- The tribunal urges authorities to be strict in granting permits and initiate swift action in case of breaches
- The NGT has struck down the CGWA’s 2020 guidelines, saying they were against the law
NEW DELHI : In a major revamp of regulations, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has set stringent conditions for commercial groundwater use, asking authorities to be tightfisted in granting permits, initiating swift punitive action in case of breaches and mandating third-party compliance audit of businesses every year.
NGT has also struck down the Central Ground Water Authority’s (CGWA) 2020 guidelines, saying they were against the law. The 2018 version of the guidelines had been struck down by the NGT last year.
The tribunal did not find merit in CGWA’s plea that stringent curbs on groundwater use will have an adverse impact on industrial production, employment opportunities and the economy of some states, according to the order uploaded by the tribunal last Monday. The move puts on hold about 20,000 applications for no-objection certificates (NOCs) from the industry on groundwater use, said an industry executive.
Some experts said the directions issued by NGT puts rigorous compliance requirements on businesses at a time they were trying to find their feet amid the covid-19 crisis, and practically makes access to groundwater very difficult. The move, they said, was interfering with the legislative functions of the Jal Shakti ministry.
“Proper implementation of the present order of the NGT could spell trouble for commercial units already hit badly by economic slowdown and the ill effects of the pandemic,” said Salman Waris, managing partner of law firm TechLegis Advocates and Solicitors. He said NGT has nudged the authorities towards ensuring sustainable groundwater management, according to a SC mandate by which the CGWA was created.
NGT has specifically banned “general permission for withdrawal of groundwater”, especially to commercial entities, without an environment impact assessment. Permits have to be for specified quantity of water, not in perpetuity, and should be monitored with digital flow metres and audited every year by third parties. Swift action, including blacklisting and prosecution, should be taken against those who fail the audit. The authorities have three months to make water management plans for all overexploited, critical and semi-critical (OCS) areas. Around 800,000 companies fall in such areas, which account for about one-third of all 3,881 groundwater assessment units in India, the industry executive quoted above said, seeking anonymity.
“Industries must expect a complete overhaul in the manner in which permits are issued for extraction of groundwater for commercial activities,” said Dharav Shah, an associate at law firm Wadia Ghandy and Co. Industries extracting groundwater must ensure that all conditions are complied with, else they may invite prosecution, he added.
The policy vacuum on granting permits to use groundwater is causing immense hardship to industry, resulting in closure and loss of jobs and livelihood, said the industry executive. According to official estimates, 89% of groundwater withdrawal is by farmers and only 5% is by industry, while the rest is for domestic use. In its order, NGT referred to a NITI Aayog report that flagged a growing water crisis, and proposed “interventions that make water use efficient, sustainable”.
The NGT order, which came in a dispute involving a hospitality firm, was a key case where jurisprudence of groundwater use has evolved, said Tavinder Sidhu, partner, MV Kini and Co.