Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

Civil society calls for amendments to water conservation Bill

Reported by Alka Pandey, Lucknow

Civil  society called for some important amendments to the proposed Uttar Pradesh Ground Water Conservation, Protection and Development Bill at a brainstorming session on 10 March jointly organised by WaterAid India and FANSA (Freshwater Action Network South Asia).

The day-long event included more than a dozen organisations from different parts of the state as well as government officials from Central Ground Water Board and other ground water related agencies.

Daddu Prasad, the minister for Rural Development, government of Uttar Pradesh said that population pressure has increased extraction of ground water and the Bill is a move towards protecting and conserving water sources, he said:

“We cannot be satisfied by restricting exploitation of groundwater but need to think about recharge too, the main source of which is rain. Hence we need to think about more rainwater harvesting.”

In Lucknow, 60-70% of water supply comes from ground water alone and over 50 litres is extracted every day. Of this precious water over 40% gets wasted.

The minister also stressed the need to raise awareness and called on civil society organisations to take the campaign to the people, he continued, “Please educate people about the depletion of ground water, not to scare them, but to make them aware of conservation. This will also build pressure on the government to implement reformatory measures.’’

Presenting the salient features of the Bill, Neelkanth, the Regional Coordinator for Global Transparency Fund programme - FANSA, said that although the proposed law places importance on an institutional mechanism to check ground water exploitation, it does not mention replenishment. He also pointed out that the Bill is silent over the role of various other related departments like Rural Development, Panchayat Raj, Irrigation, Industry etc in ground water exploitation and conservation.

The brainstorming session culminated in participants proposing suggestions on various points in the Bill which were handed over to the minister who will present them to the government before the Bill is presented to the cabinet.

The suggestions included:

  • Change the configuration of authority proposed in the Bill. Instead of government officials, public representatives who are more accountable to their people should be included.
  • Agriculture sector should be kept out of this Bill as farmers very well understand the value of water.
  • The Bill should outline whether there would be any subsidies for water user charges available to marginalised and poor people.
  • There was a consensus that the word Service Provider should be removed from the Bill. The participants suggested Facilitator instead.
  • There were objections on provisions in the Bill which mentioned penalty on the users but said nothing about penalties for the service provider.
  • The Bill should focus on community pricing of water but before that the community should be made aware.

The Minister assured participants that their views would be heard and incorporated, saying it had already received 500-600 objections on the Government’s website and promised another meeting with officials to shape the final law.