Sinking low

Groundwater authority removed checks on water extraction

revised guidelines of the Central Groundwater Authority, or cgwa, allowing sinking of bore wells in overexploited areas have not only disturbed critics but also worried states. On November 17, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi met officials of the central authority responsible for monitoring and conserving groundwater in India. cgwa refused to reveal the details of the discussion, but several water utilities and conservationists are demanding that the guidelines be revoked.

In 1998, cgwa had notified 43 water-stressed areas in the country.The guidelines issued with the notification barred anyone from extracting groundwater in overexploited areas, that is in areas where extraction was more than 100 per cent of the extractable limit defined by taking into account replenishability. In August this year, the authority revised the guidelines allowing people to sink bore wells for drinking and domestic purposes in overexploited areas. All that a person has to do is notify the authorities in his or her area 10 days in advance and provide the name and address of the drilling agency hired to construct the tube well or bore well.

The new guidelines would ruin groundwater reserves, defeating the very purpose of the notification that was issued to arrest indiscriminate plunder of groundwater, said Rajinder Singh, founder of the non-profit Tarun Bharat Sangh who had spearheaded a campaign to replenish groundwater reserves in Alwar district of Rajasthan.

cgwa defends its move saying it will ensure transparency and cut red tape. Earlier, anyone sinking a bore well had to wait for permission from the authorities concerned, including cgwa. Now people just have to notify an appointed officer, say, the deputy commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (mcd) in case of the national capital.