Groundwater law may cover commercial users

The term ‘commercial users’ refers to industrial units and those engaged in the transportation of groundwater

December 12, 2021 12:32 am | Updated 12:32 am IST - CHENNAI

The proposed law on groundwater development and management, being fine-tuned by the State Government, essentially seeks to cover every commercial user of groundwater in the State.

The term “commercial user”, though not explicitly defined in the draft legislation, being debated among departments of the Government, however, refers to industrial units, regardless of their size, and those engaged in the transportation of groundwater. Among the construction and infrastructure projects that may be covered are resorts, theme parks, hotels, educational institutions, marriage halls, malls, farmhouses and residential buildings with over six dwelling units.

Among the purposes exempted from the purview of the legislation are agriculture, horticulture and domestic consumption. In the case of domestic consumption, wells or structures using pump sets of not more than 3 horse-power capacity will not come under the coverage of the proposed law.

The formulation of the law is in tune with the announcement made in June by the then Governor, Banwarilal Purohit, in the Assembly. It is also in pursuance with the directions of the Madras High Court in October 2018, in a case concerning a group of packaged drinking water units, which had challenged the government’s regulations of July 2014 on groundwater extraction and the issue of no-objection certificates (NOC)/licences.

In addition to the 2014 regulations, Chennai city and 302 revenue villages in the neighbouring districts are covered exclusively under the Chennai Metropolitan Area Groundwater (Regulation) Act, 1987. Eight years ago, the then AIADMK regime had repealed a law on groundwater use, which was brought in 2003, when the same party was in power. The 2003 Act was found to be not workable due to a variety of reasons. If the draft law gets fructified, it will apply to the entire State.

Apart from the court’s directions, the DMK regime has taken the initiative, keeping in mind that all other southern States and Puducherry have specific laws to handle the matter. Besides, Goa, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are implementing similar laws. In addition, the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) is regulating extraction in 23 States and Union Territories. In Andhra Pradesh and Telengana, the CGWA is looking after water mining projects.

As for the need for the proposed law, the annual extractable groundwater resources in the State went down from 20.76 billion cubic meter (BCM) in 2004 to 17.69 BCM in 2020. The stage of groundwater extraction has gone up from 60% to about 83% over the years. Another factor is the geological formation of the State, which is not conducive to groundwater recharge, as 73% of the State is covered with hard rocks that have low potential for recharge.

A groundwater authority

The draft law has proposed the creation of the Tamil Nadu Groundwater Authority, to be headed by Secretary, Water Resources Department. Apart from officials from different departments, the authority will have a member who is not an official, but an expert.

Every existing commercial user of groundwater has to apply to the authority concerned for an NOC. If any new well is to be sunk or groundwater transported, a permit has to be obtained. Those extracting groundwater of less than one million gallons a day (MGD) or about 4.55 million litres a day (MLD) will have to approach the chief engineer of the State Groundwater and Surface Water Resources Data Centre, and for others, the authority. Offences and penalties have been proposed for violators of the law.

Commercial, industrial, infrastructural and bulk users, withdrawing groundwater of two lakh litres a day, will be mandated to recycle water. The installation of sewage treatment plants will be mandatory for all residential apartments where groundwater requirement is more than 20 cubic meter a day or 20,000 litres a day.

A senior Water Resources Department official said a few more stages would have to be passed before the legislation is presented as a Bill to the Assembly.

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