But there are no guidelines in place, at present, to regulate the extraction of groundwater after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) stayed the implementation of the revised guidelines notified by the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) in December last year.
The tribunal had stayed the guidelines in January, saying they are “unsustainable” and had “severe shortcomings”.
Following this, the NGT had set up a committee in August to recommend measures to rein in illegal groundwater extraction, but it is yet to come up with a report. The two-month deadline given to the committee ends this month.
The panel comprises joint secretaries of Union Jal Shakti and environment ministries, and officials of Central Ground Water Board, National Institute of Hydrology, National Remote Sensing Centre and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
‘Policy vacuum because of legal logjam’
“What it effectively means is that at present we are going by the old 2015 groundwater extraction guidelines, which have become outdated,” said a senior government official, who didn’t wish to be named.
The 2018 guidelines, the official said, were an improvement of the 2015 guidelines, which had proved ineffective in checking rampant misuse of groundwater. The guidelines had, among other things, proposed levying a water conservation fee on extraction of groundwater for drinking, domestic or industrial purposes.
The green tribunal had said that the December 2018 guidelines had “worsened” the groundwater situation in the country by liberalising its extraction, including for commercial purposes.
A second government official, requesting anonymity, said the tribunal was right when it said that the guidelines have failed to rein in illegal extraction.
After the NGT stayed the guidelines, the CGWA stopped issuing licences for extracting groundwater to individuals and industries.
“There is a policy vacuum now following the legal logjam,” the official added.
After staying the 2018 guidelines, the NGT had set up an expert committee the same month to formulate a policy on conservation of natural resources.
But it was not happy with the measures suggested by the panel, which comprised representatives from IIT-Delhi, Roorkee, IIM-Ahmedabad, CPCB, NITI Ayog, among others. The NGT then formed the expert committee in August.
CGWA issued licences to just 6,000 industries
According to the 73rd round — conducted during 2015-16 — of the National Sample Survey, there are approximately 6.3 crore industries in India. But the CGWA has, so far, issued licences for extracting groundwater to just 6,000 industries.
“Many industries do not need water. But it’s an open secret that there are many others who are extracting groundwater illegally. There is hardly any enforcement,” a third government official told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
When pulled up by the NGT, the CGWA said regulating groundwater is a state subject and it does not have the infrastructure or the capacity to enforce the guidelines.
India largest user of groundwater in the world
According to Jal Shakti ministry, India is the largest user of groundwater in the world, extracting groundwater to the tune of 253 bcm (billion cubic metre) per year.
This is approximately 25 per cent of the global groundwater extraction. Out of the total 6,584 assessment units in India, 1,034 have been categorised as over-exploited, 253 as critical and 681 as semi-critical. The assessment units are the blocks/mandals/taluks etc., which are considered as units for groundwater resources assessment.
In India, groundwater is primarily used for irrigation, accounting for nearly 228 bcm, which amounts to 90 per cent of the annual groundwater extraction.
The remaining 10 per cent extraction (25 bcm) is for drinking, domestic and industrial purposes. Industrial use accounts for only about 5 per cent of the annual groundwater extraction.