Government will soon come out with a comprehensive and workable Act

For a decade, the Tamil Nadu Groundwater (Development and Management) Act, 2003, which was to usher in a regime of controlling, regulating and administering the precious natural resource, remained only on paper.

From September 14, the Act stood repealed as the government promulgated an ordinance to that effect.

A senior official says the government will soon come out with a “comprehensive and workable law.”

The 2003 Act has been found to be not workable due to a variety of reasons. Going by the reasons mentioned in the ordinance, the Act had not clearly defined terms such as marginal farmers and small farmers, due to which there would have been hardship to the agriculturists. [The website of the State Ground and Surface Water Resources Data Centre (http://www.groundwatertnpwd.org.in/indexnew.htm) has a section dealing with the salient features of the Act, according to which the landholding of small farmers is one to two hectares and that of marginal farmers, less than one hectare].

Another reason adduced now is that the implementation of the provision in the original law, requiring persons having over one HP pump set to register with the proposed Groundwater Authority, would have led to “public outcry.”

Noting that the limits of municipal corporations such as Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai have expanded in the last 10 years, the explanatory statement attached to the ordinance points to non-availability of adequate piped water supply in the extended areas. This necessitates tapping of groundwater. As the 2003 Act made it mandatory for obtaining permit for transporting of groundwater by lorry or trailer from notified areas, there might be difficulties in the supply of drinking water to the public.

The law had not addressed the issue regarding regulation of groundwater drawal for construction of multi-storeyed buildings and for commercial exploitation.

The official says the use of groundwater for domestic consumption and agriculture has to be studied more closely, compelling the authorities to go in for the repeal of the 10-year-old Act. Till the fresh law is enacted, the stipulations mentioned in a government order issued by the Public Works Department in March 2012 on the status of groundwater extraction would apply. Besides, the department is to come out with regulations shortly.

As per the government order, no schemes should be formulated in 139 overexploited blocks and 33 critical blocks. In respect of 67 semi-critical and 136 safe blocks, proposals for the schemes have to be formulated through the State Ground and Surface Water Resources Data Centre. Totally, there are 386 blocks in the State, of which 11 are saline/poor quality blocks. The categories of “over-exploited,” “critical,” “semi-critical,” and “safe” are determined on the basis of the rate of extraction in a given block.

S. Janakarajan, professor of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, who has carried out a number of studies on water for years, urges the government to come out with a fresh law at the earliest, as the absence of a legal framework is fraught with dangerous consequences. One has to keep in mind the level of transfer of water from agriculture to industry and the transportation of water from rural areas to urban areas. He refers to the mushrooming growth of packaged water firms in and around Chennai which, he says, can be controlled only if the new law is in force.

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