NEW DELHI: Concerned over the exploitation of groundwater, the union ministry of environment and forest has made it mandatory for infrastructure projects to seek 'no objection' certificate from the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) for using groundwater for project activities and state should refrain from issuing clearance to project in absence of a certificate.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in a November 2 official order has decided to include go-ahead from the CGWA as part of the Terms of Reference while prescribing environment clearance to development projects.
"In the projects where groundwater is proposed as water source, the project proponent shall apply to the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) or State Ground Water Authority (SGWA), as the case may be for obtaining No Objection certificate, if applicable, the environment ministry may ensure that such an application has been made," said the order.
It further says that approval of the CGWA or state shall be obtained before drawing groundwater for the project activities. State Pollution Control Board concerned shall not issue Consent to Operate until the project proponent obtains such permission.
"State Pollution Control Board concerned shall not issue Consent to Operate till the project proponent obtain such permission," it added.
As per the central ground water board assessment, the total annual replenishable groundwater resource of the country is around 433 Billion Cubic Metres (BCM). The net annual groundwater availability is 398 BCM out of which annual groundwater utilization (draft) is estimated at 245 BCM and stage of groundwater exploitation is 62 per cent.
Expert feels that there is an effort ensuring the issue of groundwater withdrawal is addressed at the stage when Terms of Reference is granted for the preparation of an EIA (environment impact assessment) but the challenge continues to be at the level of compliance of legal requirements.
"This is an important clarification as projects often initiate construction or operations without having necessary approvals for groundwater withdrawal. By emphasising this ministry has clearly acknowledged that this has been a regulatory lacuna and requires reminding project authorities of mandatory procedures as well as indicating at the need for interdepartmental coordination," said Kanchi Kohli Legal Research Director, CPR-Namati Environment Justice Program.
Kohli says there is a need for innovative protocols of monitoring legal compliance that include informing and involving affected communities living around project sites.
"Otherwise, such clarifications will remain regulatory requirements only on paper," she added.