Federal Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz announced a convention of Chief Ministers to coax adoption of a measures including making rainwater harvesting mandatory and stronger regulation of this dwindling resource. The Model Bill for Regulation and Management of Groundwater is facing immense resistance from several states including well developed Punjab as farmers feel over-regulation is an excuse for more political and bureaucratic corruption.
Soz revealed that the Advisory Council for Artificial Recharge of Groundwater had “advised that a meeting of Chief Ministers be convened” and “persuaded to adopt the Bill.” The council also apparently recommended several sub-committees to:
Review the exploitation of groundwater by multinational companies that manufacture cold drinks and bottled water
Recommend a policy to regulate industrial use of groundwater and Soz says that this measure would make the industry “subjected (sic) to discipline.”
To look into materials and manuals of the Central Ground Water Board. While this panel will be headed by environmentalist Sunita Narain, it is not clear what this sub-committee would really do.
To prepare guidelines for an annual award that would be given to an outstanding
village community working on 'pani panchayat' (water users' associations).
Soz says that so far 58 per cent of groundwater had been “developed” (meaning exploited) and this to him is a “comfortable situation.” Of the 5,723 blocks assessed by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) 219 in Andhra Pradesh, 142 in Tamil Nadu, 140 in Rajasthan, 103 in Punjab, 65 in Karnataka, 55 in Haryana, 37 in Uttar Pradesh, 31 in Gujarat and 24 in Madhya Pradesh have been over exploited. All the 1,061 blocks identified as critical or over-exploited need urgent intervention with artificial recharge mechanism. Interestingly, there is a correlation between the farmer “suicide zones” in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala and the depletion of groundwater levels. Some blocks in Gujarat, Orissa, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu
had been identified as “saline.”
Andhra Pradesh is notorious
for over exploitation of water and
abuse of natural water storages.
Even though the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had inaugurated the Council, the advice and means to achieve consensus seems naive at best. While not diminishing the size of excessive and rampant abuse of water resources in the nation, a key requirement of the Bill is registration and licensing of new and existing bills. While Chief Ministers are primarily concerned with winning elections, the resistance from their constituencies stem from fears that this bill presents unfettered opportunity for official harassment, demand for bribes, and corruption.
Furthermore, the concept of water usage and reuse in India is contrary to accepted International norms. Instead of using pure water for drinking water and using reclaimed waste water for agricultural purposes, the Government plans to use the River waters for agriculture and groundwater for drinking. Instead of enacting mandatory rainwater harvesting and sewage reclamation at the block level to be implemented by large users such as apartment complexes and industrial houses, it wants to centralize these under its control for which it has no competence. Instead of preserving and rejuvenating ancient water ways, tanks, reservoirs, and drainage, State Governments are actively promoting them as housing complexes. More importantly, the Government has not disclosed any clear mapping of groundwater resources. Without addressing these important issues, these recommendations are window dressing and will not build architecture for preserving present groundwater levels nor will it enhance this important resource that needs to be used more as a reserve and not as primary means of usage