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BHU-JAL: CAN INDIA AFFORD TO STILL LEAVE IT UNREGULATED?

By

Sakshi Upadhyay, IV year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from Babu Banarasi Das University, Lucknow


India’s rise in average income, technological advancements, lifestyle changes, among others can be seen as evidence of development. But it is debatable if these are sustainable in a wider socio-economic and environmental dynamics.


Groundwater, surface water, humans and ecosystem are all interconnected in ways that necessitate an integrated approach to management. Groundwater has been a major source of water for sustaining human life. Use of this resource has increased dramatically from the last decades. Groundwater means water which exists below the ground surface in the zone of saturation and can be extracted through wells or any other means or emerges as springs and base flow in streams and rivers.[1]


Groundwater extraction has been rapidly increased in India over years partly due to urbanisation and industrialization but largely because of water-guzzling agricultural practices and overexploitation. 90% of India’s freshwater use is for agricultural purpose in 2010.[2] Now overexploitation in ways of submersible pump system majorly in UP, Bihar states. They are a one-time investment for future exploitation. There is currently no Central Law on groundwater regulation. This is, however, a British era law called the Indian Easement Act 1882 which gives landowners the right to collect and dispose of all water under the land within their limits. Water as a subject belongs to a state which makes it their responsibility to regulate and manage it. There is an authority called Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) made under Sec.3(3) of The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. But its last survey available on groundwater monitoring dates back to 2013.


The 2013 survey stated about 1034 overexploited units. Although India having 81.3% literacy rate overexploitation of groundwater is becoming high day by day. People have installed a submersible pump and can extract as many litres of water as they want. There is no such regulation on how much extraction of water should be on a daily basis? There is no such technology for recharge of groundwater and no role as well played by a citizen of this country.


In the historical past, the old waterworks of Burhanpur town is an impressive example of Mughal Engineering. Named after Sheikh Burhanuddin, the town was built on the banks of Tapti river in Khandwa district of MP. Due to frequent battles, there was always the possibility of Tapti to get poised. This led Abdul Rahim Khan conceiving of the groundwater-based scheme and in 1615, a Persian geologist- Tabaku Tul Arz investigated recharge valley in Tapti plains between Satpura range. He then devised an underground tunnel and infiltration galleries to supply the town with water. It consists of Bhandara(storage tanks) that collect groundwater from underground springs flowing from Satpura hills towards Tapti. Groundwater gets intercepted onto 4 points:- Mulbhandra; Sukhabhandra; Khumibhandra and Chaintaran.


The entire water supply was based in gravity and the underground tunnel has a suitable gradient. It supplies up to 18 lakh litres of water daily. But now its reduced yield is due to innumerable tube wells which have been dug in the past few years. The groundwater level has fallen resulting in a reduction of groundwater percolating into Bhandara. Overexploitation of underground springs have dried up due to the upcoming of the paper factory at Nepanagar and growing population pressure forests have slowly disappeared. Due to this rainwater flows into the Tapti river instead of recharging groundwater.


Another glaring example is Rani Ki Vav which is recognised by UNESCO as a masterpiece of technological excellence in groundwater management in the 11th century. Old age model of how groundwater was reserved and used in those days. But it can be seen that the level of groundwater there has diminished. And there are many such examples depicting groundwater exploitation since the past. And now instead of providing data and regulating its use CGWB[3] has become a licencing body that gives no objection certificate to industries in extracting groundwater.


21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater by 2020 was reported by Niti Ayog highlighting the need for an “urgent and improved” water management system. The situation is likely to worsen as the demand will exceed the supply by 2050.[4] The Economic Survey 2017-2018 acknowledged India’s Water Crises and groundwater depletion.[5] The agricultural practice involved in UP, Bihar majorly depend on the groundwater system for which they use submersible pumps. Presently India has over 2.3 crore pumps drawing water for agriculture with 70% of groundwater and 80% of freshwater in India being used for flood irrigation. Due to the lack of laws and measures to regulate water usage and in many cases, unrestricted access to electricity by people, water is pumped around the clock.

There are other major issues related with groundwater e.g. Occurrence of high chromium in parts of an industrial area in Unnao district (UP), industrialization impact on water quality of Korba city, groundwater pollution in Najafgarh drain, NCT Delhi, almost everywhere there is a decrease in quality of groundwater.

Need is First, Law should be made in restricting the instalment of submersible pumps and the pumps which have already been installed a device should be attached to it which could measure and restrict the outflow of water on a daily basis. The amount of distraction of water should be dependent on who is using it? Family? Industry? Or any other means.


Secondly adopting new water irrigation techniques such as micro-irrigation will help farmers to achieve better results. The adoption of this technique will not only drastically curb water usage but also improve yields, cost savings and higher profits. And should be implemented everywhere.


Thirdly matters like wastewater treatment, rainwater harvesting, technology selection for water supply. Maharastra being an interesting example. It enacted groundwater regulation law in 1993 which has been replaced by Maharashtra Groundwater Development and Management Act 2018. A strict central law on the regulation of groundwater is pressing priority……..

[1] Sec. 2 (6) of Model Bill to Regulate and Control the Development and Management of Groundwater 2005.

[2] Hindustan Times.

[3] Central Groundwater Board

[4] Composite Water Management Index Report (CWMI) June 14, 2018.

[5] Times of India, June 21 2018.