The Water Ministry is planning amendments to a Bill on groundwater management that will impose restrictions on how companies, farmers and various groups can use groundwater. Industries can only use recycled water, and activities such as gardening would require the use of treated sewage water.
Extracting pristine water from aquifiers, the norm in much of the country, would be sharply regulated.
Failing to adhere to this would invite “stringent punishment”, said Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti at a seminar here, organised by the Central Groundwater Board.
Earlier this year, the Ministry had made public a draft Bill that proposed significant changes to the way groundwater would be regulated.
This included guaranteeing every individual a certain amount of water “for life” and protecting groundwater from undue exploitation and pollution as well as mandating the use of rainwater harvesting in residential projects.
However, this version of the Bill only demands that users “give priority” to recycling water and does not compel companies and other stakeholders to use recycled water.
“We may need some amendments to the Bill and will soon bring this to Parliament,” said Amarjit Singh, Special Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources.
Mr. Bharti said the government was “extremely serious” about using groundwater judiciously. “I’ve set up a committee under the chairmanship of Secretary of Water Resources to suggest ways to conserve fast-depleting groundwater levels through aquifer recharge.
The committee will also have Secretaries of Union Ministries of Rural Development, Environment and Agriculture as members, she said. Groundwater depletion is among the grave ecological threats that the country faces. Around 85 per cent of drinking water and 65 per cent of water for irrigation is sourced from groundwater, said Shashi Shekhar, Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources.
However, previous plans to address the problems have been stalled as water is a State subject and, existing laws give the owners of a piece of land complete right over its groundwater.
“I’m quite positive that these reforms will be pushed through,” said economist Mihir Shah, who is closely involved with the groundwater management Bill.