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Water as a public resource

Two consecutive developments are sure to give boost to the cause of usage and preservation of groundwater across India. Groundwater is a precious and finite resource but there is astonishing myopia about this fact. Not just the common man but the government, industry, bureaucracy and even the learned communities make little effort to understand or disseminate information about the severity of groundwater depletion in India. Now, finally a slew of measures may be introduced which can radically change both the attitude and the situation.

The government is planning to introduce laws and regulations that will declare groundwater as a public property. This will mean that no individual can use his or her discretion to use ground water as he or she pleases. Groundwater management will hence come under a public trustee with the involvement of communities that will manage the underground aquifers. A community controlled body, like the Panchayat will henceforth be the custodian of all groundwater available within (literally under) its jurisdiction, even if the land under which the water is found is owned by an individual. The move, experts say, will radically alter the management of groundwater in the country by ensuring the right of the community over aquifers and making them safe from unrestricted drilling by individuals.

There is serious concern about groundwater depletion and contamination in India and cases of rapid and wide contamination by arsenic is a direct result of this, an issue that is already plaguing several districts in India’s east. By most estimates, at the current rate of unrestricted and wilful extraction 60% of the nation’s groundwater blocks could turn critical by 2025. And we are still at a stage when 60% of irrigated agriculture and more than 80% of water supply in the rural and urban areas are met from available groundwater. Rain harvesting techniques are at its infancy and are yet to become popular as an alternative source of storing water.  
 
As water is a state subject, the government is planning to pass a framework law under Article 252 of the Indian Constitution. This can be implemented if two states pass a similar law before the Centre takes it up. This will help the Centre to make a law that have federal properties but will not override the power of the state, as it may trigger larger political concerns. This is a very welcome move indeed. And once the Parliament passes the law, the states may do well to align with the principles of the central law. In a related development, the Punjab and Haryana high courts have made investors in realty in Gurgaon legally bound not to use groundwater in construction activity.  Though the industry has not welcomed the move, many Gurgaon residents have welcomed it and experts say that only through such tough measures could the uncontrolled use of groundwater be checked.

Both of them are welcome developments and the government should continue doing its bit to save water from the profiteers just as it would do to any other precious natural resource.
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