THE UNUSED borewells, time and again, have proven to be a fatal trap for people, with two accidental deaths being reported over the last two months and one death being reported as recent as a week ago when a four-year-old boy from Shirur accidentally fell into an unused open pit.
Despite the borewells proving to be a death trap for people and the depleting groundwater levels raising an alarm, the committee formed to formulate the rules under the Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management) Act 2009 has not enforced any regulations over the rampant digging that has been occurring throughout the year.
Seven years have passed since its promulgation and yet, the Act lacks teeth in the absence of the facilitating rules.
The law has stringent provisions to check unregulated extraction of groundwater from areas where there is severe water scarcity. However, with no rules in place, rampant digging isn’t being prevented.
According to the officials of the Groundwater Survey Development Agency (GSDA), eight districts of Marathwada have shown an alarming drop in groundwater levels this year, and the effective implementation of the legislation could have provided some relief.
“If one takes an average of five years’ time, almost all the 76 talukas in the region, barring one, has shown a drop in groundwater level this year,” said the officials.
According to officials, last year, there were no rains and this year, the summers have been intense, and the rivers have been drying up. Therefore, there is rampant digging for groundwater to as much as 800-900 feet. “There has been rampant digging and after one source is tapped, they would not close it and instead, start digging the next one, only to increase the chances of accidents at the open unused borewell pits. This is how the incident in Shirur happened,” said district administration officials.
The state promulgated the legislation in 2009, the gazette notification was issued only in 2013 after receiving assent of the President. The draft rules of the legislation were published in June last year and a special committee was formed to finalise it after taking a feedback from the public. However, the committee members, who have been preparing the rules, have, so far, not submitted its final report.
“There have been meetings on the same but due to some technical issues, the work has been delayed. We are working on it and would be submitting the report soon,” said a member from the committee who did not want to be named. It was learnt that the committee comprised member of the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA), who was the chairman, but was removed so the panel has sought for an extension.
Meanwhile, the district disaster management authority officials, who were dealing with the Shirur incident, where the four-year-old boy fell into the pit, said it was the responsibility of the owner of the borewell to take care and close it. “With no rules in place, one blames the other,” said the member.
Officials from GSDA said that the rules of the act will spell out the details of implementation, time limit and the officials who will implement the act. It will also set regulations on how many private borewell pits can be dug up per household. The objective of forming the committee is to form the draft rules, mainly to declare a specific area or watershed or an aquifer to a notified area based on the recommendations of Groundwater Surveys and Development Agency (GSDA). The rules state that no person, society, company, corporate body shall dig a new well except for public drinking water supply by the state or local bodies without the prior permission of the state authority. However, these rules not being clearly spelt out, there is no question of strict implementation.
Last year, the state had issued a notification identifying around 76 overexploited and seven critical watersheds in 13 districts, including Marathwada, Pune, Nashik, Amravati, Ahmednagar, Satara and Solapur ,where digging wells deeper than 60 metre is prohibited.
Officials said that although 1,100 villages were supposed to be covered under the notification, no official communication was forwarded to the gram panchayats concerned. “When the rules are yet to be formulated, a mere notification will not help,” said GSDA officials. The officials said they have arranged a series of awareness workshop regarding the act. The effective implementation of the legislation is taking place gradually, said officials.