Regulation and control of groundwater management and development

The opinion article of B. P. Radhakrishna (Curr. Sci., 1998, 75, 542) entitled ‘Groundwater: Wake up before it is too late’, made interesting reading. Recent developments in the country for regulation and control of groundwater management and development are worth noting.

In the matter of groundwater depletion, the Supreme Court passed various orders on 25 May 1996, 21 November 1996 and 5 December 1996 for setting up of an authority under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 with directions to the Government of India to declare Central Groundwater Boards (CGWB) as an authority under Environment (Protection) Act and delegate powers under the Act for the purpose of regulation and control of groundwater development. The Court directed that the authority should regulate the indiscriminate boring and withdrawal of groundwater in the country and issue necessary regulatory directions with a view to preserving and protecting the groundwater.

On 14 January 1997, the Ministry of Environment and Forests vide its notification SO 38 (E) constituted Central Groundwater Authority under sub-section (iii) of Section 3 of Environment (Protec-
tion) Act, 1986 (GOI, 1997) (ref. 1).

As per the notification, the jurisdiction of the authority will be the entire country and it will function under the administrative control of Ministry of Water Resources. The Central Groundwater Authority (CGWA) is vested with powers under Section 5 and 15 to 21 of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to carry out its functions. The Ministry of Water Resources prepared a model bill for enaction by all State Governments for regulation and control of the development of groundwater under Groundwater (Control and Regulation) Act (GOI, 1992) (ref. 2). Here, the procedures for constitution of State Groundwater Authority (SGWA), powers to notify areas and grant permission and restrictions for control and regulation of groundwater development have been described in detail.

CGWA is issuing notices to persons/agencies engaged in construction of wells to get registered. They should also submit information about the number of drilling machines and ancillary equipments, area of operation, etc. to the Regional Directors at 16 Regional Offices of CGWB before 31 December 1998.

Radhakrishna has rightly pointed out the important measures to check further

deterioration of the groundwater. CGWA is vested with powers to conserve the groundwater resources and regulate the development of groundwater. The contention of Radhakrishna that Government agencies are not taking any interest is not true. The government of Andhra Pradesh has recently started an innovative scheme for storing of surface water for recharging the groundwater reservoir.

Wetlands including ponds and lakes should not be affected or used for any development activity in villages, towns and cities. The local panchayats and the State Governments have more role to play in this regard. Areas with declining groundwater level, pollution, salinity hazards, etc. should be immediately identified to help authorities to take appropriate steps to evolve district-wise groundwater management and planning programmes in the State.

Apart from this challenging problem to control the depletion of groundwater, more threat is now felt about pollution of groundwater sources. The ground water contamination is posing severe health hazards in many areas. The data collected by CGWB, Bhubaneswar for Orissa (CGWB, 1998) (ref. 3) reveal that groundwater is contaminated with high salinity, iron, fluoride and nitrate in many districts.

The pollution of drinking water sources need to be immediately tackled by concerned District authorities before it becomes a catastrophe for the human survival in these areas. Groundwater contamination has been reported in many parts of the country including

many areas in West Bengal and Delhi. The local voluntary organizations, the district authorities and village panchayats should also help CGWA to take appropriate action and chalk out strategies for management of groundwater development. Industries, mining and housing organizations must not harvest groundwater resources in those areas where already significant adverse impact has been noticed. They must ensure that effluent discharge to any water source must meet the prescribed norms. Zero discharge concept is always advisable for projects to save precious water resource. Surface water harvesting may be encouraged in these areas.

It is hoped that the concerned authorities will act responsibly and the problem of groundwater depletion and pollution will be contained with the help of the public and legal instruments in force.

  1. GOI, 1997. Notification No. SO (38E) dated 14.01.97, Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi.
  2. GOI, 1992. Model bill to regulate and control the development of groundwater, Government of India, Ministry of Water Resources, New Delhi.
  3. CGWB, Groundwater quality problems in Orissa. (Table 11.1) Central Groundwater Board, South Eastern Region, Bhubaneswar, 1998.


Ministry of Environment and Forests,

Eastern Regional Office,

194-Kharvel Nagar,

Bhubaneswar 751 001, India