Shortcomings of the Odisha Groundwater Bill

Policy review

The Odisha Groundwater (Regulation, Development and Management) Bill, 2011, which was placed before the State Legislative Assembly in the monsoon session, suffers from many loopholes, as felt by the Odisha Water Forum.

While the forum appreciates the initiative of the Government of Odisha to regulate development and management of ground water, it is concerned about the fact that the Bill does not address the fundamental concerns regarding ground water management.

The bill proposes to form Ground Water Regulation Authority (GWRA) that will regulate extraction of ground water in the notified areas (where water is scarce). But, without bringing ground water into the public trust domain, the authority of the GWRA might be challenged in the court of law, as the land owner has the right to ground water under the Indian Easement Act, points out a Press release of the Odisha Water Forum.

Similarly, the Bill exempts extraction of ground water for the domestic and agricultural use in the notified areas from taking permission from the authority. But, the definition of agriculture in the Bill could very well include industrial agriculture, commercial agriculture and the allied industries. The bill again does not mention about the right of the landless on ground water, role of the Gram Panchayats in the management of ground water, equity and environmental concerns.

Since 1970, the Government of India has been urging the States to legislate for the regulation and management of ground water.

Though four decades have passed since the Government felt its urgency first to regulate ground water, Odisha has not been successful in enacting law for ground water. This bill has not been put in public domain to get the feedback from the concerned citizens and organizations, which contravenes the spirits of the State Water Policy 2007, the forum said.

Meanwhile, the forum has appealed to the State Legislature to postpone the enactment of law for the time being and do it after referring the model bill of July 29, 2011, incorporating the present concerns and consulting the citizenry.

While Odisha has waited so long for this legislation, it won’t hurt to wait for a few more months to achieve an all-encompassing legislation on ground water, the forum maintained.

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