The All-India Areca Growers' Association, based at Puttur in Dakshina Kannada, has alleged that the State Government has kept a large section of farmers in the dark about the draft of the Karnataka Groundwater (Regulation and Control of Development and Management) Bill, 2009.

Incidentally the last date to file objections is April 30.

President of the association Manchi Srinivasa Achar told The Hindu that the office-bearers of the association met at Puttur recently and decided to oppose certain provisions in the draft Bill as they would adversely affect farmers. They urged the Government to extend the last date to file objections. The Government has uploaded only the English version of the draft Bill on the website of the Department of Mines and Geology without giving it publicity through newspapers, he alleged.

Mr. Achar said that the Government should immediately publish the Kannada version of the Bill to enable farmers to understand its provisions.

The publication of the Bill only on the Internet was an attempt to keep farmers in the dark as a large section of farmers did not have access to the Internet, he alleged.

He alleged that the draft Bill had been prepared by the bureaucracy and some of its provisions were “dangerous” for farmers. “Some of its provisions will give scope for the harassment of farmers,” he alleged.

According to the draft Bill, the Government will constitute the Karnataka Groundwater Authority to control the exploitation of groundwater. It will have 18 members, including four farmers' representatives, two water experts and the remaining will be bureaucrats.

Mr. Achar said that the authority could conduct meetings to take important decisions with a quorum of seven members. It can pass decisions if four members among the seven supported the decisions. “It is a very dangerous provision,” he alleged.

The authority has powers to recommend to the Government to notify certain areas to control the exploitation of groundwater. In such notified areas, cultivating intensive crops such as paddy and sugarcane were banned using groundwater. There was a need to discuss this aspect and review this provision, he said. The provisions related to offences and penalty for digging borewells in notified areas, powers given to the authority to “to break open the door of any premises where drilling, digging, extraction and use of groundwater may be going on” should be debated, he said.

According to the draft Bill, the Union Ministry of Water Resources had circulated a model Bill for regulation and control of development and management of groundwater in 1992 and subsequently in 1996. In the meantime, the State enacted the Karnataka Groundwater (Regulation for Protection of Sources of Drinking Water) Act, 1999 to give priority to drinking water and to protect drinking water sources.

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