Punjab to set up water regulation authority to check depletion of underground water

Chandigarh, Dec 4 (PTI) The Punjab Cabinet on Wednesday gave its nod for the creation of the Punjab Water Regulation and Development Authority to check depletion of underground water in the state.

Though the authority will be empowered to issue directions on water extraction, it will not be authorised to impose any restrictions or tariff on extraction of water for drinking, domestic and agriculture purposes, a government statement issued here said The cabinet, which met under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, decided to promulgate an ordinance called the Punjab Water Resources (Management and Regulation) Ordinance, 2019, it said.

The proposed legislation is aimed at development, management and regulation of water resources of the state to ensure their judicious, equitable and sustainable utilisation and management, it further said.

The authority, the statement said, would be empowered to issue general directions related to extraction and use of groundwater, besides ensuring optimal and efficient utilisation of all water resources, including canal irrigation.

It will also issue guidelines on recycling and reuse of water and its conservation, the release said.

Significantly, the legislation does not allow any restriction to be imposed on extraction of groundwater for drinking or domestic purposes.

For drinking, domestic and agriculture purposes, the authority would be guided by the policy of the state government. It would, however, be required to issue tariff orders for use of water for industrial and commercial use, as per the statement.

The government had earlier said as per the Dynamic Ground Water Estimation Report 2017, published in 2019, the number of blocks falling under over-exploited category -- where groundwater abstraction exceeds recharge -- stood at 109 out of the 138 study blocks in the state. The groundwater level is depleting in about 85 per cent of the state with an average yearly rate of fall of about 50 cm per year, it had said.

Further, the authority would have the right to impose financial penalties upon non-compliance of its orders or directions. It has been vested with the powers of a civil court, and would also be required to present an annual report which would be laid on the floor of the House by the government, the statement said.

To ensure the long-term sustainability of the finite resource of water, for meeting the needs of the present and future generations, an official release quoting the chief minister, said it was imperative to find ways and means of management and conservation of the water resources of the state in the most economical and efficient manner through a legal framework suitable to address the challenge.

The proposed authority will comprise a chairperson, who would be a person with ability and demonstrable experience in the field of water and its management with a sound understanding of public administration, law and economics, the statement said.

In addition, it will have two members who would be experts drawn from water resources or connected areas of finance, law, agriculture and economics, it said.

The legislation also provides for a state council for water management and development, to be headed by the chief minister.

The council would be tasked to approve the State Water Plan, which would be based on integrated water plans to be prepared for every block, the statement said. PTI CHS VSD AQS AQS