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NITI Aayog advocates conservation, groundwater banking

New Delhi : The Niti Aayog has advocated several steps to conserve groundwater in the country and said the concept of groundwater banking could be looked at even as the Central Ground Water Authority has drafted new guidelines to regulate the use of groundwater.

Niti Aayog has suggested that a study be conducted to assess the country’s groundwater banking potential by 2018 to effectively manage the limited resource. The federal policy think tank has also recommended expediting the “Groundwater Development and Management” programme, under which the Centre is preparing aquifer management plans and quantifying the availability of water in aquifers.

In its three-year action agenda for 2017-20, which was published on August 24, Niti Aayog said in 4,530 blocks (which were surveyed in 2011) in eastern and northeastern states, where groundwater development has been reported as safe, groundwater-based irrigation may be developed sustainably.

India’s groundwater resources amount to 433 billion cubic metres (BCM) and account for 39 per cent of the country's total water resources while surface water resources comprise the remaining 61 per cent.

Groundwater accounts currently for around 63 per cent of the total water used in irrigation. “A feasibility study should be conducted for assessing the groundwater banking potential in India by 2018. Some clear advantages of groundwater banking are: low fixed costs as compared to dam and reservoir construction, no requirement for rehabilitation and resettlement and less environmental changes,” the action agenda stated.

Groundwater banking is a practice of recharging specific amount of water in a groundwater basin that can be later withdrawn and used by the entity that deposited the water.

On aquifer mapping being carried out under the Groundwater Development and Management programme, the Niti Aayog called for the scheme to be prioritised in pockets where the resource is “over-exploited, critical and semi-critical”.

As on March 31, 2011, out of the 6,607 administrative units surveyed, 4,530 units were safe while 1,071 were found to be over-exploited. As many as 217 units were found to be critical, 697 semi-critical and 92 units were found to be completely saline.

More than 50 per cent of the over-exploited and critical administrative units were located in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Daman and Diu, according to the survey.

Groundwater development was reported more than 100 per cent in Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan and Haryana, while in northeastern and eastern states it was lower than the national average of 62 per cent.

However, adding a note of caution, the action agenda said that there are certain limitations like establishing distribution networks, pumping costs, and operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, among others.

Also, groundwater banking, a recent policy phenomenon that was rolled out in California in the United States, is yet to be fully evaluated for its long term benefits.

The three-year action plan also suggested measures such as state-specific water policies including an independent regulator with powers to regulate water uses and pricing, enactment of legislation for protection of water bodies and prevention of encroachment on water bodies, enactment of river basin management law and formation of River Basin Organizations (RBOs) for management of inter-State river basins by 2019 and enactment of a National Water Framework Act.

The action plan has also advocated development of a “water footprint in the irrigation sector” for all major crops including wheat and rice followed by other crops for adoption at farm-level by 2018.

Meanwhile, the new guidelines proposed by CGWA also do away with the special attention that is paid to the water-guzzling industries in the existing regulations and treats them like all other industries.

If these guidelines get approved, many water-intensive industrial activities including packaged drinking water and paper making could be allowed to drill for water even in areas identified as facing a groundwater crisis.

The draft guidelines have also brought down the area identified as facing a groundwater crisis and where consequently stricter regulations apply. CGWA has also proposed doing away with regulation of agricultural use of groundwater. Agriculture consumes 89 per cent of India’s groundwater, while the industrial sector consumes just two per cent.

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