In July this year, Maharashtra became the first state in India to propose a regulatory act to monitor the use of groundwater, as well as introduce efficient methods to preserve it. The Indian Express explains the Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management) Act 2018 and its significance, at a time when the state is reeling under drought conditions in several districts.
What does the Groundwater Act propose?
The first-of-its-kind regulatory Act has been drafted by hydrologists and geologists at the Groundwater Survey and Development Agency (GSDA). The proposed Act mainly aims at protecting and preserving groundwater quality of all existing water sources in the state. The Act will bring in stringent norms against the misuse of groundwater, and includes provisions to penalise industries, chemical factories, sugar factories, paper mills, agro-processing units, livestock and poultry farms that are found guilty of releasing or causing pollution to water sources, including groundwater reserves in the state. The Act also makes it compulsory for all well owners to register their wells with the district authority concerned. They will also need to undertake the responsibility of operating and maintaining the well. In case multiple ownership of a well, separate registrations will be required.
As many of the proposed registrations are expected to be completed using online procedures, the Act has the potential to usher in regulatory norms and accountability on the overall usage of groundwater reserves.
Why is this Act important?
Besides regulating and streamlining the use of groundwater reserves in the state — a large portion of which is covered in Basalt, which makes it more difficult for rainwater to permeate through it — a strict cap will be imposed on how deep a well can be dug anywhere in Maharashtra. While GSDA monitors depths of wells in rural areas, the proposed Act plans to cap the depth at 60 metres for all kinds of wells.
For instance, in residential societies of urban areas, borewells are dug up to a maximum depth of 100 feet, but wells in rural areas, mostly used for irrigation purposes, are usually deeper.
As per the Act, permission will be given primarily for wells dug for drinking water purposes, thus shifting the focus from those used for irrigation purposes. Special fees will be charged for any drilling activities, which will have to be paid to the State Groundwater Authority. To keep a check on possible illegal activities, every drilling agency, drilling machine operator or those involved in the drilling business will need to register themselves. Every well will be geo-tagged and monitored, to ensure that the depth of the well is within 60 metres, and it has been dug at the exact location for which permission has been granted.
How will it affect agriculture in the state?
As per the proposed Act, farmers will not be able to cultivate water-intensive crops if their region, in that particular point of time, does not have sufficient groundwater reserves. The Act also plans to provide farmers with real-time status on the groundwater levels available.
This, say policymakers, will ensure that farmers do not end up losing their produce due to the deficiency of groundwater. This also means that farmers will need to plan their cultivation activities in advance, based on factors such as rainfall and groundwater recharge status, among others.
this move may seem feasible in theory, the groundwater recharge and discharge rates vary vastly every year, and taking decisions on the basis of estimated groundwater levels may not be easy for farmers.
Especially this year, when the state is dealing with the aftermath of a deficient monsoon, additional water stress due to depleting groundwater is bound to hit farmers. With the groundwater table in over 3,000 villages of the state slipping below the 3-metre mark, this season will be tough on
What happens to the draft now?
While preliminary assessments of the draft is underway, there are other stakeholders in the process, such as the ministries of agriculture, water resources and finance, as well as bodies like the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, which need to ratify the proposals.
The Act also received over 5,000 suggestions and objections during August and September, and a special committee scrutinised them. A majority of these suggestions were in favour of introducing a regulatory Act, but it can be implemented only after a final nod from the state cabinet. Other government departments are expected to give their recommendations on the draft in the coming months.