India (Kerala): A Model Groundwater Bill

An article by S. Vishwanath (The Hindu, July 9, 2016)

It seeks to make groundwater a common pool resource, reduce its pollution and degradation, and protect ecosystems and their biological diversity.

The Union Ministry of Water Resources has put up a Model Bill for Conservation, Protection and Regulation of Groundwater on its website for comments and suggestions. This is a very important bill and needs the attention of every citizen of India, especially the 33 million or more borewell users extracting around 250 cubic km. of water from the ground.

Comprehensively drafted by a team which seems to have Elinor Ostrom as its guru, the bill seeks to move groundwater away from its current avatar under the Easements Act as a private property resource to a Common Pool Resource. The State will hold groundwater as a resource in public trust.

In the true spirit of decentralisation and the principle of subsidiarity, it seeks to empower Gram Panchayats and Nagarpalikas through a process of Gram Sabhas and Ward Sabhas to develop management plans for groundwater use in public domain and through people’s participation and approval.

Some of the objectives of the Act include:

1. Ensure the realisation of the fundamental right to life through the provision of water.

2. Meet food security, livelihoods, basic human needs, livestock and aquatic life.

3. Protect ecosystems and their biological diversity.

4. Reduce and prevent pollution and degradation of groundwater.


One of the biggest challenges for sustainable management of groundwater comes from overexploitation and overuse, beyond the annual recharge. The other comes from pollution, from natural mineral occurrences such as with fluoride and arsenic and with man-made sources such as industrial effluents, fertilizers and sewage. To combat this, the Act proposes the demarcation of ‘groundwater protection zones’ based on the latest dynamic resource assessment of the Central Groundwater Board and State agencies and the mapping of aquifers and sub-aquifers, a process which is ongoing. This then will lead to the development of a groundwater security plan which through a process of recharge and demand management will result in attainment of sufficient quantity of safe water for life and sustainable livelihood and ensuring water security even in times of drought and floods. For the institutional framework, the Act sees the setting up of a groundwater sub-committee under the village water and sanitation committee by the Gram Panchayat. This will be supervised by a Block Panchayat, which will consolidate the groundwater security plans of all Gram Panchayats in its ambit.
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