Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

Right to Service becomes law in Kerala (India)

On 25th July 2012, the Kerala Legislative Assembly has passed the Right to Service Bill-2012. The Kerala Chief Minister Oommen  Chandy has kept his promise of making available services including domestic water connections to people within a specified time.

 

Thirteen specified government services come under the ambit of the new law. These are issue of certificates of birth and death; denomination of caste, income and domicile; electricity connection to  households and commercial shops; domestic water connections and issue of ration cards. The other services are receipts to complaints filed with the police; issue of a copy of the First Information Report; police intervention in grievous crimes; time-bound verification of passport and employment status; issue of copy of post-mortem report and releasing of vehicles under custody.

The law guarantees delivery of specified services within a stipulated time period and if this does not happen, a penalty will be imposed on the official concerned. People can now avail these services at offices of concerned government departments, local self-government institutions besides public sector undertakings. The assembly had taken up the Right to Service Bill for discussion on Tuesday. The assembly session ended on Wednesday with the Speaker Sri. Karthikeyan, terming the session as a historic one.

Move to make groundwater a “community resource” in India

Due to large scale declining of groundwater table across the country, the water resources ministry in India is working on an overarching law that will modify provisions allowing proprietary right to a land owner on groundwater and make it a community resource. Ministry officials said the draft bill, seeking to declare water as a community resource, presently held by the state under the doctrine of public trust would be ready in six months. It will provide an overarching national legal framework on general principles of water preservation. While states have the right to frame laws on water, there is a need to evolve an overarching national legal framework and devolution of necessary powers to lower tiers of government. Existing acts may have to be modified as they appear to give proprietary right to a land owner on groundwater. Annual extraction of groundwater in the country, estimated at around 243 cubic km, was the highest in the world; the official said and has led to rapid depletion of this resource. Ministry officials said growing dependence on groundwater had led to over-extraction and alarming lowering the water table in almost a third of the country. Citing a study, they said groundwater depletion in Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi between August 2002 and October 2008 was equivalent to a net loss of 109 cubic km of water, which was double the capacity of India's largest surface-water reservoir. Groundwater provides for over 60 percent of net irrigated area in the country and has accounted for over 85 percent of addition to the net irrigated area in the last three decades. The new water policy, which suggested river basin or sub-basin as a unit for planning and development of water resources, is expected to be approved by the government by the end of this year. It has to be approved by the National Water Resources Council. The official said the suggestion for overarching national legal framework of general principles on water has met with resistance from some states, but the ministry hoped to convince them of its uses. A few states have said it is against the spirit of federalism. Each state looks to its limited interest, but we have common interest. Further, Central Ground Water Authority had asked chief secretaries of 12 states and administrators of two union territories having over-exploited blocks to take specific measures for artificial recharge of groundwater and rain water harvesting.

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