Groundwater

Groundwater Governance: Why Dec 12, 2018 CGWA notification would be disastrous

On December 18, 2018, the principle of Bench of the National Green Tribunal, called the CGWA (Central Groundwater Authority) notification gazetted[i] on Dec 12, 2018 as against “national interest”.[ii] The trouble is can we even expect CGWA and their parent, Union Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (MoWR for short) to get us out of the deep murky groundwater pit that we are in today?

NGT rightly asked, can just charging fees regulate groundwater? But it seems the MoWR cannot think in terms of a policy for groundwater, which is what the NGT had asked, not price tag list.

This policy blindness about India’s water lifeline is the biggest obstacle to achieving better groundwater governance. India’s water lifeline is groundwater, any discerning observer will agree, with two thirds of irrigated area, 85% of rural water needs, over half of urban and industrial water needs being served by groundwater and graph of % dependence on groundwater climbing up for each of these sub sectors. Our National Water Policy needs to acknowledge this reality, that whether we want it or not like it or not, groundwater is and is going to remain our water lifeline in foreseeable future.

Once that is acknowledged in the National Water Policy, then we will need to understand where does the groundwater come from. The natural recharge systems include the forests, the wetlands, the rivers, the flood plains, the local water bodies. We then need to protect these recharge systems and take measures to enhance recharge from these systems. Where necessary and scientifically feasible, we can add artificial recharge systems.

But most importantly, we would then start seriously thinking about groundwater regulation. The CGWA, set up under Environment Protection Act (1986) on Jan 14, 1997 following Supreme Court order of Dec 10, 1996, has proved itself to be completely worthless in this respect. After being in existence for close to 22 years, it cannot show a successful example of regulation anywhere in India in spite of having sweeping powers to achieve that. The revolving door that exists between CGWA and CGWB (Central Groundwater Board) has essentially made it to be a licensing body, and thus worsening the groundwater situation.

What has the CGWA been doing? In its own words: “issuing ‘No Objection Certificates’ for ground water extraction to industries or infrastructure projects or mining projects etc., and framed guidelines in this connection from time to time in twenty states and three Union territories, where ground water development is not being regulated by the State Government or Union territory administration concerned”. States/ Union Territories where CGA is not regulating groundwater currently: Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Telangana, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Puducherry. However, the new notification will have pan India applicability, says section 2.

The mindset of CGWA is on full display in the latest notification of Dec 12, 2018.

Some key aspects of the guidelines and critique:

  • The guidelines to come into force from June 1, 2019 (why should it not be immediately implemented?). Groundwater use for Individual households for drinking water use for supply line upto 1 inch diameter supply line (Section 2.2.1) does not require mandatory rainwater harvesting. Installation of digital water meter is not mandatory in this case.
  • Section 2.2.2, applicable to infrastructure projects/ industries/ mining/ public water supply agencies for drinking/ domestic water use upto 12.5 m3/day water. They do not mandatorily require use of recycled/ treated sewage for flushing/ green belt etc. Installation of piezometers not mandatory if extraction below 10 m3/day. Installation of Digital Water Level Recorders shall not be mandatory for projects requiring ground water upto 50 m3/day in safe and semi critical assessment units (no telemetry for water use upto 500 m3/day) and upto 20 m3/day in critical and overexploited assessment units (no telemetry for water use upto 200 m3/day). No condition for compulsory treatment and recycle of sewage.
  • Section 2.3.1 for water use for industries: industries abstracting ground water to the tune of 500 m3/day or more in safe and semi critical and 200 m3/day or more in critical and over-exploited assessment units do not require water audit. Those that require water audit, need to get it done through “CII/ FICCI/ NPC certified auditors”. How can that be credible? It says “industries except those falling in red and orange categories as per CPCB” to implement Rain water harvesting. Why should the red and orange category industries exempt from Rain water harvesting?
  • Major concession: “Existing industries, which have already obtained NOC and have implemented recharge measures as specified in the NOC, shall be exempted from paying WCF. However, if the industry is going for expansion, WCF will have to be paid for the additional quantum of ground water withdrawal as per applicable rates.”
  • Section 2.3.3 for Infrastructure projects: Wastewater treatment and recycle measures not mandatory.
  • Shockingly, no impact assessment, no public consultation, monitoring or compliance mechanism for any of the massive groundwater extraction proposals, in any of the above.
  • Why should monitoring records be retained only for upto two years?

Agriculture water use: “Concerned State Departments (Agriculture/ Irrigation/ Water Resources) shall be required to undertake suitable demand and supply side measures to ensure sustainability of ground water sources. An indicative list of demand side measures is given”. CGWA could have provided more detailed and effective measures, including community governed groundwater regulation. The list given does not even include water saving methods like System of Rice Intensification or such method for other crops.

In fact, community driven regulation could have been recommended for all the different user classes.

WCF = Water CON fees? The notification has no restrictions, no banned water use activities even in over exploited and critical areas, where essentially there is no groundwater available for exploitation. Everyone, including bottled water and cold drink manufacturers are allowed to extract as much as they want, even from over exploited areas, as long as they pay WCF! These are clearly not Water Conservation Fees, but Water CON Fees. “Other industries” have to pay just one fifth to one sixth the WCF compared to packaged drinking water units. The “other industries” clearly includes cold drink companies. Mining and infrastructure industries have to pay even lower, upto one third the WCF than “other industries”.

Other conditions include a strange one: “Sale of raw/ unprocessed/ untreated ground water for commercial use by agencies not having valid NOC from CGWA is not permitted.” This means that if you have valid NOC, you can sale the water to others!

The delegation of powers by the notification is clearly not confidence inspiring: “Central Ground Water Authority has appointed the District Magistrate/ District Collector / Sub Divisional Magistrates of each Revenue District and Regional Directors of CGWB through Public Notice as Authorized Officers, who have been delegated the power to monitor compliance, check violations and seal illegal wells, launch prosecution against offenders etc. including grievance redressal related to ground water.” These agencies have not succeeded in achieving regulation of groundwater, how that is going to change? What is required is a dedicated groundwater regulation mechanism at aquifer/ gram sabha/ block/ district level where at least 50% members are independent people from outside government.

We hope NGT keeps all this in mind when it gives detailed order on January 11, 2019, as promised on Dec 18, 2018.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com), SANDRP

Note: An edited version of this was published in THE TRIBUNE on Dec 31, 2018: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/in-focus/deep-trouble-on-water-front/706239.html

END NOTES:

[i] http://cgwa-noc.gov.in/LandingPage/LatestUpdate/NotifiedGuidelines-2018.pdf

[ii] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/ngt-raps-ministry-over-groundwater-notification/article25777703.ece

Dams · Groundwater · USA

Sacred Origins: Spring Lake and San Marcos River of Texas

It was a freak accident. But it meant that I had to travel every week from Austin to Brooke Army Medical Center, some 75 miles away. These were not enjoyable trips and one of the solace was a sign on the highway:  “San Marcos River Recreational Areas: Turn Right”. I used to wonder what will happen if we actually turn right someday. A river with parks around it maybe? Or trails along a flowing river? The thought always made the journey slightly more palatable. Continue reading “Sacred Origins: Spring Lake and San Marcos River of Texas”

CAG Report · Dams · Groundwater · Irrigation · Ministry of Water Resources

AIBP: just a pack of unverifiable claims or worse?

Union Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) has been claiming that Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Program (AIBP) is a success story of Modi government and some media stories[i] are happy to uncritically report those claims. If we take a close, objective look at the MoWR website[ii], we gather that the claims of success is just that: claim of the ministry. There is no evidence available on the ministry’s website or in the media report that support such claims to show that additional irrigation has actually been achieved. Continue reading “AIBP: just a pack of unverifiable claims or worse?”

Dams · Delhi · DRP News Bulletin · Floods · Ganga · Groundwater

DRP News Bulletin 16 October 2017: New Groundwater Guidelines threat to India’s Water Lifeline

GROUND WATER

New Draft Guidelines designed to privatise & destroy Groundwater The Ministry of Water Resources of the Union Government has on Oct 11, 2017 (see notice: http://www.wrmin.nic.in/forms/List.aspx?lid=1180&Id=6) put up draft guidelines on Groundwater management in India (see draft Guidelines: http://www.wrmin.nic.in/writereaddata/guideline-NOC-CGWA.pdf), with comment period of 60 days. The comments are to be sent to: Member Secretary, Central Ground Water Authority, West Block-2, Wing 3 (Ground Floor), Sector 1, RK Puram, New Delhi – 110066, e-mail: cgwa@nic.in.

New Draft Groundwater guidelines designed to destroy groundwater further and open floodgates for privatisation of common property resource? “Groundwater is a common property resource and should be used for greater good. But these guidelines are not doing that. Groundwater governance and management should happen in a transparent, participatory and accountable way but that too is not happening through guidelines,” Thakkar said.

Explaining, Thakkar said that the guidelines are “trying to make a system wherein state or district level authorities will be giving NOCs but whether those authorities have capacity to give NOCs after understanding the implications is the question.” “The draft guidelines also take out the need to recharge groundwater. Present regulations say that you if you take out groundwater you need to put in recharge capacity but now they are saying that’s not necessary and are only seeking charges. These things will definitely lead to further destruction of groundwater,” he added. http://www.livemint.com/Politics/irx1jFCWMFjGJk82Z8VZ2O/Govt-proposes-new-guidelines-on-groundwater-usage-by-industr.html, http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2017/oct/13/centre-proposes-water-conservation-fee-for-use-of-groundwater-1673480.html, http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2017/oct/14/townships-with-gym-club-must-pay-water-fee-1673790.htmlhttp://www.hindustantimes.com/environment/centre-proposes-nixing-recharge-requirement-for-industries-extracting-groundwater/story-kN3iPmO9m4MIoYkUX32n7I.html   Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 16 October 2017: New Groundwater Guidelines threat to India’s Water Lifeline”

Dams · Groundwater

Ground Water India 2016: Plethora of petitions, but no effective action

The year has seen many news reports about national and global water bottling brands abstracting groundwater without valid licenses. In the wake of severe drought, thermal power plants have been criticized for aggravating the water crisis. Reports have suggested that many new thermal power plants are proposed to be built in already water scarce regions. This brief report also covers some judicial orders on this subject.

Continue reading “Ground Water India 2016: Plethora of petitions, but no effective action”

Groundwater · Maharashtra

Maharashtra Farm Ponds: accelerating groundwater exploitation, rather than harvesting rain?

Farm ponds dotting the agricultural fields immediately grab your attention as you enter Hiwargaon Pawasa – a small village of about 1500 population in Sangamner Taluka of Ahmadnagar District. The village is located just off NH-50, the national highway connecting Pune and Nashik. Farm ponds start to appear as soon as you turn east from NH-50 (which broadly runs North South) to head towards Hiwargaon. Nearly every farm, small or big, has a plastic lined farm pond. Hiwargaon Pawasa village alone has some 300 odd farm ponds.

I am here to see how these small scale irrigation facilities now set to be implemented on massive scale through the country are performing on ground. Continue reading “Maharashtra Farm Ponds: accelerating groundwater exploitation, rather than harvesting rain?”

CGWB · Groundwater · Western Ghats

Many colors of groundwater in a tiny Western Ghats village

“Konkan” is the narrow strip of land encompassing coastlines, estuaries, lateritic plateaus, foothills of Western Ghats and dense forests, which runs from Maharashtra to Goa. It is bound by the Arabian Sea to its west and the mighty Sahyadri ranges (Western Ghats) to its east. The isolated region has a distinct and rich culture of folklore, performing arts, music, literature, culinary art, with subtle changes from north to south. The region receives heavy rainfall of about 2500-3500 mm in summer monsoons, with the lofty Sahyadri ranges blocking the moisture-laden clouds. 

The rivers in the region are as spectacular: gushing and gurgling over steep hilly paths and meeting the Arabian Sea in just about 100-150 kilometers from their origin in the Western Ghats. The steep and hilly terrain makes it difficult to build large dams, (though we keep trying unsuccessfully as can be seen here: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/large-dams-in-konkan-western-ghats-costs-benefits-and-impacts/) and water resource managers never fail to point out that of the total yield of rivers in Maharashtra, 45% is from of the West-flowing rives of Konkan!

Having said that, the tempestuous nature of rives, rocky terrain and steep slopes mean that rives dry up as fast as they swell. The lifeline here is not surface water, but groundwater…Groundwater that emerges from springs as the predominant porous laterite rock meets a layer of clay..or dug wells…or unique water harvesting structures crafted by local communities. 

Here is a glimpse of some such structures…to appreciate not only the utility and appropriateness, but beauty of small, local structures and traditional wisdom. Also important to note is the diversity and independence of water management in Konkan: as in India..where communities own, maintain and manage their own water. There is a special kind of power and magic in this independence. Continue reading “Many colors of groundwater in a tiny Western Ghats village”

CGWB · Groundwater

Submission to Mihir Shah Committee For Restructuring of CWC & CGWB

It is proposed that the current CWC and CGWB should be reconstituted along following lines. Encouraged by communication from the committee and MoWR that the suggestions need not be limited by the TORs since TORs are also extendable, I have proposed a new institutional structure that is different than the current one. A brief outline of this was presented at the 6th meeting of Mihir Shah headed committee on Jan 11, 2016, it is elaborated here further. Continue reading “Submission to Mihir Shah Committee For Restructuring of CWC & CGWB”

Agriculture · Dams · Groundwater · Interlinking of RIvers · Krishna River · Maharashtra

Maharashtra’s Water Sector in 2015: Did anything change with the government?

Above: A huge protest march against water release to Marathwada Photo: Zee 24 Taas

In 2015, with the change in the ruling party after 15 long years, Maharashtra had a massive opportunity to break free from the crisis-ridden and scam-ridden image of its water sector. Water and dams have been central behind the embarrassing loss of Congress-NCP government in the 2014 Loksabha elections. But could the ruling BJP government actually deliver such a “Paradigm Shift” as it likes to call it? Is there light at the end of the tunnel for the state that is facing not only management scams, but repeated droughts and extreme weather events?

We try to review happenings around water, dams and rivers in Maharashtra for the past year 2015 and to look for a possible direction where the sector is heading, trying to fathom what it holds for the rivers and the people of the state. Continue reading “Maharashtra’s Water Sector in 2015: Did anything change with the government?”

Dams · Groundwater · Marathwada

Beautiful but Dry: Dug-Wells of Marathwada in the times of drought

I was looking at a piece of blue sky, from the insides of a step-well. The well was stunning. Perfect. An example of appropriate technology which blended with its surroundings while enhancing it. “This is beautiful” I exclaimed as I climbed up, exhibiting all my city-bred exuberance. An old lady sunning herself next to the well looked at me with sad eyes.  “Yes. But a well is not a well without water. This well has not seen water for the past two years.” 

Wells in Marathwada, like the region itself, are beautiful and poignant. Marathwada’s dry wells are also a reminder of the mistakes we’ve committed, of how we’ve plundered with what we have or had. Continue reading “Beautiful but Dry: Dug-Wells of Marathwada in the times of drought”