Why Groundwater Approval Schemes have not seen success in India?

Author: Sanjaya Kumar Mishra, Editor of Enviro Annotations

The Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) was constituted under Section 3 (3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to regulate and control development and management of groundwater resources in the country. It works under the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, However, the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), another subordinate office of the Ministry, is the National Apex Agency entrusted with the responsibilities of providing scientific inputs for management, exploration, monitoring, assessment, augmentation and regulation of groundwater resources of the country. Central Ground Water Board was established in 1970 by renaming the Exploratory Tube wells Organization under the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. It was merged with the Ground Water Wing of the Geological Survey of India during 1972.

Nearly two decades back, the CGWA formulated a policy to register existing bore wells. In the national level, the registration process was not a major success. The need for obtaining prior approval or no objection certificate (NOC) has been stressed upon for almost the last two decades. This condition could be found in various environmental clearances issued by the erstwhile Ministry of Environment and Forests. A number of Orders from legal institutions like National Green Tribunal (NGT) for the last couple of years have also failed to generate that degree of response in favor of CGWA.

During 2005, a similar situation was observed in the implementation of EIA Notification, 1994, as some State Pollution Control Boards and Pollution Control Committees were not serious about it. However, regular court orders and follow-up by the erstwhile Ministry of Environment & Forests led to massive success in the implementation of EIA Notification, 1994 and subsequently the 2006 notification. On the contrary, CGWA has failed in reaching to the units. There are several units, whom CGWA has accorded NOC for groundwater abstraction. But there was no post-NOC inspection, nor any communication to address non-compliance of the NOC conditions. And therefore, there was no action initiated against any defaulting units. Unless the authority initiates legal actions as per available provisions, it would not get any success in implementation.

It is also observed that general conditions of NOC vary from industry to industry but not based on any industry category. In the industries falling under similar category and same geographical locations, have got different conditions – one requires renewal of NOC after two years and the other does not. Similarly, one requires to submit a regular status report of compliance with respect to NOC conditions and the other does not.

Some applicant units, even located in the vicinity of the national capital, have experienced significant delays in communication and even non-responsiveness of the authority during 2010. There are some examples found where the authority has declined the grant of NOC after about two years of application. Such prolonged and inconclusive policy often fail. Furthermore, according to an industry source, the CGWA has also issued NOC to an industrial unit, while declined another in the same area and same situation. Such a double standard policy won’t yield appropriate implementation of rules. The online NOC system is expected to bring a positive scenario.

Another major problem is the kind of network CGWA has created so far. The monitoring network available with the authority does not convince the implementation of regulations in the right spirit. Although the authority has brought in radical changes in the policy and process of groundwater regulation, the major challenge is to pinpoint the defaulters, across the nation. It could be easier with a technology to pin the groundwater abstraction point. In this drone age, the CGWA should focus on research and development of such technology with appropriate allocation of funds.

Water – both groundwater and surface water, need strict vigilance and regulation. The CGWA should communicate with the society through advertisements in various print and electronic media - as it is being done by Swachh Bharat Mission, Income Tax, Service Tax and Sales Tax departments of Government of India. Water, which is often referred to as The Blue Gold, is much more precious than these taxes. Impact of a mere public notice cannot yield as compared to such advertisements.
Further, it could prove vital if the groundwater NOC is linked with the Environmental Clearances, Forest Clearances, Building Plan Approvals, Building Occupancy Certificates, and Consent-to-Operate.

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