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NEWS: The model Bill on water in India

The Hindu newspaper reports, “The Government of India (officially known as the Union government) is mooting reforms on the protection, conservation, management, and regulation of groundwater. The States are expected to discuss the regulations enshrined in a model Bill before being passed in the respective legislatures.”

The measures in the model Bill include:

1. Groundwater panels, committees – “The formation of groundwater panels at the local body level. A grama panchayat (local self-governments at the village or small town level) groundwater committee has to be elected for the purpose. …Preparation and implementation of a panchayat groundwater security plan, determination of groundwater sanctuaries within the territory of the panchayat, and adopting norms for their management and regulation are among the functions of the committee. …Committees to monitor aspects of groundwater are to be set up at the level of the block panchayat also. In the case of the district panchayat, a groundwater council is to be formed. The functions of the council include endorsing block panchayat groundwater security plans and preparing a consolidated plan at the district level.”

2. Oversight, remedial measures, sanctions on water use – “The registration of all wells — tube wells, dug wells, and shallow wells — within the panchayat boundaries. The panel will oversee the usage of groundwater and execute plans for conservation. Remedial measures will have to be taken if groundwater is overexploited in any area. Sanctions against water-intensive crops, incentives for the adoption of water-conserving technologies, such as drip irrigation and sprinklers, and setting up of artificial recharge structures are among the measures which can be adopted. The panchayat groundwater security plan shall be valid for five years.”

3. A State groundwater advisory council – “Formation of a State groundwater advisory council, supported by the State Groundwater Department, the Water Resources Department or any other department dealing with water resources, is another feature of the draft rules. The council will have representatives of the Central Groundwater Board, the State Groundwater Board, the State Pollution Control Board, the irrigation department, the gram panchayat groundwater committees, the block panchayat groundwater committees, the district panchayat groundwater councils, the ward groundwater committees, and the municipal groundwater committees, apart from two independent experts. The State Groundwater Advisory Council will have to ensure that the measures adopted for use and conservation of groundwater in rural and urban areas do not contradict each other. The State Groundwater Board will have to prepare integrated river basin maps, including of surface water, groundwater, and land and forest resources, by compiling data from the district level and conducting studies and surveys where required.”

4. Information monitoring cells – “An information cell is also envisaged under the proposed rules. The district groundwater monitoring and information cell is the authority vested with the job of compiling information from block cells. Similarly, a groundwater monitoring and information centre is required to be set up at the block level and a municipal groundwater information and monitoring cell at the municipal level. Setting up a digital database of groundwater resources and compilation of watershed levels are among other tasks that the cells will have to take up.”

5. Rainwater harvesting – “Rainwater harvesting is one of the focus areas of the proposed regulations. The gram panchayat groundwater committee or the ward groundwater committee, as the case may be, is required to stipulate conditions for providing rooftop rainwater harvesting structures in the building plan of an area of 500 sq.m or more. Such stipulations shall be binding on the government agencies sanctioning or approving building plans. Permanent water and electricity connections shall be extended only after compliance with the directions given in this regard.”

6. Irrigation – “The proposed rules (on irrigation) allow farmers owning or tilling less than one acre of land for raising livelihood crops to use groundwater. Irrigation of cash crops and water-intensive crops will be based on a permit system allocated by the appropriate authority. Payment of a water cess can be made applicable for the latter. In any area where groundwater is or becomes overexploited, where water-intensive crops such as paddy or sugarcane are grown, an undertaking shall be obtained for a change from water-intensive crops and such an undertaking needs to be incorporated in the permit.”

7. Industrial use of water, bottling plants – “Industrial users of groundwater, including bottling plants, will require permits under the proposed regulations. The permit will fix the maximum quantity of water per day that can be extracted. Permits will be granted by the grama panchayat groundwater committee or the ward groundwater committee. The permits will be valid for one to five years. Measures for groundwater recharging and water-quality protection measures are stipulated for renewal. The proposed Bill envisages imposition of a water cess for industrial users.”

In February 2010, Daily News & Analysis India reported, “So far, 11 states and UTs (union territories) have enacted and implemented the legislation, while 18 others are in the process of enacting the legislation. States which have enacted the Ground Water (Control and Regulation) Act based on the model bill include Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and Union Territories of Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Lashkadweep. …(But) six states, including Punjab, have rejected a model bill aimed at conserving groundwater claiming that either it was too harsh on the people or that they required no such law.”

One of the states that has passed the bill, as noted above, is Kerala. In February 2011, we noted a news report that stated, “The Kerala government (has) introduced a Bill in the State Assembly to force Coca-Cola to pay compensation for the alleged negative ecological and health effects of its erstwhile factory at Plachimada in Palakkad district, and to distribute this money to the victims.” More on that legislation – and a 2004 visit to Kerala by Blue Planet Project co-founder/ Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow – at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=5637.

At the historic July 28, 2010 vote at the United Nations General Assembly, India voted in support of the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation. In terms of the implementation of these rights, it has been reported that there is a gross disparity in the supply of safe water across the country. 21 percent of communicable diseases in India are related to unsafe water. Diarrhea alone causes more than 1,600 deaths daily in India. Only 14 percent of the rural population has access to a latrine.

The Blue Planet Project is currently in the process of hiring an organizer in India to work on right to water and global water justice movement building issues.

The Hindu article can be read at http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/article2518083.ece.