New Delhi: The Centre has placed two draft bills for water conservation in the public domain for feedback as the country battles a water crisis. The government has also released a draft of a programme to improve groundwater management in the country.
Comments have been invited on the two draft bills–National Water Framerwork Bill, 2016, the Model Bill for the conservation, protection, regulation and management of groundwater and the National Groundwater Management Improvement Programme—from states and other stakeholders.
The ministry for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation has also placed a draft of the national groundwater management improvement programme.
“Keeping the current situation in mind, it is important to bring such legislation in place. We have placed the draft bills in public domain so that states and other stakeholders can give their suggestions. We are hopeful to include changes after consultation and introduce the final bills in the winter session," an official in the ministry of water resources on Thursday said on the condition of anonymity.
The model bill for conservation, protection, regulation and management of groundwater aims to ensure groundwater security and proposes a penalty for its misuse.
“Whoever does any activity, which prejudicially affects the quality of groundwater or availability thereof shall be punished with imprisonment, which may extend to one year and six months or with a fine, which may extend to one lakh rupees or with both," the bill states.
It also has provisions to charge a fee for industrial and bulk use of groundwater. The bill says that industrial or bulk groundwater use shall be priced and a water rate set by the appropriate government and funds collected under this section will be used for groundwater conservation and augmentation activities.
The National Water Framerwork Bill aims to provide an overarching legal framework with principles for protection, conservation, regulation and management of water as a vital and stressed natural resource under which legislation and executive action on water at all levels of governance.
The bill also sets a binding national water quality standard and pushes for a national water security plan.
The bill requires states to prepare drought mitigation, management policy and action plan within six months of coming into force of this Act.
“The Drought Mitigation and Management Policy and Action Plan shall include a drought risk and vulnerability assessment for the State, identify programmes and measures for drought mitigation on the basis of the various indices of drought," the bill says.
It gives first priority to meeting the right to water for life, followed by allocation for achieving food security, supporting sustenance agriculture, sustainable livelihoods and ecosystem needs.
The proposed National Groundwater Management Improvement Program (NGMIP) aims to build on current national and state efforts targeted at the long term goal of reducing groundwater level decline. Its objective is to “improve the management of groundwater resources in selected states."
“This is a realistic objective for the six-year program, and will be achieved by enhancing the enabling framework for action, and implementing appropriate investments and management actions."
Five states have been selected to participate in the programme—Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka, and Rajasthan. New states can be added through the implementation period. The current states have been selected as they have some of the most heavily exploited groundwater areas in the country.
Analyst say that such a legislation was long overdue.
“Anything of this kind is most welcome. It is long overdue. There are some forward looking steps in the drafts. It will need some further reading. Let’s hope that something good comes out of it," said Manoj Misra, an environmental activist and convener of the non-profit Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan.
Large parts of the country are facing drought and water shortage after two successive years of below-average rainfall. The 2015 south-west monsoon was 14% short of normal. Over 80% of the rural and urban domestic water supplies in India are served by groundwater.