Groundwater issues made news repeatedly in the year 2015. The year saw a 14 per cent deficit in southwest monsoon increasing the dependence on ground water for agricultural, industrial and domestic use. The falling water table and pollution of surface and ground water sources made the situation critical in various parts of the country. Competing demands on the ground water led to protests and litigation. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) tried to safeguard the ground water and pushed the State machinery into action through its orders in various matters. Towards the end of the year, the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) came up with revised guidelines for evaluation of proposals for ground water abstraction.
GROUND WATER DEPLETION
As per the latest assessment carried out by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) in 2011, the total annual replenishable ground water resource of the country is around 433 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) and net annual ground water availability is 398 BCM of which India withdraws 245 BCM (62%) annually. This is much higher than China’s groundwater withdrawal at 130 BCM annually.
According to the CGWB, around 39% of the wells are showing decline in ground water level. Out of 6607 assessment units (Blocks/ Mandals/ Talukas/ Districts) in the country, 1071 units falling in 15 States and 2 Union Territories have been categorized as ‘Over-exploited’, based on the stage of ground water withdrawal as well as long term decline in ground water levels.
According to gravitational data from the NASA’s GRACE satellite system, the aquifers in poor, densely populated regions, such as northwest India, Pakistan and North Africa are under the most stress. The Indus Basin in India and Pakistan is the world’s second most stressed aquifer. Aquifers take thousands of years to fill up and only slowly recharge with water from snowmelt and rains.
A total of 10 states declared drought in more than 280 districts in the country because of 14 per cent deficit in southwest monsoon in 2015. Last year too, the rainfall deficit was 12 per cent. Additional extraction of groundwater due to deficit monsoon is likely to take the level of stress on groundwater to danger levels.
BURDEN OF AGRICULTURE
The agricultural sector relies heavily on groundwater for irrigation. Groundwater accounted for over 60% of irrigated area in the country. The Ministry of Water Resources has assessed (as on March 2011) that the annual ground water withdrawal for domestic and industrial purpose is only 9.27% of the total ground water withdrawal while the remaining 90.73% is for irrigation purposes. Irrigation using ground water increased ever since the green revolution started. The UN World Water Development Report 2015 estimates that between 1960 and 2000 India’s mechanised tube wells, used in irrigation, increased from one million to 19 million.
GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIES The government has incentivised usage of groundwater by giving subsidies for irrigation equipment and cheap electricity leading to unbridled pumping out of groundwater for irrigation. Owing to the dip in groundwater levels, irrigation has become a challenge and farming is becoming unsustainable. Pumping out the ground water from the ever-deepening water table requires expensive deep tube wells increasing the farming expenses. The state electricity utilities are in a poor state, as they have not developed enough to keep up with the increasing demand from industrial and other sectors. This has led to power shortages resulting in reduced supply to farmers adding to their hardship.
CROPPING PATTERN Further, the cropping pattern in India has worsened matters. In eastern India, the groundwater is in a relatively better state. But irrigation suffers due to the lack of electricity in these areas. Thus, the abundant water supply has not seen an increase in water intensive sugarcane or paddy in these areas and these crops have continued in water stressed Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The share of Maharashtra in total sugarcane production has gone up by nearly 9 percentage points, while states like Bihar and Assam have lagged behind.
SUGARCANE IN MAHARASHTRA Marathwada, which is the strong hold of sugar factories saw a 40% rainfall deficit this year, made starker due to the drought last year. Dams in the region had little live storage and groundwater in the region is in the “over exploited” or “critical” category. Yet crushing took place unhindered in the sugar factories.
Sugarcane crushing and processing is an extremely water intensive process. Average water consumption of a factory stands at 14 lakh litres each day. More than the factories, the sugarcane crop itself sucks up Maharashtra’s water. In 2013-14, farmers grew sugarcane in two lakh hectares of land which is around 9.4% of the state’s cultivated area, consuming 71.4% of its irrigation water.
The Maharashtra Government made an announcement in August that it might consider banning sugarcane crushing in Marathwada to protect drinking water supplies. This announcement lacked the backing of any proper plan and was withdrawn eventually. Prohibition on the digging of borewells deeper than 60 m in over exploited watersheds was also being considered as in some places, wells as deep as 1,500 m were being dug to extract groundwater. However no such prohibition was implemented on the ground. More
Why farmers continue to plant water-intensive sugarcane in drought-hit Marathwada?
Maharashtra’s political class has acquired heavy stakes in sugar and sunk vast amounts of public funds into infrastructure for the crop. There is a strong support system for farmers to grow sugarcane and the farmer is assured of the crop being bought in the market created by the local sugarcane factories. Moreover sugarcane is a hardy grass that needs little care and is fairly disease resistant.
In 2012, when large parts of Maharashtra reeled under a crippling drought, one Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar cooperative sugar factory in Keshegaon in Osmanabad district in the Marathwada region, reused the surplus water extracted from sugarcane in further sugar making and in irrigating the fields thereby increasing its production. However it is unlikely that the other factories replicate this model, as there is no pressure on them to incur extra expenditure and recycle water.
PADDY IN TN In the past five years, Tamil Nadu has had the world’s most rapid drops in ground water at 0.34 metres/year. The absolute drops in some cases were 4 m in five years. Yet the primary crop in Tamil Nadu is rice through traditional method which requires standing water for a significant period of time in hot conditions. Over 1.9 million ha is under paddy cultivation, which is 12.16% of the State’s total surface area. TN has gone farthest in pushing for water saving rice cultivation method, System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which needs to be taken to the rest of the paddy area in the state and at the same time try to reduce the area under Paddy.
Large surface water irrigation reached its limit in the 1960s in TN, though there is still big scope for rainwater harvesting and local water systems. The popularity of low-cost motorized pumps and generous state subsidies on fuel, have resulted in a proliferation of tube wells for irrigation.
Ground water extracted by means of open wells, tube wells and bore wells accounts for 54 per cent of all irrigation in TN. Irrigation accounts for 93% of the demand on ground water. Close to the coast, as groundwater levels fall, there is a risk that seawater will be drawn into the aquifer – this can result in salty soil that many food crops are unable to tolerate. Saline soils take years to rehabilitate. About 2 per cent of the blocks are already saline. Scientists at the International Water Management Institute have found that already some 95% of open wells in the state are dry, and the amount of irrigated land has fallen by half in the last decade due to sources of groundwater drying up.
The Tamil Nadu floods in December 2015, increased the average groundwater level to the highest in six years in six districts. Chennai saw its average groundwater level shoot up from 5.63 metres below ground level (MBGL) in June 2015 to just 2.01 mbgl in December. Chennai’s June levels were also one of the worst for the city in the six year period. Other districts that registered record levels of groundwater are Kancheeepuram from 6.59 MBGL in August 2015 to 0.82 MBGL in December; Thiruvannamalai from 8.58 MBGL to 2.62 MBGL; Vellore 10.01 MBGL to 3.35 MBGL; Dharmapuri 8.95 MBGL to 4.02 MBGL; and Villupuram 8.26 MBGL to 1.73 MBGL. Moreover, the incursion of salinity saw a marked decrease. However these gains have come at huge cost of floods taking a heavy toll on the residents and following a once in hundred years’ rainfall. It is necessary to focus on improving recharge structures like irrigation tanks and ponds to sustain the ground water levels.
PUNJAB In Punjab, 73 per cent area under agriculture is dependent for irrigation on tube wells, which number approximately 13 lakhs. The over-exploitation of the subsoil water due to the reckless pumping out of the water has led to decline in the subsoil water table. Already, more than 100 blocks have been declared over-exploited. The state is now looking to immediately refurbish its canal network.
The canal network was the major source of irrigation in many areas in the past before the state government started providing free electricity for agriculture. Free electricity was a major incentive to shift to tube well irrigation. In southern Punjab, it led to a shift from cotton to paddy cultivation. The government procures 80% of the rice grown in Punjab and provides a high and assured minimum support price for rice and wheat. Because of the continuing policy of free power and an assured Minimum Support Price, farmers are bound to this convenient yet ecologically unsustainable wheat-rice crop pattern. Crop diversification has been recommended as the solution to Punjab’s ground water problem and the state has been provided with funds from the Centre for the same. But plans to cultivate crops that make more efficient use of groundwater have failed repeatedly. More.
OTHER STATES In Uttar Pradesh 4.2 million tubewells, 25,000 deep wells and 30,000 government tubewells, are exhausting groundwater resources for irrigation, according to the UP irrigation department. About 70% of the irrigation water comes from groundwater sources. At some places, the water table has gone down by 8 ft over three years. From 20 blocks in 2000, the number of blocks affected by ground water crisis increased to 179 in 2011, according to the CGWB. The groundwater is being drawn way faster than it is recharged. Ruthless deforestation and modification of hill slopes in catchment areas, systematic neglect of local water systems, wetlands and rivers, excessive use of fertilizers and tractors, making the sub-soil less porous have all led to less water percolating through the soil.
In TELANGANA, continuous drought and fast depletion of ground water level have forced farmers to go in for drip and sprinkler irrigation. The demand for both the units has increased so much that the government is unable to meet the demand.
On the one hand farmers are facing increased hardship because of falling groundwater levels, drying up of wells, expenditure on irrigation equipment and loss of income as a result of reduced crop production from water shortages. On the other hand, they are facing competition from the beverage industry which locates its bottling plants even in water starved areas only driven by profit calculations and absolutely disregarding the condition of the local communities. Besides exploiting the groundwater, these plants contaminate the land and water with toxic pollutants. Such beverage industries faced opposition across the country through the year.
Perundurai Bowing to outrage by farmers and political parties, the state government of Tamil Nadu cancelled a new Coca-Cola bottling plant in Perundurai in Erode district on April 20, 2015. The groundwater resources in Perundurai have been declared as “over-exploited” by the government and Coca-Cola was allowed to draw 30 lakh litres of water a day. Groundwater in Erode and neighbouring districts is polluted by industrial wastes and is colored dark red from pollution. The locals opposed Coca-Cola’s plant as it would worsen water shortages in the area, and bring more pollution. They were further informed by the nearby campaign against Coca Cola in Plachimada (Kerala) where the government closed down the company’s plant in 2004, for causing pollution.
Mehdiganj On Nov. 26, 2015, the Panchayats joined by the local MLA in the vicinity of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh demanded that the plant stop using groundwater. The villages within a 5 km radius of the plant experienced water shortages soon after Coca-Cola began operations in 1999. The area’s groundwater was declared as over-exploited by the government last year. The area is largely agrarian, and relies on groundwater to meet most of its needs, including drinking, irrigation, cleaning and for livestock.
Pepsi police In May 2015, PepsiCo’s bottling plant in Suriyur, Trichy district in the state of Tamil Nadu obtained police protection for water being brought to the plant, which is located in a water-stressed area. The local community has campaigned to shut down the plant because of the growing water shortages ever since the plant began operations in 2011. Earlier, local authorities responded to the growing protests by sealing the company’s bore wells.
On April 21, 2015 the NGT asked the government to investigate the water user ratio, the present actual water consumption and actual effluent discharge at the optimum capacity for the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj, Varanasi district. In 2001, Coca-Cola used nearly 7.5 liters of groundwater to produce 1 liter of carbonated product in Mehdiganj.
The NGT has issued notice to Coca-Cola’s bottling plant in Hapur district of Uttar Pradesh after the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) reported “alarming facts” in an inspection report. The company allegedly illegally discharged untreated waste water into the pond situated behind the plant.
Other instances of groundwater depletion reported in 2015
Water level in the parched Pithampur industrial area in Dhar district, Madhya Pradesh, has dipped by over 200 ft over the last five years to an alarming 600 ft (180 m) allegedly due to overexploitation of groundwater by industries and farmers in nearby villages. Farmers here are forced to install RO filters to use the water on their fields. The RO filter rods have to be changed within two months as the water drawn from tubewell is very hard. The hard water has also affected crop output. To curb overuse of groundwater, Audyogik Kendra Vikas Nigam (AKVN), Indore, had directed the industrial units to install water meters and pay for the water drawn from borewells. Only few of the industrial units have complied so far.
Over-exploitation of groundwater, coupled with virtually no recharge of the water table in the absence of good rains in recent years triggered the geological event known as “sinkhole” in the dried Chitravathi riverbed in the perennially drought-prone district of Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh. The sinkhole had a depth of 30 ft and a diameter of 25 ft. The Groundwater Department said the intensity of drawing ground water through agriculture borewells was high in the vicinity of the river.
The CGWB, has found that the water table is receding in eight valleys in Himachal Pradesh where it is being exploited for drinking, irrigation and industrial purposes. The ground water is receding at a very fast rate in Kala Amb valley in Sirmour district which is an industrial hub. There is hardly any stream or river in the area and the people and industry are dependent on groundwater. As per the CGWB study in 2011, the groundwater exploitation in Una valley increased to 124.04%. Subsequently, a ban was imposed on tubewells for irrigation and for industrial purposes in Una valley. Some experts also attribute decline of underground water to illegal mining in Chaki River in the area that is the main natural source of water.
A local commissioner appointed by the NGT has in his report stated that various construction projects for malls, residential complexes and even the Additional Office Complex for the Supreme Court of India in Delhi are exploiting hundreds of litres of groundwater or simply letting it down the drain.
The Minister of State for Water Resources informed the Lok Sabha on May 7, 2015 that the ground water quality monitoring by CGWB indicated that the ground water in parts of 20 states is contaminated by Fluoride and in 21 states by Nitrate in excess of World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. Ten States have excess concentration of Arsenic, twenty-four States have higher concentration of Iron and fifteen states have higher concentration of heavy metals such as Lead, Chromium and Cadmium beyond norms prescribed by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS-2012). UP is the worst polluted state. According to experts, if heavy metals enter the groundwater, they cannot be removed. At best, they can be diluted but they remain stuck to the aquifers forever. Lack of control on effluents, which have polluted the basins as a whole, has resulted in this situation environmentalist Manoj Misra said. More
A study published in January 2015 reported that drinking water samples in South-West Punjab were highly contaminated with uranium, thereby increasing the radiological and chemical risks to human health. The study region falls in the major cotton belt of Punjab (Malwa region of Punjab), which sees widespread use of pesticides and fertilisers by farmers, which might have contributed to the high concentration of heavy toxic elements in the groundwater of this region.
The fluoride content in water has been found 22 times higher than the permissible limit in Narnaul, headquarters of the Mahendragarh district in Haryana during a survey on ground water by the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Fluorosis (NPPCF) in December 2015. Samples were taken from the main source of water such as borewells and tube-wells. Alarmed officials of the NPPCF launched a special awareness drive to motivate the people not to consume groundwater. Most of the people in Mahendragarh district are compelled to use groundwater for drinking and other purposes because of the scarcity of canal water. Persistently depleting water table and fluoride-rich soil of Mahendragarh are the reasons behind rising fluoride content in groundwater.
High levels of pollution in the Chhoiya River have forced nearly 30% of the residents of Shahpurlal village, 30 km from Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh to migrate to safer areas. Effluents from industries located in the area are dumped in the river. Industrial effluents and toxic metals have seeped into the soil thus polluting the groundwater as well, villagers say.
GARBAGE / URBAN POLLUTION Groundwater pollution in Aravalis caused by tonnes of untreated waste lying near the Bandhwari waste treatment plant in Gurgaon district, Haryana is leading to disease like skin lesions, bloody diarrhoea and dermatitis among people from neighbouring villages. The waste treatment plant meant for Gurgaon and Faridabad districts has been lying defunct for the last two years. However, it’s still being used as dumping yard and leachate has seeped into the ground, polluting the water. Every day, municipal corporations of Gurgaon and Faridabad dump 1,100 metric tonne waste at the 30-acre site.
The Haryana government admitted in an RTI response in October 2015 that 92 acres in the Aravalis have been identified as a landfill site for garbage generated in Gurgaon and Faridabad. Villagers from Gothra Mohbatabad, Faridabad district, Haryana and the adjoining areas are opposed to it as the groundwater in the entire region will be polluted and destroyed. The region is located around 100-200 ft higher in comparison to the city level. Since the entire Aravali functions as a major water recharge zone, any leakage of leachate from solid waste would pollute the groundwater.
POLLUTING INDUSTRIES Residents of Angadh village near Nandesari GIDC (Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation) near Vadodara in Gujarat approached the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) in March 2015 as they were receiving reddish brown ground water from tube wells. The dumping of industrial waste in the area is polluting the groundwater.
The NGT ordered closure of Bhushan Steel and Strips Ltd in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh for 4 weeks declaring it to be a polluting industry that is contaminating the ground water and extracting high quantity of ground water for industrial use without permission from the CGWA. An NGO testing the ground water in 2011 in Ghaziabad also found alarmingly high amounts of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium in the groundwater in at least three areas – in both the trans- and sis- Hindon parts of the city.
Farmers of two panchayats — Girisamuthiram and Necknamalai — have been irrigating their fields with sewage water from Vaniyambadi Municipality in Vellore district in TN for the last three decades, rather than groundwater, since the groundwater is highly polluted with effluents from the leather industries causing the crops to wither. The leather industry has discharged untreated effluents into water bodies, particularly the Palar riverbed. Ground water in and around Girisamuthiram has been declared unfit for human consumption. Experts from Krishi Vigyan Kendra say that irrigating the fields with sewage water will harm the soil and that agri-produce grown on such soil would be unfit for human consumption.
The Baddi Barotiwala Nalagarh (BBN) Industrial Area in Solan district, Himachal Pradesh, which houses close to 3,000 units of cement factories, textile units, stone crushers, aluminium smelters, lead-acid battery manufacturers, boiler producers, brick kilns, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics companies is creating an environmental crisis in the region. The industrial activities are causing depletion of groundwater due to heavy extraction, increasing river pollution, air pollution, generation of fly ash, illegal dumping of hazardous waste and riverbed mining in the area.
In Punjab, the groundwater is contaminated, not only by general pollutants but also with heavy metals and radioactive uranium. The Punjab government has decided to turn to canals for potable water. 83 of the 85 villages in a pocket in Moga district and 35 of 36 villages in a part of Barnala district had contaminated ground water.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) told the NGT on November 20, 2015 that large amounts of industrial effluents have been found in the groundwater and rivers flowing through several districts of Uttar Pradesh. Enormous quantities of harmful substances including municipal and industrial effluents entering Hindon from the districts of Saharanpur, Muzzafarnagar, Shamli, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar, were found, which caused ground water contamination and have adverse health impact on the natives of villages in these districts. The CPCB has recommended stoppage of untreated wastewater being discharged into the river system or water bodies to prevent ground water from getting contaminated and that all sewage be treated.
Union Minister for Water Resources Uma Bharti said that a comprehensive policy is needed to address the over–exploitation of ground water involving both supply and demand side management. Ground water augmentation measures, conjunctive management of surface and ground water, regulation of ground water development, enhancing water use efficiency are important measures required for ground water management. The Minister has said that her Ministry is already taking the following measures (as can be seen from the comments in the brackets, none of these are helping, the government is completely non serious):
– Promoting rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge measures in the country. A Master Plan has been drawn and circulated to all State Governments for harnessing surplus monsoon runoff to augment ground water resources (This is unfortunately not in high priority or focus, with highly inadequate allocation of financial or institutional or regulatory resources)
– A nationwide programme of Aquifer Mapping which will facilitate participatory ground water management involving local communities. (Mapping has just started under 12th Five Year Plan and mapping itself wont help unless local communities are legally and resource wise empowered)
– Pursuing the enactment of a law on ground water in all States/ UTs. So far 15 States/UT’s have adopted and implemented the ground water legislation. (But none of the states have implemented it)
REGULATION Minister Uma Bharti has said that the government is mulling to enact a law to put a cap on the usage of river water as well as underground water. In order to set parameters over the usage of river water and underground water, a committee has been formed to come up with a law with the nod of the states.
With an estimated 5,00,000 flats under construction in Noida and Greater Noida, the CGWA has recommended that only one basement be allowed for any future work to prevent de-watering of groundwater. One basement is up to three metre below ground level. The Noida and Greater Noida are entirely sitting over Ganga-Yamuna “Doab” belt. Many real estate projects along Yamuna Expressway have even come up on the active floodplain of River Yamuna. Recently Okhla Colony in South East Delhi on Yamuna floodplain and a hospital building in Kalka Ji ridge area in Delhi suffered from basement flooding. However many basements and underground Metro lanes have been built in Delhi, which have severely affected the groundwater hydrology. During de-watering of flooded basements the huge amount of accumulated water is simply discharged into drains as has been noted in the case of construction of the Additional Office Complex for the Supreme Court of India.
The CPCB has ordered that 119 sugar mill owners situated along the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh should use waste water for irrigation instead of dumping it into the river. The state ground water department’s data of last year shows that groundwater levels in 820 development blocks were ‘diminishing’.
Minister for mines and geology T Harish Rao informed the Telangana state Assembly on March 24, 2015 that the government was taking steps to prevent depletion of ground water due to illegal sand mining in the Godavari, Manjeera and Maneru catchment areas through strict vigilance.
REVISED GUIDELINES OF THE CGWA The CGWA came up with revised guidelines for evaluation of proposals for ground water abstraction. The CGWA has notified 162 areas for ground water regulation. The guidelines empower the district administrative heads/head of the municipality for granting of NOC’s for ground water withdrawal, checking violations, sealing of abstraction structures, prosecuting offenders and address complaints. Under the latest guidelines:
– In the notified areas, ground water abstraction is permissible only for government water supplying agencies and for drinking and domestic purposes limited to the cases where public water supply system does not exist. Water meter installation is mandatory in case the abstraction is done other than by an individual household.
– In the non-notified areas, all industries, new and existing, extracting groundwater will need to obtain a no-objection certificate (NOC) to draw groundwater. Earlier this was required only of new and expansion projects.
– The new guidelines have a separate category for water intensive industries which includes more stringent regulations for groundwater usage and prohibit extraction of groundwater by such industries in over-exploited areas.
– In areas even where the ground water level is unsafe the allowed quantity of groundwater use is dependent on the quantity of ground water recharged by the industry.
If enforced these guidelines would compel industries located in ground water stressed areas to recharge groundwater in order to extract it further. They would also prevent over exploitation by beverage industries and bring an end to the operation of existing industries whose prolonged extraction have already depleted the ground water to unsustainable levels.
But the guidelines are unsatisfactory on various counts. They fail to stipulate measuring and monitoring mechanisms for groundwater recharge even though the amount of allowed abstraction depends on recharge. The new guidelines have yet again not brought agricultural use of ground water under regulation.
Unfortunately the CGWA’s past record has not been very promising. Despite bottling plants requiring a license from the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) which in turn required an NOC from the CGWA, thousands of units extracting groundwater from over-exploited areas were given licenses by the CGWA. When asked how they could do this, flimsy reasons were given, says Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP. Even in states having their own rules, the implementation of groundwater legislations has been a challenge.
RECHARGE The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has prepared 4,898 Hydro-Geo-Morphological Maps (HGM maps) for ground water prospecting and selecting sites for artificial ground water recharge.
The forest department has started constructing large earthen dams that will help store rainwater and recharge groundwater in Gurgaon and Mewat. About four dams are expected to be ready before next monsoon. The 220-m-long dam in Ghamroj village will have a catchment area of 180 ha, it will recharge 25-50% of the total rainfall in the area.
NGT and the COURTS – the last resort
The NGT made many attempts to ameliorate the ground water crisis by giving orders to concerned government authorities to take measures to recharge and prevent pollution of groundwater. In some cases the NGT made rules and ordered action of its own to tackle the ground water problem.
On August 20, 2015, the tribunal ordered that rainwater harvesting be ‘adopted as a rule’ in all government projects and institutions. It called for a report on installation of RWHS on all flyovers in Delhi. In other matters, the tribunal took several hospitals, malls, hotels and companies to task for not complying with its orders on installing rainwater harvesting on July 8, 2015. The NGT imposed fines to the tune of Rs 3-5 lakhs and issued warrants on many of the violators and their officials.
The district magistrates and five Senior Superintendents of Police in western Uttar Pradesh were fined by the NGT on February 17, 2015 for their repeated failure to reply to its notice on polluted rivers causing cancer among villagers. The NGT had taken suo motu cognisance of a newspaper report on the polluted waters of the Kali, Krishna and Hindon rivers having contaminated the groundwater of the villages on their banks. Drinking of the groundwater caused bone deformities among several villagers, and some of them had died of cancer. The Allahabad High Court also directed the District Magistrate and the top officials of the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) in Ghaziabad to initiate criminal and departmental proceedings against those responsible for allowing industrial effluent to contaminate groundwater.
The NGT appointed a commissioner to prepare a report on the massive concretisation of Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. The practice of concretisation of soil, green areas is a violation of the Biological Diversity Act 2002. The Ghaziabad Development Authority and Nagar Nigam have failed to install rain water harvesting systems at public places and buildings. Ghaziabad is witnessing a fall in the ground water-level which has gone down over 3 m in the span of 5 years. It has been declared as a ‘critical area’ by the CGWA.
The Supreme Court also gave orders to take steps to conserve ground water. Passing order on a PIL the SC on July 31, 2015 issued notice to the Centre and Delhi government asking them why extraction of ground water through borewells should not be regulated and meters be installed to curb wasteful use. There are nearly 5 lakh illegal borewells in just the national capital. A National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) study says almost 16% of Delhi’s urban households and 30% of its rural ones don’t have sufficient drinking water throughout the year.
Groundwater is a local resource and hence centralized regulation is likely to fail in the absence of public participation and decentralized approaches. Active participation by citizens can go a long way in protecting ground water as was seen in various places across the country. In Pune, a citizens’ action group waged a legal battle to save River Mutha after the local body dumped debris on the river which over the years lost its water-carrying capacity. The Environment Support Group of Bangalore took up protection of lakes in Karnataka. The group also forced the state to implement the high court directions to set up lake protection committees.
In Delhi, a 200-year-old water body in Dwarka was revived recharging the groundwater with 1 crore litre of water this monsoon in a short span of 23 days. The credit for its revival goes to the residents of the area and environmental activists who had put in physical labour to remove the silt, deepen the water body and channel the water while also pursuing the DDA for assistance. The residents have taken up the cudgels to ensure that two natural groundwater recharge sites in the area get water body status in the records of Delhi government and the Delhi Development Authority.
In Rajasthan, a public-private partnership rented rooftops and set up collection networks of pipes and underground storage tanks. Part of the rain captured by his system goes to the homeowner, the rest through a series of pipes to community reservoirs.
A group of companies, research organizations, and industry associations created a web platform called the India Water Tool by compiling data from departments like the CGWB, the Indian Meteorological Department, the Ministry of Water Resources and the CPCB. Civil society and the government can use the tool to evaluate water risks and learn about water levels and water quality.
THE WAY AHEAD
Demand for ground water is ever increasing and even greater in times of drought. Since ground water is mostly used in agriculture, increasing water use efficiency in this sector is extremely important. Use of drip and sprinkler irrigation and developing canal networks can help. A re-look at the cropping pattern and the government policies which sustain them is necessary, especially where there is groundwater overdraft.
The System of Rice Intensification saves on seed, water, fertilizer, pesticide and increases yield per acre and should be widely adopted. Unlike the traditional method this does not require flooding of the field.
Organizations including the World Bank have suggested measures like increasing water tariffs in urban areas for sustainable development and management of groundwater in the country.
Water bodies, including rivers, ponds, marshes, lakes and other wetlands and flood plains which help ground water recharge have been destroyed or gobbled up by encroachments and urbanization blocking the natural recharging of aquifers. Planned urban development is required to safeguard the ground water recharge mechanisms.
Wastage of water and pollution of ground water have to be dealt with an iron hand. The government and the citizens have to respond to the ground water problem urgently to avert a crisis and for a happier 2016.
Groundwater is India’s water lifeline and will remain our mainstay, whether we like it not. With every passing year, our dependence on groundwater for all sectors is increasing, but our government is yet to wake up to this reality. Once we accept this reality, the sustainability of this water lifeline will be the focus of our all our water resources plans, policies and programs. Then we will be better able to use the bounty of rainwater, protect groundwater recharge systems including rivers and create more of them, while also going for bottom up participatory groundwater regulation in an effective way. URGENTLY.
Anuradha (firstname.lastname@example.org), SANDRP