Groundwater Depletion Current Affairs - 2019

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National Green Tribunal forms committee to stop illegal groundwater extraction

Expressing concern over depleting groundwater levels, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has set up a committee to formulate steps required to prevent illegal extraction of groundwater.

NGT’s decision was take in response to hearing of a plea filed by a city resident, Shailesh Singh seeking action against depleting groundwater levels in nation and prevention of its illegal extraction.

Key Highlights of Committee

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel directed the committee to evolve a robust mechanism for ensuring that groundwater is not illegally extracted and to monitor manning and functioning of Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA).

Committee may look into the reports already submitted. The report may be furnished within 2 months by e-mail.

Members: Committee comprises of joint secretaries of Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and Union Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR), Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), National Remote Sensing Centre, National Institute of Hydrology (Roorkee) and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

Nodal agency will be the Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) for coordination and compliance.

Arguments by NGT

The tribunal took to notice that despite a 1996 order of Supreme Court order with regard to groundwater extraction, the water level has only gone down. The SC order had directed central government to constitute a body to look into the issue of groundwater depletion.

However, in spite of clear directions of Supreme Court, the CGWA is unwilling to take the ownership of subject and repeatedly takes the plea that it does not have infrastructure or that the responsibility of dealing with problem is of States and not that of the said authority.

Thus NGT stressed that it is high time that working of CGWA is reviewed and remedial measures are taken, including assessment of suitability of the person to head it. NGT also held that CPCB report that states that water intensive industries can be allowed even in semi-critical and critical areas without any further safeguards may not be acted upon till further orders.

River Ganga drying up in summers due to groundwater depletion: Study

According to recent study conducted by IIT-Kharagpur, River Ganga has witnessed unprecedented low levels of water in several lower reaches in last few summer seasons. The study was carried out under IIT-KGP Science and Heritage Initiative (SANDHI) Initiative, which focuses on river systems and its relationship with settlement system. It had used combination of satellite images of groundwater levels of Ganga, numerical simulations and chemical analyses to draw the conclusion.

Highlights of Study

Drying of Ganga River in recent years during summer seasons is possibly related to groundwater depletion in Gangetic aquifers. The decline of groundwater inflow (base flow) is also impacting health of river. Present day base flow to Ganga from adjoining aquifers may be third or more of total river water volume in pre-monsoon months. The base flow might have dipped by 50% from beginning of irrigation-pumping phase in 1970s. In forthcoming summers, for next 30 years, groundwater contribution to river Ganga will continue decreasing. This trend can lead to disastrous effect on riverine ecology and lead to food scarcity for 115 million people in Ganga basin.

Significance of Study: It is of interest to hydrology, global change community and policymakers. It can help general public understand wider implications of groundwater depletion.  It also brings out scientific reasons for the decreased flows of the river Ganga, especially in the lower reaches. The findings will be extremely helpful in providing quantitative data for future planning of water resources projects in Ganga basin.