandates requirement of digital flow meters, piezometers and digital water level recorders, detailing the quantum of extraction.
• Also, water auditshould be conducted by industries abstracting ground water of 500 m3/day or more in safe and semi-critical and 200 m3/day or more in critical and over-exploited assessment units.
• Industries should undertakeroof top rain water harvestingand measures should be adopted to ensure prevention of ground water contamination in premises of polluting industries/ projects.
• There is also an exemption from requirement of No Objection Certificate for –
1. Agricultural users
2. Users employing non-energised means to extract water
3. Individual households (using less than 1-inch diameter delivery pipe)
• Other exemptions have been granted to strategic and operational infrastructure projects for Armed Forces, Defence and Paramilitary Forces Establishments and Government water supply agencies.
What are the concerns?
• Regulation – The guidelinesdo not make any effort to ensure efficient and need-based utilisation of water for irrigation, which uses nearly 90% of the extracted groundwater.
• The domestic sector has also been exempted from any restrictions.
• Only 5% groundwater that is accessed by the industrial sector is proposed to be regulated for careful use.
• Approval – Some of the well-advised norms that are already in place have been relaxed for no good reason.
• Many commercial ventures, including beverages and drinking water bottlers, do not only consume water in bulk but also waste it in substantial measure.
• The power of issuing no objection certificates (NOC) for many kinds of industrial units has now been vested with district magistrates instead of the CGWA.
• Since the civic authoritieslack wider perspective on this matter, they can be expected to be quite lenient in letting the commercial ventures tap it unchecked.
• Norm relaxation – The existing provision for mandatory recharging of groundwater by bulk consumers has also been diluted.
• They are now bound only to undertake rooftop water harvesting and not large-scale field projects for rainwater harvesting.
• Fund utilisation – The new guidelines propose water conservation fees (WCF) on groundwater use to generate resources for the state governments’ water harvesting schemes.
• However, there is no guarantee that these funds will actually be used for this purpose.
• Usage cap – Though water charges have been levied, there is no cap on water withdrawals.
• Thus, this step will not suffice to discourage wasteful use by cash-rich consumers.
• Re-use – The new rules havevirtually done away with the obligation to reuse the extracted water.
• This will result in the rampant overexploitation of this resource, causing a sharp dip in water table in many areas.
What should be done?
• India is already the world’s largest user of groundwater, tapping annually about 253 billion cubic metres (BCM) of water.
• This is equivalent to 25% of yearly withdrawals at the global level.
• As many as 1,034 of India’s total 6,584 groundwater blocks have already been categorised as “over-exploited”.
• Among the rest, 253 blocks are in “critical” and 681 in “semi-critical” categories and some others hold only saline water.
• Water tapping in these areas needs to be kept below the level of annual recharge through natural or artificial means.
• However, the recent guidelines are unlikely to help check wasteful and injudicious use of rapidly vanishing groundwater because of several loopholes.
• Thus, exceptional care is needed not only to thwart its indiscriminate use but also to incentivise its replenishment with rainwater.
• Otherwise, large parts of the country would soon face severe shortage of water even for domestic and drinking purposes.