ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Groundwater Model Bill

Rethinking Regulation for the Primary Source of Water

Groundwater is now the main source of water for all major water uses in India and needs to be given greater policy attention. The fact that it is a politically sensitive topic because any reform will affect some powerful constituencies cannot be an excuse anymore for lack of action. Inaction only increases existing inequalities in access to groundwater by progressively reinforcing the power of bigger landowners at the expense of other water users. This article examines the basic principles governing access to and use of groundwater inherited from the past to the Model Bill for the Conservation, Protection and Regulation of Groundwater, 2011, which provides a basis for rethinking groundwater regulation.

Groundwater use in India has dramatically increased over the last few decades. It is now the backbone of India’s food and drinking water security. Since 1970, an overwhelming majority (80%) of the total addition to the net irrigated area has come from groundwater ensuring that it accounts by now for around 60% of irrigation water use (Shankar et al 2011). Groundwater is also the source of about 80% of drinking water needs.1

The rapid increase in groundwater use has had negative impacts on aquifers in various parts of the country. Thus, by 2004, 28% of the country’s blocks were showing alarmingly high levels of ground­water use.2 In addition, many parts of India report severe water quality problems, causing drinking water vulner­ability. Overall, nearly 60% of all districts in India have problems related ­either to quantitative availability or to quality of groundwater or both (Planning Commission 2011).

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