Context: In view of a regulatory uncertainty, industry bodies have now approached the Jal Shakti ministry seeking relief on the use of groundwater, considering that more than 20,000 applications for no-objection certificates (NOCs) have been put on hold by the authorities.


  • NGT order:  In 2019, the NGT had ordered the Centre to put on hold its new norms on groundwater use. It further ordered in 2020 that permission should be granted on the basis of a study of groundwater availability and periodical report that replenishment had resulted in improvement.
    • The CGWA guidelines were shot down by the NGT.
  • The policy vacuum: CII said in its representation that non-renewal of the certificates is causing immense hardship to the industry, resulting in closure of businesses and job losses. 
  • Non-renewal of the NOCs : About 20,000 applications are pending before the CGWA. Around 800,000 companies fall in overexploited, critical and semi-critical blocks, representing 36% of 3,881 groundwater assessment units.

Ground water regulation in India: Water as a subject belongs to the states which makes it their responsibility to regulate and manage it. But under the Environment Protection Act, the Central Ground Water Authority can issue guidelines to states.

  • Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA), constituted by the Government of India under Section 3  (3)  of  the  Environment  (Protection)  Act (EPA)  of  1986,  has been regulating ground water development and management in the country. 
  • It grants NOC to industries requiring ground water for mixed use i.e. industrial process and drinking &  domestic  purpose shall  be  granted  only  for  such  cases  where  adequate  public  water  supply/ surface  water  source  does  not  exist. No industrial project is approved without water recycling norms. 
  • Groundwater surveys: The Authority also has the responsibility of conducting groundwater level surveys across the country. 
    • Categories for surveys: It divides the groundwater table across the country into different assessment blocks and categorises them based on “groundwater development”. This is a measure of how much groundwater has been extracted from an area compared to its recharge through rains.
    • If assessment units are classified as over-exploited then it means that the groundwater extraction is overall much higher than the groundwater recharge. 
    • The other categories are safe, semi-critical and critical. The over-exploited zones are notified by the authority to ensure groundwater use is more strictly regulated.
    • India's most water-stressed blocks situated in Tamil Nadu (541), followed by Rajasthan (218), Uttar Pradesh (139) and Telangana (137), with several other states reeling under drought-like conditions. While 313 blocks have been termed critical, there are 1,186 blocks which have been over-exploited for water.
  • Govt. schemes: The CGWB is currently implementing a scheme for Groundwater Management and Regulation (GWMR); India's first attempt to support groundwater management at national level through the CGWB and the implementation capacity of States in local groundwater resource management. 
    • Jal Shakti Abhiyan: The govt. targeted all these water-stressed districts. Our aim was to capture the monsoon rain to alleviate their condition.
    • Atal Bujal Yojna:Atal Bhujal Yojana (Atal Jal) is a recently launched central sector scheme of Department of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, Ministry of Jal Shakti with World Bank assistance. It aims to facilitate sustainable management of ground water resources with community participation with emphasis on demand management.
  • The Model Bills: The 2005 Model Bill mandates the formation of a groundwater regulation authority that would function under the control of the state government. 
    • The authority would also have the power to grant permits to anyone who wants to extract groundwater or sink wells.
    • Every new well and drilling machine would also have to be registered with the authority. 
    • The Code of Criminal Procedure would also apply if the authority would want to search and seize any machinery. 
    • Additionally, the Bill also stated that the authority would have to issue guidelines to state governments to adopt rain water harvesting in their development schemes.
  • Groundwater (Sustainable Management) Bill, 2017 was another Model Bill framed keeping in mind the decentralisation of groundwater regulation. It was under the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation. 
    • The new draft recognises water as a public trust. It also includes water security measures and groundwater protection zones.

Concerns with groundwater management:

  • Depleting water table: Though India is among the top 10 water-rich countries almost a third of the country is parched. According to the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), blocks in 256 districts are water-stressed.
    • Groundwater level in 1,186 blocks in these districts are overexploited, which means people here have used up over 100 per cent of the available groundwater.
    • Another 312 are in critical stage, where extraction level has reached 90-100 per cent; and 94 have least groundwater availability.
    • The latest report by the Central Water Commission (CWC) says per capita water availability in the country has already reduced by one-fourth to 1,368 cubic metres (1,368 kilolitres) a year over the past seven decades, and is set to reduce further.
  • A weak central authority: There is currently no Central law on groundwater regulation. There is, however, a British-era law called the Indian Easement Act, 1882 which gives landowners the right to “collect and dispose” of all water under the land within their own limits.
    • The Central Ground Water Authority “has become a licensing body for groundwater that gives no objection certificates to industries to extract groundwater.
  • Issues with Model bills: They do not take into account all those people who do not own land and need access to groundwater.
    • It was practically impossible to implement an Act based on the Model Bill that was introduced after the usage of tubewells became more rampant.
  • Issues with state ground water regulation acts: Acts enabled by states did not “enable the authorities to re-allocate groundwater between different uses or take either precautionary or pro-active decisions, except for Andhra Pradesh, whose Water, Land and Trees Act, 2002, is a move to regulate groundwater in conjunction with surface water and other pressing environmental concerns.
  • Issues with Jal Shakti Abhiyan: It lacked scientific planning, community participation and sustainability of structures and was marred by corruption.

Way forward:

  • Curbing extensive groundwater withdrawals will require limiting agricultural electricity subsidies provided by state governments and rationing of power.
    • Other strategies include adopting more efficient irrigation techniques and training farmers on water conservation practices.
  • Incentivising conservation through regulations:  There is a need to replace the command and control mode in a legislation with a more protective mode that incentivises participatory, social norms of groundwater management and governance.”


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