A model groundwater bill

The Union Ministry of Water Resources has put up a Model Bill for Conservation, Protection and Regulation of Groundwater on its website for comments and suggestions. This is a very important bill and needs the attention of every citizen of India, especially the 33 million or more borewell users extracting around 250 cubic km. of water from the ground.

Comprehensively drafted by a team which seems to have Elinor Ostrom as its guru, the bill seeks to move groundwater away from its current avatar under the Easements Act as a private property resource to a Common Pool Resource. The State will hold groundwater as a resource in public trust.

In the true spirit of decentralisation and the principle of subsidiarity, it seeks to empower Gram Panchayats and Nagarpalikas through a process of Gram Sabhas and Ward Sabhas to develop management plans for groundwater use in public domain and through people’s participation and approval.

Some of the objectives of the Act include:

1. Ensure the realisation of the fundamental right to life through the provision of water.

2. Meet food security, livelihoods, basic human needs, livestock and aquatic life.

3. Protect ecosystems and their biological diversity.

4. Reduce and prevent pollution and degradation of groundwater.


One of the biggest challenges for sustainable management of groundwater comes from overexploitation and overuse, beyond the annual recharge. The other comes from pollution, from natural mineral occurrences such as with fluoride and arsenic and with man-made sources such as industrial effluents, fertilizers and sewage. To combat this, the Act proposes the demarcation of ‘groundwater protection zones’ based on the latest dynamic resource assessment of the Central Groundwater Board and State agencies and the mapping of aquifers and sub-aquifers, a process which is ongoing. This then will lead to the development of a groundwater security plan which through a process of recharge and demand management will result in attainment of sufficient quantity of safe water for life and sustainable livelihood and ensuring water security even in times of drought and floods. For the institutional framework, the Act sees the setting up of a groundwater sub-committee under the village water and sanitation committee by the Gram Panchayat. This will be supervised by a Block Panchayat, which will consolidate the groundwater security plans of all Gram Panchayats in its ambit.

In urban areas, the Model Bill envisages the setting up of ward groundwater committees which will plan, approve and facilitate the implementation of Ward Groundwater Security Plan. This will be overseen by a Municipal Water Management Committee.

On top of these layers will be a District Groundwater Council and State Groundwater Advisory Council to appropriately integrate and take decisions at their scale.

The Model Bill seeks to place certain responsibilities on the groundwater user: for example, its efficient use, its prevention from pollution, replenishing and recharging groundwater.

For industrial users there are several checks and includes the recommendation to charge for groundwater use, the monies so begot being invested for the sustainability of the resource.

While the bill has been drafted with care and is comprehensive, yet it is at a draft stage and will need several inputs, especially from industrial users of groundwater and those in the peri-urban areas. It is unlikely that the bill will work in urban areas, being extremely idealistic in its assumption of the existence and capabilities of local governments. This holds true for gram panchayats too.

Eventually the bill will need to be adopted by States and will be modified based on their local conditions, institutional, legal and governance related as well as aquifer related differences.

S. Vishwanath

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2022 2:13:09 pm |