A team of experts at the city-based Groundwater Survey and Development Agency (GSDA) has submitted a detailed report on the proposed Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management) Act to the state government. The report will then be forwarded to all the ministries concerned for their suggestions, after which a final decision on this Act is expected to be taken. Though the government was supposed to complete all the processes by the end of 2018, the Act is likely to come into effect only next year.
Given the fast depleting groundwater reserves in the state, the implementation of the proposed Act is crucial. The recharge of groundwater in 2018 was not highly appreciable as in more than 3,000 villages in the state, groundwater levels had dropped over 3 metres, or to the maximum depth.
Groundwater tables are measured based on their recharge and discharge rate. Villages are classified based on the water level measure of below 1 metre, between 1 metre and 2 metre and over 3 metres, after every monsoon. This information is then used to plan water management and distribution for the region.
Act key for preventing exploitation of ground water reserves
Maharashtra is reeling under severe water crisis this year, much ahead of the summer months. Water tankers for drinking water have already been pressed into service in many parts of the state. In order to tackle similar crisis situations in future, stringent regulatory measures are needed so that water and crop management are both better planned. The Act holds the key in regulating and streamlining the existing rampant exploitation of groundwater reserves by farmers, drilling agencies and industries in the state. If passed, Maharashtra will be the first state in India to introduce such a regulation.
The draft Act proposes to impose restrictions on the depth of digging wells, grant permission for digging wells only for drinking purposes, and introduce mandatory registration for wells, among other measures. The draft Act also proposes to restrict farmers from taking up water-intensive crops in areas with depleted groundwater stock. Ahead of every sowing season, suggests the Act, farmers in the state would be given detailed information about the availability of water stock, to help them plan their cultivation. The Act also proposes to geo-tag each well, a measure that will help prevent illegal drawing of water.
The draft Act had remained in the public domain for scrutiny during August and September this year, and officials had sought suggestions and objections about it. At the end of the two-month period, GSDA had received over 4,000 suggestions.
“Many of the suggestions were in favour of the Act as it is the need of the hour to bring in regulation for using natural resources. However, we have taken into consideration all possibilities, so that the proposed Act can have maximum benefit for all stakeholders. We have given our final recommendations to the government for consideration,” a member of the experts’ team told The Indian Express.
The state government has also sought opinions about the report from the ministries of finance, home, agriculture and water resources. Suggestions have also been invited from Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) as the Act proposes to penalise agencies, industries or individuals found causing pollution to the water stock. While it was stated in July that the proposed Act would take final shape by December, a regulation on groundwater is expected to turn into reality only in 2019.