The Centre has asked state governments to bring a suitable water pricing policy to reduce the agriculture sector’s overdependence on groundwater. This advice has been rendered in the new guidelines notified by the Jal Shakti Ministry on September 24 to regulate and control groundwater extraction in the country.
“States/UTs are advised to review their free/subsidized electricity policy to farmers, bring suitable water pricing policy and may work further towards crop rotation/diversification/other initiatives to reduce overdependence on groundwater,” say the guidelines that came in force with effect from Thursday.
The ministry’s advice regarding a water pricing policy assumes significance as it was not part of the earlier draft guidelines issued on December 12, 2018, which were struck down by the National Green Tribunal. In those guidelines, the Centre had provided a 9-point indicative list of demands, including various water saving methods. However, there was no mention of reviewing the policy of free/subsidized electricity or water pricing policy.
Describing the agriculture sector as the “backbone of the Indian economy”, the guidelines say, “As per Minor Irrigation Census 2013-14, 87.86% of wells are owned by marginal, small and semi-medium farmers having land holding up to 4 hectares (ha). Around 9.18 % of wells are owned by medium farmers having land holding 4 – 10 ha and 2.96% of the wells are owned by big farmers having land holding more than 10 ha.
“Considering the number of groundwater abstraction structures, regulation of groundwater in the agriculture sector through a ‘command and control’ strategy will prove to be an arduous task,” the guidelines say.
While the Centre has left it to states to take action, it itself has exempted agricultural activities from the requirement of obtaining a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for groundwater extraction.
“Agriculture sector shall be exempted from obtaining No Objection Certificate for groundwater extraction,” say the guidelines.
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