UP stands up for groundwater

In what could set a precedent for groundwater regulation across India, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Ground Water Conservation (Protection & Development) Bill, 2010, recently unveiled a draft of the government’s plan to putting a price for water. The UP draft groundwater regulation bill, is the first to address big users of water – the bulk users from commercial and industrial enterprises.

According to the CGWB, the state’s demand for groundwater has nearly doubled in recent years. While the UP gross domestic product is expected to grow 64% by the year 2020 , over 60% of the industrial water demand is currently met by groundwater.  The Uttar Pradesh State Water Policy envisions that by 2025, groundwater use will increase by 137% (from 27BCM to 65BCM) and the number of over-exploited blocks will be over 20% (177 blocks out of 820 blocks). The Act also states that “industries, barring some selected industries, shall be required to bear the development cost of the resource and its maintenance along with the cost of water to reflect the scarcity value of this resource”. It goes on to add, “For industrial use extensive water conservation and pollution control shall be exercised to keep the requirement low and prevent pollution of both ground and surface water. Treatment of industrial discharge and reuse of water shall be strictly enforced.” 

The draft bill is a step in the right direction. The draft Bill says: the use of groundwater by commercial and industrial bulk users will be regulated; users will be charged; water cannot be abstracted in dark areas; and, users must recharge the aquifer through rainwater harvesting.

In light of the new regulations, industry is responding with a plea. The UP chamber of Indian Industries Association (IIA) has submitted a memorandum requesting subsidies and representation within the newly formed Ground Water Authority (GWA) to ensure the Act would “not hinder our progress by turning into means of exploitation,” said IIA president Anil Gupta. 

In the Bijnor district of UP, houses and offices surrounding the Dhampur Sugar Mills (DSM) complex, a distillery and petrochemical plant, draw water from aquifers more than 60 meters (m) below the earth’s surface. The water table rarely sinks below 4.5m in Bijnor in the absence of bulk users. The arbitrary and often indiscriminate use of groundwater by a growing industrial sector has risen significantly in recent years in tandem with increasing cases of contamination and depleting water tables.

Mandating Rainwater harvesting
The UP Groundwater Bill breaks ground with its mandates for users to replenish groundwater levels in semi-critical and critical areas. For bulk users in UP, including commercial, government, and industrial it will be made “mandatory [to] adopt area specific Rain Water Harvesting/Recharging techniques through registered service provider; minimum amount of Rain Water Harvesting/Recharging to be fixed by the Authority.” The same rules apply for all residential, government, commercial and other premises having an area of 100 square meters or more, and any water user using a pump set more than 7.5 H.P. (Hydropower; rate of cubic meters per second). A universal policy for rainwater harvesting and recharge is unsuitable, rather, the Act promises to set rules based on locality and recharge potential. To ensure efficacy, the use of groundwater must be appropriately priced for disincentive uses and subsidies must be offered for rainwater harvesting. This must go hand in hand with regular and strict monitoring. Although the State Water Policy says that recycling and reuse requirements will be strictly enforced, this does not find a place in the draft Bill.

The proposed bill includes terms of penal action for polluters that discharge wastewater, including sewage, into groundwater systems. Offences are punishable for minimum one month and up to one year in prison for non-compliers and Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 fines for first and second-time offenders. Offences committed by companies include the liability of “every person who at the time of commission of offence was in charge of, or responsible to the company for the conduct of the business of the company.” The GWA may also seize or terminate equipment used for illegal drilling and extraction.  While these regulations certainly bear compliance, positive and performance based incentives for recharge are lacking.

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