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NGT slams MoEF over failure to submit report on policy for groundwater conservation

NGT slams MoEF over failure to submit report on policy for groundwater conservation

New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal has slammed the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) over its failure to submit a report on issuing appropriate policy for conservation of groundwater.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said lack of sensitivity of serious issues of environment such as fast depleting groundwater is a matter of concern.

"MoEF has failed to perform its duty for which no explanation has been furnished. No affidavit has been filed. On being asked, counsel for the MoEF has informed the Tribunal that the Committee was constituted only on March 299 and not within two weeks from January 3 as directed.

"The committee has not yet given its report. We do not appreciate such attitude of government departments when under a statutory enactment, violation of orders of this Tribunal is a criminal offence. The committee has not acted promptly and no significant progress has been brought to our notice," the bench said.

The tribunal had earlier rapped the Ministry of Water Resources over its notification dated December 12, 2018, and said instead of remedying the situation, it worsened the same by liberalising extraction of groundwater even for commercial purposes.

It had later directed the MoEF to constitute an expert committee and asked it to issue an appropriate policy in this regard.

The NGT has now directed the committee to furnish a report by June 30 and asked it to take further steps in this regard promptly.

It warned that if the report is not furnished, the Joint Secretary concerned of MoEF may remain present in person before the tribunal on the next date with the report and explanation that why action be not taken for violation of orders of the tribunal.

The green panel also pulled up the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) over its mechanism to deal with cases of violations, including prosecution and coercive measures to check illegal extraction.

It said the report of the CPCB was not complete as the over exploited, critical and semi-critical areas (OCS) which need regulation for conservation of groundwater cannot be further treated separately as notified or non-notified.

"Conservation of groundwater in the said areas is of equal necessity. Depletion of ground water in the said areas affects the subterranean flow and results in contamination of groundwater and also poses a potential danger for drying up of important natural resource in violation of established principle of 'Intergenerational Equity'.

"The compensation to be recovered for illegal extraction has to be deterrent specially when it is for commercial or industrial purpose and linked to the quantum of groundwater extracted and the period for which such extraction takes place," the bench said.

It asked CPCB to furnish a fresh report by June 30 by email.

The NGT also said that it does not find any safeguards to address the problem of depleting ground water in Central Groundwater Authority (CGWA) guidelines for existing industries, infrastructure in the sand mining projects.

"The mandate of CGWA is not exploitation of groundwater in depleted areas but to conserve it. Any policy which results in further depletion obviously cannot be permitted in OCS areas CGWA is free to lay down and follow stringent norms to ensure that there is no depletion of groundwater in OCS areas and depleted water level is improved and replenished.

"Any policy has to be in that direction and not in reverse direction as is unfortunately being attempted by CGWA, as noticed in earlier orders. MoEF has to come out with an appropriate policy consistent with the above mandate. The MoEF has taken the plea that CGWA has not cooperated which is a cause for delay. This is denied by CGWA. The fact remains that failure is on the part of both," the bench added.

The matter is posted for next hearing on July 4.

The tribunal was hearing petitions filed by the NGT Bar Association and Raj Hans Bansal opposing the illegal use of groundwater in Delhi.

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