NGT directs DJB, DPCC to take action against people using tubewells illegally

The National Green Tribunal has directed the Delhi Jal Board and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, to take action against those using tubewells illegally to extract groundwater

A bench headed by National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairperson justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, while noting that illegal installation of tubewells was an offence under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, asked the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) to initiate prosecution, apart from recovering compensation for such offences. The Tribunal also asked the authorities to dismantle and seize equipment, to prevent reopening of sealed tubewells.

See also: Ganga pollution: NGT slaps Rs 25-lakh fine on Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal governments

“The DPCC and the DJB may adopt a policy in this regard, for universal approach to be adopted against illegal withdrawal of water,” the bench said. It also said that a further action-taken report in the matter should be furnished within a month through e-mail. During the hearing, the tribunal was informed by the DJB that groundwater was being extracted illegally from a private tubewell at Barat Ghar Chandan Hulla, in Chattarpur and being sold. Earlier, the Mehrauli SDM had sealed the tubewell and an FIR was registered for tampering with its seal.

The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by New Delhi resident Abdul Farukh, alleging that water was being drawn from government tubewells at Chandan Hulla village in Chhatarpur and being sold by private tanker owners. The plea said earlier, action had been taken against them but the problem still continued.


NGT directs a panel to take groundwater samples, study recharge methodology

The NGT has directed a committee to take groundwater samples and study the methodology of recharging it, after a plea alleged that structures built by civic bodies were contaminating the water

June 4, 2019: A bench headed by National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairperson justice Adarsh Kumar Goel has asked a committee comprising representatives from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) and the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), to take groundwater samples, study the methodology of recharging it and submit a report within a month. The tribunal’s order came, while hearing a plea filed by a New Delhi resident Mahesh Chandra Saxena, alleging that the groundwater recharge by the Delhi Jal Board, Delhi Development Authority, Public Works Department, New Delhi Municipal Council and the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, through rainwater harvesting structures, was not scientific and was resulting in pollution of groundwater.

See also: Ganga pollution: NGT slaps Rs 25-lakh fine on Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal governments

The NGT said that the nodal agency for coordination and compliance would be the DPCC and directed the petitioner to furnish a complete set of papers to the CPCB, DPCC and the CGWB and file an affidavit of service within a week. The NGT had earlier imposed a penalty of Rs 5 lakhs each, on educational institutions in the national capital, for failing to install rainwater harvesting systems. It had directed schools and colleges to approach a committee constituted by it, which would inspect the premises and grant permission to institutions for operating the system.


NGT slams MoEF over failure to submit report, on policy for groundwater conservation

The National Green Tribunal has slammed the Ministry of Environment and Forests over its failure to submit a report on the framing of appropriate policies for the conservation of groundwater

May 13, 2019: A National Green Tribunal (NGT) bench headed by chairperson justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, has pulled up the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), saying that the lack of sensitivity on serious issues of the environment, such as the fast depleting groundwater, was a matter of concern. “MoEF has failed to perform its duty, for which no explanation has been furnished. No affidavit has been filed. On being asked, counsel for the MoEF has informed the Tribunal that the committee was constituted only on March 29 and not within two weeks from January 3, as directed. The committee has not yet given its report. We do not appreciate such attitude of government departments when, under a statutory enactment, violation of orders of this Tribunal is a criminal offence. The committee has not acted promptly and no significant progress has been brought to our notice,” the bench said.

The tribunal had earlier rapped the Ministry of Water Resources over its notification dated December 12, 2018 and said that instead of remedying the situation, it had worsened the same by liberalising extraction of groundwater even for commercial purposes. It had later directed the MoEF to constitute an expert committee and asked it to issue an appropriate policy in this regard.

The NGT has now directed the committee to furnish a report by June 30, 2019 and asked it to take further steps in this regard, promptly. It warned that if the report is not furnished, the joint secretary concerned of the MoEF may remain present in person before the tribunal, on the next date, with the report and explain why action should not be taken, for violation of orders of the Tribunal.

See also: Submit report on finalisation of eco-sensitive zone in Western Ghats: NGT to Environment Ministry

The green panel also pulled up the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) over its mechanism to deal with cases of violations, including prosecution and coercive measures to check illegal extraction. It said the report of the CPCB was not complete, as the over exploited, critical and semi-critical areas (OCS), which need regulation for conservation of groundwater, cannot be further treated separately as notified or non-notified. “Conservation of groundwater in the said areas is of equal necessity. Depletion of groundwater in the said areas affects the subterranean flow and results in contamination of groundwater and also poses a potential danger for drying up of important natural resource, in violation of established principle of ‘Intergenerational Equity’.

The compensation to be recovered for illegal extraction has to be a deterrent, especially when it is for commercial or industrial purpose and linked to the quantum of groundwater extracted and the period for which such extraction takes place,” the bench said. It asked CPCB to furnish a fresh report by June 30, 2019, by email.

The NGT also said that it does not find any safeguards to address the problem of depleting groundwater in the Central Groundwater Authority’s (CGWA’s) guidelines for existing industries and infrastructure in sand mining projects.

“The mandate of the CGWA is not exploitation of groundwater in depleted areas but to conserve it. Any policy which results in further depletion obviously cannot be permitted in OCS areas. The CGWA is free to lay down and follow stringent norms, to ensure that there is no depletion of groundwater in OCS areas and depleted water level is improved and replenished. Any policy has to be in that direction and not in reverse direction, as is unfortunately being attempted by CGWA, as noticed in earlier orders. MoEF has to come out with an appropriate policy, consistent with the above mandate.

“The MoEF has taken the plea that CGWA has not cooperated, which is a cause for delay. This is denied by CGWA. The fact remains that failure is on the part of both,” the bench added. The Tribunal was hearing petitions filed by the NGT Bar Association and Raj Hans Bansal, opposing the illegal use of groundwater in Delhi.


Usable groundwater rapidly depleting in north, east India: IIT study

India’s northern and eastern states saw a rapid decline in usable groundwater between 2005 and 2013, raising an impending risk of severe droughts, food crisis and drinking water scarcity for millions of people, a study has found

April 11, 2019: A team from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, West Bengal and Athabasca University, Canada, compiled the first estimates of usable groundwater storage (UGWS) at the state-level across all of India, using both in-situ and satellite-based measurements. The estimate shows rapid depletion of UGWS in Assam, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. In these areas, increases in agricultural food productions have resulted at the cost of non-renewable loss in groundwater volume at an alarming rate, the researchers wrote in the study published in the journal Advances in Water Resources. On the other hand, southern and western Indian states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chattisgarh show replenishing usable groundwater storage trends.

Groundwater-level data was used from 3,907 in-situ monitoring wells across the country and the total UGWS was estimated between 2005 and 2013. Earlier works by the government agencies have only been able to estimate the total groundwater, only a part of which is usable for human purposes, said lead researcher Abhijit Mukherjee, associate professor for hydrogeology at the Department of Geology and Geophysics, IIT Kharagpur. The study combined borehole data from Central Ground Water Board, rainfall data and satellite data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), a pair of satellites launched in 2002.

“The estimates show rapid depletion of usable groundwater storage during 2005-2013 in most of northern parts, losing 8.5 cubic kilometre per year (km3/year) of total groundwater and eastern parts which lost 5 km3/year of total groundwater,” Mukherjee said. He emphasised that more than 85% of the groundwater usage in India is linked with irrigation abstraction practices. India is the largest user of groundwater in the world. It uses an estimated 230 km3 of groundwater per year – over a quarter of the global total. Groundwater being an essential natural resource for irrigation water supply during non-monsoonal months, large-scale depletion could have unforeseen consequences in future food security, said Mukherjee. Mukherjee noted that rapid depletion in UGWS would accelerate the decline in food production and availability of drinking water, two of the prime goals of achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030. “More than 120 million people would get affected only in the Gangetic states,” he said.

See also: Maharashtra has the highest number of polluted rivers in the country: NGT

“Underground water is definitely declining in Rajasthan at a faster rate. There are pockets in UP which have seen a dip in groundwater table as well,” agreed Dr NC Ghosh, former head of hydrology, National Institute of Hydrology (NIH), Roorkee, who was not involved in the study. The problem, Ghosh said, is compounded by over-exploitation of the groundwater. “About 85% of rural drinking water needs and 65% of irrigation needs and 50% of urban drinking water and industrial needs are fulfilled from the ground water,” he said.

Region-wise data on groundwater

A north-eastern state like Assam, which was regarded always as water-affluent, has lost 2% of its usable groundwater resource and is at the brink of suffering drought and famine in impending years, said researchers, including first author Soumendra N Bhanja from Department of Geology and Geophysics, IIT Kharagpur. Assam and some parts of eastern India seems to be losing the usable groundwater storage at the highest rate, within the study period, the researchers found. Haryana, which gets an annual precipitation of 689 millimetres (mm), holds the highest levels of usable groundwater with 3,593 centimetres (cm) while Himachal Pradesh with a precipitation of 1,147 mm per year has the lowest UGWS level of 520 cm.

Subsequently, many of these states are now intermittently getting affected by the ‘groundwater drought‘ in recent summers. “Our prediction suggests that these summer groundwater droughts would intensify in recent future years, to become severe to very severe by 2050, with possibility of spread over all seasons,” said Mukherjee. These depletion trends and practices, he noted, have not only affected the groundwater storage but also declined the flow in the adjoining rivers, including the Ganga, leading to its drying in summer, in recent years.

Researchers said the depletion is positively linked with the increased cropping practice of water intensive crops in these states and not necessarily related to changes in rainfall patterns. “Definitely there is huge pressure on groundwater and river flow of several rivers has also decreased. As a result river-aquifer interaction has been influenced. Wherever there is lack of organised water supply, the dependence on groundwater is high,” Ghosh added.

Mukherjee said in order to develop a sustainable groundwater management programme, it is important to know the exact stresses. “We need to develop a much robust quantitative approach, possibly with the help of advanced hydro-science and data science techniques, to understand the conjunctive water demands and usage,” Mukherjee said.


Report expresses concern over rate of groundwater depletion in India

India accounts for almost one-fourth of the total groundwater extracted globally and the water scarcity is likely to get worse, if the production of food and clothing is not made sustainable, warns a report by WaterAid

March 20, 2019: India accounts for almost one-fourth of the total groundwater extracted globally, more than that of China and the US combined, thus, using the largest amount of groundwater, at 24 per cent of the global total, according to a new report, titled “Beneath the Surface: The State of the World’s Water 2019′ by WaterAid, a non-profit organisation. Export of food and clothing items, while important sources of income, exacerbates this problem if production is not made sustainable, making it harder for many poor and marginalised communities to get access to clean water supply, warned the report, which was released to mark World Water Day on March 22. It said the country’s rate of groundwater depletion increased by 23 per cent, between 2000 and 2010. “India is the third-largest exporter of groundwater – 12 per cent of the global total,” the report said.

See also: SC dismisses Karnataka plea to vacate stay on use of secondary treated water

It further said wheat and rice were the two most important and highest water-guzzling crops that India produced. “Rice is the least water-efficient grain and wheat has been the main driver in increasing irrigation stress. Replacing rice and wheat with other crops like maize, millets, sorghum mapped to suitable geographies, could reduce irrigation water demand by one-third. “Although replacement of rice and wheat crops is challenging, in an ideal scenario, choice of crop needs to be matched with ecology and the amount of water available in the area it is being produced in,” the report said. Noting that one kg of wheat required an average 1,654 litres of water, the report said one kg of rice requires an average 2,800 litres of water. “So, just for rice, a family of four consumes approximately 84,600 litres of virtual water in a month,” it said. “In 2014-15, India exported 37.2 lakh tonnes of basmati. To export this rice, the country used around 10 trillion litres of water, meaning India virtually exported 10 trillion litres of water,” said the report.

WaterAid India’s chief executive VK Madhavan, said this World Water Day (March 22), it is calling for production of these goods to be made more sustainable and for consumers to be more thoughtful in their purchasing habits. He said lack of access to clean water further pushes the marginalised and vulnerable communities towards a vicious circle of poverty. “The burden of accessing water to meet daily needs, prevents them from reaching their full potential by inhibiting their education, health and livelihood opportunities,” he said.

Madhavan said there is a dire need to invest in making clean water within the household accessible to everyone, everywhere. “India’s success in providing its citizens with access to clean water, will significantly impact the success of global goals that the government has committed to,” he added. India is currently ranked 120 among 122 countries in the water quality index. In 2015, the Indian government committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 6, which promises that by 2030 everyone will have access to clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene.

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