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Groundwater Extraction Norms (29 September 2020)

Groundwater Extraction Norms (29 September 2020)

Why in News:

Centre Govt has issued revised guidelines for groundwater use.

Context:

With around one-sixth of assessed ground water units in the country facing over-exploitation, thenew guidelines prohibit new industry and mining projects in over-exploited zones and makes it mandatory for existing industries, commercial units and big housing societies to take no objection certificate’ (NOC).

Background:

As per official data, 90% of groundwater is used for irrigation and 10% by domestic and industrial consumers.

In December, the government had launched a scheme to conserve groundwater in seven states facing acute water shortage and urged farmers to opt for less water-intensive crops. Named Atal Jal Yojana, the scheme was targeted at Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat where the ground water situation is very worrisome.

Summary of the Debate

Major highlights of guidelines:

  • These guidelines facilitate sustainable development of groundwater.
  • These guidelines have pan India applicability, which was never there earlier.
  • Based on groundwater levels, areas across the country are split into three categories:
    • Over-exploited: Groundwater being extracted more than what’s recharged.
    • Critical: The groundwater taken out is 90-100% of what's recharged.
    • Semi critical: Extraction rate is 70%-90%.
  • The Central Ground Water Authority has been regulating groundwater management by way of issuing NOCs to industries, infrastructure projects, mining projects, among others.
  • Following categories of consumers will be exempted from seeking NOC for groundwater extraction:
    • Individual domestic consumers in both rural and urban areas for drinking water and domestic uses.
    • Rural drinking water supply schemes
    • Armed Forces Establishments and Central Armed Police Forces establishments in both rural and urban areas.
    • Agricultural activities and Micro and small Enterprises drawing groundwater less than 10 cubic metres/day.
  • For the first time, government has come out with the restoration and abstraction charges. The way industries extracting the groundwater, in case they are extracting groundwater in overexploited areas then there will be a groundwater restoration charge and for the other kind of areas such as critical and semi critical, there will be a groundwater abstraction charge.
  • All residential apartments/ group housing societies/ Government water supply agencies in urban areas would be required to pay groundwater abstraction charges.
  • First time government went in to the domain of bulk water supply.
  • AS far as the saline groundwater is concerned, those have been exempted because there is need to have saline groundwater expected as much as possible.
  • Environment compensation is the part of guidelines for the first time.
  • The new guidelines also impose heavy fines for not complying with NOC requirements.

The parallel approach which are not in the guidelines but have been taken care of separately:

  • The Central Government has circulated modern bill to all states and UTs to enable them to enact suitable groundwater legislation and on the basis of those model bill, 18 states have come out with their groundwater legislation and they are regulating groundwater on per guidelines which they have framed on the basis of modern bill which Centre has circulated.
  • The government has come out with the masterplan for artificial recharge of groundwater. There was a masterplan in 2013, now the government has come out with fresh masterplan which basically maps the entire country in terms of groundwater availability and what kind of groundwater structure should be taken care of as far as those districts, villages and areas are concerned.
  • The government also has the National Aquifer Mapping and Management Programme (NAQUIM), it aims to identify and map aquifers at the micro level to quantify the available groundwater resources. This program will help in understanding the groundwater locally and will also help in having the groundwater management program village wise and block wise.
  • Housing and Urban department have also circulated a model guideline for rainwater harvesting structure.

Major Concern:

  • Around 80 percent of the groundwater demand is in agriculture sector, around 15 percent in the industrial sector and around 10 percent in the domestic sector. These guidelines have been made applicable only in the commercial sector, industrial sector and the domestic sector. It has not made applicable to the agriculture sector.
  • The agricultural water use of the groundwater is reduced to optimum level. The guidelines talk about review of the pricing policy, it talks about crop rotation, it talks about diversification of the crop. But the actual quantum of water use in agriculture sector has been more or less not touched by this guideline.
  • Penalty have been suggested in the guidelines but incentives have not been considered. Suppose, if an industry uses less water compared to targeted one, can they should be given an incentive, it is not clear in the guidelines.
  • There are mostly six or seven states in the north, namely, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Western UP and some states in south like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, etc. have overexploited groundwater.

Reasons for exempting groundwater extraction in agriculture sector:

  • In India, farmers are not of equal status in terms of landholding.
  • Around 12 percent of medium and big farmers are there and 88 to 89 percent wells are being owned by marginal, small or semi medium kind of farmers.
  • Any kind of tweaking as far as groundwater is concerned, will affect those 88 to 89 percent marginal, small or semi medium kind of farmers.

Way Forward:

  • There is no doubt that tweaking the groundwater extraction in agriculture sector will affect the small farmers, but at the same time, with the little amount of water the higher productivity can be use. In India, there are example of using the micro irrigation, the farmers can produce higher productivity with lesser amount of water.
  • This is the golden rule in behavioral economics that “If I get something free, I will not really bother, how I am using it”. So, it will not be bad idea, along with imposing some minor charges so that farmer realizes that if he has to use the water, he has to pay something and that payment can be reimbursed to him through direct benefit transfer scheme.

Important points made by the Guests

Dr. Syamal Kumar Sarkar, Senior Director, Natural Resource & Climate, TERI

  • This is a novel scheme brought out by the government especially in the context of the fact that the total available water resources are around 1122 billion cubic meters. Out of it, around 690 billion cubic meters are surface water and the remaining is ground water.
  • We have to look in to this entire thing from the micro-level. In the sense that these guidelines have tasked some of aspects of improvement in the agriculture sector, for example; they talk of the review of the electricity policy, they talk about crop diversification, crop rotation, etc.
  • The water use efficiency is very low in agriculture sector in India as compared to the developed countries. If the water use efficiency in agriculture sector is tasked in a big way, it will have a great impact.
  • We have the National Water Mission where the 20 percent water use efficiency have been suggested, but it has not been implemented in a big way in the agriculture sector and also in the other sector like industrial and domestic sector.

Subodh Yadav, Joint Secretary, Department of Water Resources, GoI

  • These guidelines are quite innovative in nature because the government has never tried to have such kind of guidelines as far as ground water extraction is concerned.
  • These guidelines not going to restrict the extraction of groundwater, it is going to facilitate in a particular manner.
  • As an initial step, government has tried to tweaking more suggestive kind of measures to the states because water is something which is in state domain and Centre cannot come out until and unless suitable environment is made to literally understand the purpose of these guidelines.
  • As of now, government never charged for the water extraction, there was a charge for the NOC. The NOC charges used to go to the Bharat Kosh as of now. In the present situation, initially government was planning that abstraction and restoration charges will go to the Bharat Kosh but simultaneously we were working out a kind of arrangement where whatever would be the charges collected, it should be in a situation to utilize by the groundwater department and which can be used again for the groundwater recharge activity.
  • There are certain things which are not a part of this guidelines but those initiatives and actions are taken by the department of GoI and in some of the case, by the state government also.

A.K. Bhattacharya, Editorial Director, Business Standard

  • We have seen a very great initiative but its impact will be very minimal.
  • Industries will be impacted because the industries have to pay the extraction charges. once you take an NOC and that NOC will be valid for 5 years.
  • Apart from the agriculture point, there is an excellent proposal in the scheme on extraction charges. If these charges coming to the Consolidate Fund of India, we all know how government funds are fungible, in a sense if they come to one Ministry, that money can be used by any other Ministry.
  • So, ideally if the extraction charges are to be recovered from the uses of groundwater that should go in to some sort of fund which cannot be used by the Consolidate Fund of India, may be in the Public Account. So, that money can be used precisely and specifically for the restoration of the water system and making sure that water is available.
  • The country is going through tectonic changes as far as agriculture laws are concerned. Last year, we had Income Transfer Scheme, introduced initially for marginal farmers and then extended to all farmers, then we have the three agricultural laws for the farmers to decide where to sell their produce and new proposal on the ground is how the fertilizer subsidy actually be abolished and instead of that there will be a direct benefit transfer scheme which will be introduced to give a lumpsum money to farmers depending on the use of fertilizers.
  • So, a lot of changes happening to agriculture sector and at this point of time the use of water will always remain inefficient, productivity level of water will always be low as long as water is made available free.

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