But all this could change soon. Plans are afoot to alter laws and regulations to make groundwater a common property as it will ensure better regulation by the government with the involvement
of communities in the management of underground aquifers.
The move will radically rewrite management of groundwater in India—giving community rights over aquifers instead of restricting these to land owners who can simply drill and exploit the resource.
The government, which is planning to make groundwater a public resource, will pass a framework law under Article 252 of the Constitution. This can be done with two states required to pass a similar law before the central initiative.
The particular provision helps the Centre make a law that impinges on federal concerns but does not override state governments’ powers. Once approved by Parliament, it will make it necessary for states to align their regulations in keeping with the principles of the central law.
This, the government believes, will prevent the need to alter the constitutional position of ‘water’ as a state subject while penal provisions will be placed within states’ powers.
Radical changes emerging from the Plan panel envision panchayati raj institutions will become the real-time custodians of the resource and help regulate use of aquifers. Such a practice is in vogue in Andhra Pradesh, but the implementation of a framework law could ensure other states too devolve power.
India is the largest user of groundwater in the world. Almost a third of groundwater aquifers are semi-critical, critical and over-exploited and some estimates suggest that at current rate of extraction, 60% of groundwater blocks could turn critical by 2025. About 60% of irrigated agriculture and over 80% of rural and urban water supply are now being met with groundwater. Bringing water into the concurrent list of the Constitution is seen within government circles as a politically difficult shot with concerns over federalism bound to play a spoiler. The framework law, the Centre hopes, will leave the powers of the state untouched.