The Financial Express
The Union environment ministry recommending, for the second time, that users be billed for using Groundwater makes a lot of sense. The green ministry has submitted a report to the National Green Tribunal (NGT), outlining a multi-decadal action plan (up to 2070) on regulation of groundwater in the country. The government had notified a similar proposal last year, but the NGT had struck it down and asked it to submit a fresh proposal. As per the current proposal, a water conservation fee (WCF) is to be charged to industrial, residential and farm-based users. The proposal also talks of water credits, earned by users based on water conservation achieved. The Action Plan for the next decade talks of aquifer and recharge area mapping across the country, a sorely neglected area so far, and developing block/village level groundwater management plans, a water security policy and a shift from block-wise groundwater management to aquifer-wise management. A Bureau of Water Use Efficiency is to be created while all groundwater extraction is to be monitored telemetrically with digital flow-meters.
The plan for later decades is to map catchment and protect springs, implement a mega recharge project for water-stressed areas, establish one monitoring stations per 10 sq km, pollutant monitoring remediation of polluted aquifers, development of a groundwater based drought alert system, etc. Groundwater extraction in overexploited, critical and semi-critical areas will only be permitted for drinking water and socially-relevant purposes like building of schools, hospitals, etc. India has just 4% of the world’s freshwater reserve and nearly 80% of this is used by agriculture. Given groundwater accounts for watering needs of 65% of the total area under agriculture in the country, charging agriculture, where water as a resource is most abused was the need of the hour. The new proposal will cover nearly 1.5 crore farmers in the country, or a tenth of the overall farmer population. The exact contours of the WCF are not known yet, but the proposal last year outlined it for industrial users; an industry, after obtaining an NOC from the relevant groundwater authority, can pay and extract water.
Groundwater not only contributes to about 85% drinking water supply in rural areas but also accounts for 60% of urban water needs. With 21 cities in the country set to run completely dry in the next few years, the crushing pressure on ground water is already manifest. Of the 6,584 assessment units in the country for groundwater, 1,034 are over-exploited, 253 are termed critical, and 681 semi-critical. Unless a prudent groundwater management system, with charges deterring over-exploitation, and a sound recharge and reuse management structure is adopted, India stares at a parched future, more so with climate change effects playing out the way they are predicted to.
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