Chandigarh: Beware perpetrators and extractors of ground water as alerted by the alarming depletion of ground water, which is the major resource in times of crisis across the country, the Union Ministry of Water Resources has pitched in with two separate pieces of draft legislation to save ground water. The draft legislation has been uploaded on the website of the ministry and is open for public comments until the month-end. According to the provisions of the proposed bills, corporations and industries extracting ground water now had to submit plans to ensure that water was used judiciously, responsibly and in a better way.
It is also to ensure that possible contamination of water was remedied. In this legislation the government has for the first time said that citizens had a right to safe water. To achieve this, it has laid out stringent rules on how corporations and large entities can extract ground water. According to the field-based survey of National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), due to over-exploitation of ground water for irrigation purposes in Punjab and Haryana, ground water level in 82 per cent villages of Punjab and 63 per cent of Haryana has recorded decline in ground water level in the recent past.
The study also revealed that ground water contributed between 65-74 per cent to the net irrigated area in Punjab, Haryana, Bihar and West Bengal. Punjab and Haryana have over developed ground water resources to 145 per cent and 109 per cent respectively, the study stated. Latest study shows that in some parts of Chandigarh ground water tables have dropped by as much as five meters to 15 meters over a decade and capital of two states is heading to a huge water crisis in the coming years. While the average annual fall in ground water table in Himachal Pradesh has dried up a number of hand pumps installed by the state government. In district Una, Hamirpur and Kangra people are getting water only one hour in a day.
The draft bills-the National Water Framework Bill and the Model Bill for the Conservation, Protection, Regulation and Management of groundwater aim to decentralize water management and give more power to panchayats and gram sabhas to decide the ways and means to use water in judicious and better way. For the first time, the government said that citizens had a right to safe water. So it has laid out stringent rules on how corporations and large entities can extract groundwater. The Bills propose a fines ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 5 lakh depending on the level of infraction and who the culprits were. “Groundwater would not also be a free resource and those who could pay for it ought to be doing so while ensuring that it was equitably available to all and for this lays down broad principles,” states the legislation.
While talking to the official of water supply, Chandigarh, he said that if it was so the legislation would ensure that groundwater-a fragile resource and lion part of it was used for irrigation was used judiciously and responsibly. It is also revealed that there existed Constitutional amendments 73rd and 74th vesting powers to panchayats and municipalities in the management of water that also included groundwater but was rarely adopted by the states. The ministry also found that in spite of spending so much on large dams many states were among the least irrigated and the end users of water had little say.
The most fundamental reform that the Bills sought to make was to do away with the British Common Law concept that empowers the land owner to extract unlimited groundwater from his land. The new legislation makes it mandatory for corporations and industries extracting groundwater had to submit plans to ensure that water was used responsibly, judiciously and in a better way and any possible contamination was remedied. It also states that the top priority in the use of groundwater ought to be in meeting the demands of drinking, sanitation, food security, sustenance agriculture, needs of women and only after spare for industry.
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