Illegal groundwater extraction: Govt body names 2,069 units, grants relief

JUST OVER a fortnight after it declared as “illegal” the extraction of groundwater by 2,069 industries, including projects and units of big corporates like Tata Steel, Adani Wilmar and Ramdev’s Divya Pharmacy, the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) granted relief to them on Thursday, as it extended the last date for applying for no objection certificates (NOCs) from June 30 to September 30.

On June 27, the CGWA, under the Ministry of Jal Shakti, had listed 2,069 projects/ units which had failed to renew the NOCs issued by the authority for groundwater extraction. “Groundwater withdrawal by the projects (as per list attached) is illegal as per law,” said a communique issued by the CGWA member secretary.

According to the “Guidelines to regulate and control groundwater extraction in India”, issued by the Ministry of Jal Shakti Ministry on September 24, 2020, barring five exempted categories – individual domestic consumers in rural and urban areas for drinking water and domestic use; rural drinking water supply schemes; Armed Forces establishments and Central Armed Police Forces establishments in rural and urban areas; agricultural activities; and Micro and Small Enterprises drawing less than 10 cubic metres per day – all other users are required to get NOCs from the CGWA for extraction of groundwater.

The NOCs are issued for a period of 2 to 5 years, depending on the users and the category of area in which they are located (over exploited, critical, semi-critical and safe).

Among the 2,069 projects that were listed, the NOC for Adani Wilmar Limited (2,673 cubic metres per day) was due for renewal in April 2021. The NOC for Ramdev’s Divya Pharmacy Unit-II, based in Haridwar, for extraction of 179 cubic metres per day, expired on December 23, 2017.

Among the listed projects, the NOC for maximum groundwater extraction – 5,77,550 cubic metres per day – was issued to Tubed Coal Mine project, in Latehar district of Jharkhand; it was due for renewal on August 13, 2021.

The NOC for Tata Steel Ltd’s Open Cast Coal Mine in West Bokaro (20,094 cubic metres per day) expired in December 2021.

“It has come to the notice of the Authority that NOC issued to the… projects has expired and is no more valid… The renewal of NOC for groundwater abstraction by the industries/ projects is overdue as project proponents have failed to apply for renewal within the stipulated time,” said the CGWA member secretary’s communique.

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The member secretary quoted Section 11 (vii) of the guidelines which states that “if the proponent fails to apply for renewal within three months from the date of expiry of NOC, the proponent shall be liable to pay environmental compensation for the period starting from the date of expiry of NOC till NOC is renewed by the competent authority.”

“Now therefore, in view of the non-compliance observed above and in exercise of the powers vested under Section 5 of the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986 and Gazette Notification, S.O. 3289(E) dated 24/9/2020, the authority hereby directs you to apply for renewal at the earliest,” the communique said. It said the CGWA could take action against defaulting units, including sealing of borewell, suspension/closure of unit and levying of environmental compensation.

While CGWA officials declined to comment on the matter, an official said some industries responded after the list went public. However, there was no response from 1,814 industries till July 13, the official said .

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the CGWA issued a public notice granting relief to the defaulters till September-end. “As a last opportunity, the last date for submission of complete application for NOC is hereby extended from 30.06.2022 to 30.09.2022, along with applicable groundwater abstraction/ restoration charges and penalty,” said the notice issued by the CGWA chairman. “Failure to do so shall be treated as illegal abstraction and strict penal action shall be initiated against offenders as per prescribed rules and Environment (Protection) Act,” it said.

The CGWA regulates withdrawal of groundwater across the following states and Union Territories – Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttarakhand, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu.

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