NGT gives dressing down to MoEF for non-filing of report on policy for groundwater preservation

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has come down hard on Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change after it failed to constitute an Expert Committee as directed by the NGT. The ministry as per the NGT “was to constitute an Expert Committee and to issue an appropriate policy for conservation of ground water with a robust institutional mechanism for surveillance and monitoring with a view to enhance access to ground water for drinking purposes in OCS areas by way of appropriate replenishment practices which can be properly accounted and measured as well as to sustain the floodplains of rivers in terms of e-flow, augmentation of subterranean flows and preservation of other water bodies.” OCS areas are over exploited, critical and semi-critical with regard to groundwater extraction and depletion.

The NGT had previously directed that the committee was to be constituted within two weeks and was to give report by April 30, 2019 after undertaking study of impact of projected data for the next 50 years. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was directed to evolve a mechanism to deal with cases of violations, including prosecution and coercive measures to check illegal extraction, including scale of deterrent compensation.

The counsel for the ministry informed the NGT that committee was constituted only on March 29, 2019. Commenting in this lackadaisical attitude of the ministry the NGT said that “Violation of orders of this Tribunal is a criminal offence. Let the report be now furnished positively by the Committee by June 30, 2019 and further steps taken promptly. If report is not so furnished, the Joint Secretary concerned of MoEF&CC may remain present in person before the Tribunal on the next date with the report and explanation why action be not taken for violation of orders of this Tribunal.”

The NGT also said that “The OCS areas which need regulation for conservation of ground water cannot be further treated separately as notified or non-notified. Conservation of ground water in the said areas is of equal necessity.” It stated that “the compensation to be recovered for illegal extraction has to be deterrent specially when it is for commercial or industrial purpose and linked to the quantum of ground water extracted and the period for which such extraction takes place.”

The NGT had previously lambasted the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) for its callous attitude towards water preservation and had said that its guidelines would lead to more exploitation of water table. The NGT also had slammed the Ministry of Water Resources over a December 12, 2018 notification and said instead of remedying the situation, it worsened the same by liberalising extraction of groundwater even for commercial purposes.

The matter has been listed for further consideration on July 4.

Prasoon Pant,