The Union government is mooting reforms on the protection, conservation, management, and regulation of groundwater.

Depleting sources of groundwater have become a major concern for planners and civic authorities. Conservation of groundwater and protection of its sources are being looked at while trying to cope with the pressures arising out of a phenomenal rise in the number of people depending on urban water-supply schemes.

The Union government is mooting reforms on the protection, conservation, management, and regulation of groundwater. The States are expected to discuss the regulations enshrined in a model Bill before being passed in the respective legislatures.

One of the major reforms sought to be introduced is the formation of groundwater panels at the local body level. A grama panchayat groundwater committee has to be elected for the purpose.

Preparation and implementation of a panchayat groundwater security plan, determination of groundwater sanctuaries within the territory of the panchayat, and adopting norms for their management and regulation are among the functions of the committee.

Another major initiative envisaged is the registration of all wells — tube wells, dug wells, and shallow wells — within the panchayat boundaries. The panel will oversee the usage of groundwater and execute plans for conservation.

Remedial measures will have to be taken if groundwater is overexploited in any area. Sanctions against water-intensive crops, incentives for the adoption of water-conserving technologies, such as drip irrigation and sprinklers, and setting up of artificial recharge structures are among the measures which can be adopted. The panchayat groundwater security plan shall be valid for five years.

Committees to monitor aspects of groundwater are to be set up at the level of the block panchayat also. In the case of the district panchayat, a groundwater council is to be formed. The functions of the council include endorsing block panchayat groundwater security plans and preparing a consolidated plan at the district level. Maintaining a database of groundwater resources in conjunction with those of surface water, land, and forest resources at the district level are also among its duties.

The system is expected to be on similar lines in urban areas. A ward groundwater committee is to be set up in each ward of the municipality. The committee shall prepare and oversee the implementation of the ward groundwater security plan in consultation with local elected bodies.

Formation of a State groundwater advisory council, supported by the State Groundwater Department, the Water Resources Department or any other department dealing with water resources, is another feature of the draft rules. The council will have representatives of the Central Groundwater Board, the State Groundwater Board, the State Pollution Control Board, the irrigation department, the gram panchayat groundwater committees, the block panchayat groundwater committees, the district panchayat groundwater councils, the ward groundwater committees, and the municipal groundwater committees, apart from two independent experts.

The State Groundwater Advisory Council will have to ensure that the measures adopted for use and conservation of groundwater in rural and urban areas do not contradict each other. The State Groundwater Board will have to prepare integrated river basin maps, including of surface water, groundwater, and land and forest resources, by compiling data from the district level and conducting studies and surveys where required.

An information cell is also envisaged under the proposed rules. The district groundwater monitoring and information cell is the authority vested with the job of compiling information from block cells. Similarly, a groundwater monitoring and information centre is required to be set up at the block level and a municipal groundwater information and monitoring cell at the municipal level. Setting up a digital database of groundwater resources and compilation of watershed levels are among other tasks that the cells will have to take up.

Rainwater harvesting

Rainwater harvesting is one of the focus areas of the proposed regulations.

The gram panchayat groundwater committee or the ward groundwater committee, as the case may be, is required to stipulate conditions for providing rooftop rainwater harvesting structures in the building plan of an area of 500 sq.m or more. Such stipulations shall be binding on the government agencies sanctioning or approving building plans. Permanent water and electricity connections shall be extended only after compliance with the directions given in this regard.

In respect of irrigation, the proposed rules allow farmers owning or tilling less than one acre of land for raising livelihood crops to use groundwater. Irrigation of cash crops and water-intensive crops will be based on a permit system allocated by the appropriate authority. Payment of a water cess can be made applicable for the latter. In any area where groundwater is or becomes overexploited, where water-intensive crops such as paddy or sugarcane are grown, an undertaking shall be obtained for a change from water-intensive crops and such an undertaking needs to be incorporated in the permit.

Industrial users of groundwater, including bottling plants, will require permits under the proposed regulations. The permit will fix the maximum quantity of water per day that can be extracted.

Permits will be granted by the grama panchayat groundwater committee or the ward groundwater committee.

The permits will be valid for one to five years.

Measures for groundwater recharging and water-quality protection measures are stipulated for renewal. The proposed Bill envisages imposition of a water cess for industrial users.