Water management body may not act to stop construction

Water management body may not act to stop construction

New Delhi: The Delhi high court’s observation that the Central Ground Water Authority, or CGWA, is sufficiently empowered to stop construction activities if they impact recharge of groundwater may not lead the regulator of groundwater management to take such a step, as one of its official says “meddling" with construction activities is not its role.

The court’s observation came last week during the hearing of a two-year-old petition filed by some residents of South and South-West Delhi to stay construction activity there as they believe it was leading to a fall in groundwater level. The areas under question are notified, or designated, groundwater recharge areas by CGWA.

The court directed the National Capital Territory of Delhi to file a status report on the current groundwater situation in four weeks. The court is yet to pass concluding directions on the petition, which has named the ministry of urban development, CGWA, the Delhi Jal Board, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the ministry of defence as respondents. If CGWA was to follow the court’s directive, it could have a serious impact on several ongoing projects that seek to commercially exploit the land.

The CGWA official, however, differs with the court’s observations.

“Our role is to conserve and manage groundwater, not to meddle in allowing construction activities. We can’t do that. Land-holding entities such as DDA are supposed to get our approval before handing over land to developers but they never do. In the end, after sale and investment are done, they realize the water issue and then dig bore wells," said the official, who did not wish to be identified.

The critical area of ground water recharge that is being disputed spans 640 ha, of which 315ha are under the possession of DDA, and the remaining under the control of the Indian Army.

A report of CGWA, submitted to a Supreme Court-appointed committee that monitors compliance of the court’s orders on forest, wildlife and related matters in 2002 says the entire Delhi Ridge, a northern extension of the Aravalli range, which overlaps the area under dispute, is underlain by highly fractured/jointed quartzite (a type of rock) formations and is the recharge zone for the surroundings. The report concluded that any construction or non-forest activity cannot be allowed in the Ridge area and that development activity may adversely affect the groundwater regime in the area.

About 85% of the rainfall in this region percolates into the underground water-bearing aquifer system. In view of this, CGWA had earmarked the “Ridge central ground" and its surrounding area as a “recharge area".

“Of course it is a critical matter but groundwater extraction continues unabated even in notified areas. These areas have been notified and even after that, land in these areas continue to be developed and built upon," said the CGWA official. Since water falls under state jurisdiction, state governments should be asked to take permission from CGWA for sale of land for development in notified recharge areas, the official added.