Environment

New Groundwater Rules Raise Hope of End to Industry Freeloading

New Delhi: Major beverage companies and other industries involved in excessive and destructive exploitation of groundwater are expected to be hit hard by the new guidelines issued by the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) – the national groundwater regulatory agency – that come into effect this week.

However, experts in the field have noted with concern that by allowing the industrial use of groundwater in water stressed areas with the quantum of groundwater permitted contingent upon the amount of groundwater recharged by the industry, the door has been left open for manipulation. Particularly so because the guidelines fail to stipulate measuring and monitoring mechanisms for groundwater recharge and are therefore open to abuse by industries unless a rigid measuring and monitoring system is also articulated and implemented.

Coca-Cola Factory in Mehdiganj, Uttar Pradesh. Credit: India Resource Center

Coca-Cola Factory in Mehdiganj, Uttar Pradesh. Credit: India Resource Center

Besides, groundwater is a state subject in India and the CGWA guidelines are applicable only to states that do not have well developed groundwater governance regimes, noted India Resource Centre, an international campaigning organisation that has raised the issue of strengthening guidelines on industrial groundwater usage with the CGWA and other agencies repeatedly over the past three years.

The new guidelines have been issued by the Authority following an intensive campaign by various environmental rights groups that have long demanded that overexploitation of the precious natural resource be curbed. The regulations would apply to all industries using groundwater irrespective of when they were established.

Under the new guidelines, all industries that use groundwater and do not have approval from the Central Ground Water Authority would now have to apply to it for a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for groundwater withdrawal “with immediate effect”.

The new guidelines also have a separate category for “Water Intensive Industries” — which includes more stringent regulations for groundwater usage by industries such as soft drinks, bottled water, breweries, distilleries, paper and pulp, fertilisers and others, and prohibit extraction of groundwater by such industries in over-exploited areas, said IRC, which along with its allies had succeeded in getting Coca-Cola’s plans for expansion of its bottling plant in Mehdiganj, Varanasi rejected in August 2014.

It said the CGWA’s older guidelines prohibited bottling operations in areas where the groundwater was declared as over-exploited – but only for new and expansion projects which were defined as those that came up after November 15, 2012 (the date of the last guidelines). Due to this, industries established prior to that cut-off date continued to indulge in blatant use of groundwater, particularly in severely water stressed areas declared as over-exploited by the government.

“The latest guidelines could put an end to the excessive and destructive groundwater usage by industries that were “grandfathered in” under the last guidelines,” the IRC said.

Most of the major aquifers in the world’s arid and semi-arid zones—the parts of the world that rely most heavily on groundwater—are experiencing rapid rates of depletion. Among the regions worst hit is North-West India. Source: NASA

Most of the major aquifers in the world’s arid and semi-arid zones—the parts of the world that rely most heavily on groundwater—are experiencing rapid rates of depletion. Among the regions worst hit is North-West India. Source: NASA

Referring to a case in point, the IRC said the new guidelines would impact the operations of Coca-Cola’s bottling operation in Kala Dera in Jaipur since 2000. Despite the groundwater being declared over-exploited here in 1998, the company continued to extract it – with devastating consequences, it said.

Lauding the stricter regulations announced for water intensive industries, Amit Srivastava of IRC said: “The new guidelines are a significant step forward but a lot depends on whether the CGWA will apply the guidelines in letter and spirit for existing industries in water stressed areas, particularly over-exploited areas.  It is time for the government to stop water intensive industrial operations in over-exploited areas, as communities across India have been demanding for years.  The new guidelines allow for such action immediately.”

“Given our experience, we cannot expect that the government will take action on its own, it will have to  be pushed.  But we now have a much better, legally tenable path available to us, thanks largely to the community driven movements across the country that have moved the CGWA and the Ministry of Water Resources to bring in stronger guidelines applicable to all industries that mine groundwater”, he added.