The report of the Expert Group on Ground Water Management and Ownership (2007) of the Planning Commission takes stock of the availability and use of groundwater and outlines the extent, causes and consequences of groundwater exploitation. It suggests the need for exploiting the untapped ‘static’ water, which if untapped creates stagnant conditions and over time provides the necessary time factor for the deterioration in quality. The rising demand for groundwater from agriculture has been attributed to the legal/regulatory regime governing groundwater and partly to the minimum support price policy and agricultural trade policy currently being followed.
The consequences of groundwater exploitation like the fallout on marginal and small farmers as well as the contamination due to geogenic factors resulting in increased levels of arsenic, fluoride etc., have been highlighted in the report. The environmental impacts of overexploitation leading to reduction in essential base flow to rivers and streams, and diminished spring flows has been discussed.
The urgency, scope and efficacy of groundwater recharge, particularly artificial recharge have been discussed. However, even with full development of artificial recharge, groundwater availability would remain limited, and hence, the report suggests cooperative management by users to facilitate groundwater use in an equitable manner.
It reviews legal positions concerning groundwater use by individuals and the emerging role of Central government in groundwater. It deals with the constitutional provisions related to the legislative powers of the State and the Centre. It suggests some measures to make the enactments by the States more effective -
- improved scientific monitoring of groundwater using piezometers
- regulation/restriction of groundwater uses in the area
- enforcement of regulation to be made effective through users group/ community participation like village Ground Water Cooperation Committee (GWCC).
It suggests that the Central Ground Water Board along with the State Ground Water Boards assist the State Government in controlling over exploitation through negative and positive incentives such as restricting institutional loans, limiting electricity supply and by strengthening the oversight of the community specially that of the user group. The positive incentives can be supported for rainwater harvesting and watershed development.
It outlines a number of initiatives to promote groundwater sustainability. As it is politically difficult to raise power tariff for agricultural users especially because canal water is cheap, the Expert Group suggested that farmers account for the marginal cost of pumping water, and that they be given an entitlement upfront of about, Rs. 6000 corresponding to 3000 Kwhr at Rs. 2/Kwhr.
Instead of banning further exploitation in semi-critical and critical blocks, government should offer incentives for community management of new wells, construction of recharge structures, energy saving devices like installation of capacitors and frictionless foot valves and adoption of micro-irrigation. The report concludes by emphasizing the need for all States to introduce a modified groundwater legislation encompassing inter alia the role and responsibility of water user groups, the panchayats and the Government.
Download the report here: