Ground water management
Ground water is the water that seeps through rocks and soil and is stored below the ground. The rocks in which ground water is stored are called aquifers. Aquifers are typically made up of gravel, sand, sandstone or limestone. Water moves through these rocks because they have large connected spaces that make them permeable. The area where water fills the aquifer is called the saturated zone. The depth from the surface at which ground water is found is called the water table. The water table can be as shallow as a foot below the ground or it can be a few hundred meters deep. Heavy rains can cause the water table to rise and conversely, continuous extraction of ground water can cause the level to fall.
The National Water Policy (1987) states that water is a prime natural resource, basic human need, and precious national asset. It gives special attention to drinking water for both humans and animals over its other uses. The policy calls for controls on the exploitation of groundwater through regulation and an integrated and coordinated development of surface- and ground-water. The central government has identified strategies for meeting drinking water needs and micro-watershed management and conducted pilot projects in different regions of the country. Even so, India is facing a freshwater crisis.
Situation of groundwater in India Today, India is the largest user of the groundwater in the world with almost 90% being used for drinking water and almost 60-70% for irrigation. Current statistics also show that nearly 50% of urban water supply comes from groundwater. India is on the threshold of a very serious groundwater crisis, which needs mitigation both in the fields and at the policy corridors of the country.
The groundwater crisis is embedded at two different levels:
a) groundwater exploitation of aquifers (where groundwater is stored) in different parts of the India, and
b) groundwater contamination that find origins, both in geogenic source such as Arsenic and Fluoride along with anthropogenic sources of contamination primarily due to poor disposal of waste and wastewater
c) The crisis can be mitigated through
• large scale community participation
• better groundwater governance by implementing smart regulations and legislations
The implementation of a programme called the Aquifer Management Programme by the Government of India is a good initiative to help understand groundwater through aquifers. Other successful community-based groundwater management experiences from different states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan must also be studied. Collaboration, combination of ideas and community partnerships hold the key to the success of groundwater management in India.
The Easement Act, 1882 provides every landowner with the right to collect and dispose, within his own limits, all water under the land and on the surface. 12 This makes it difficult to regulate extraction of ground water as it is owned by the person to whom the land belongs. This gives landowners significant power over ground water. Further the law excludes landless ground water users from its purview. Water falls under the State List of the Constitution. This implies that state legislative assemblies can make laws on the subject.
In order to provide broad guidelines to state governments to frame their own laws relating to sustainable water usage, the central government has published certain framework laws. The 2011, Model bill published by government for Ground Water Management based on which states could choose to enact their laws. In addition, it outlined a National Water Policy in 2012 articulating key principles relating to demand management, usage efficiencies, infrastructure and pricing aspects of water. As recommended in this policy, the government published a National Water Framework Bill in 2013. The Model Bills and National Water Policy address the governance of ground water under the public trust doctrine. The concept of public trust doctrine ensures that resources meant for public use cannot be converted into private ownership.Government being the trustee has the responsibility to protect and preserve this natural resource for and on behalf of the beneficiaries, that is, the people. Additionally, they allow every person the fundamental right to be provided water of acceptable quality. It may be noted that the fundamental right to water has been evolved by the Supreme Court and various High Courts of the country as part of ‘Right to Life’ under Article 21 of the Constitution. Courts have delivered verdicts on concerns such as access to drinking water and on the right to safe drinking water as a fundamental right.
Water scarcity will intensify as population grows, while water quality declines, as demands for water usage grow, supplies will remain static or decline. Groundwater will be uniquely attractive in near future because it can be more reliable source of supply and because aquifer storage and treatment offer the opportunity to augment supplies. The need to manage groundwater requires efficiently and effectively as its value increases requires management regimes.
The issue relating to water falls under the State List of the Constitution. This implies that state legislative assemblies can make laws on the subject. Our Manipur State Government can take up measures to ensure access to drinking water, which is a problem that everyone in Manipur faces, rich or poor. By distributing pressurized and potable water via taps, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, we can ensure that everyone has equal access to this precious resource. As long as the will is there, it is possible.