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Illegal abstraction of Ground Water poses environmental threat to Uttarakhand


By Brig Sarvesh Dutt Dangwal (Retd)

Rampant Illegal Mining and Abstraction of Ground Water in the State of Uttarakhand and the absence of any regulation to control and regulate the same by the State Government pose a serious threat to the environment of Uttarakhand.
The State of Uttarakhand was carved from the geographical territory of Uttar Pradesh in 1999-2000. The State has a Green Forest Cover of about more than 70% and is hence the foremost environmentally friendly region in the country. The green cover is essentially a natural blessing owing to its geographical location, the catchment area of a network of snow fed rivers including the Ganga and the Yamuna, symbiotic culture prevalent in the hill and semi-hill regions of the Himalayas and the Shivalik ranges, respectively. There have been, also, social movements like the Chipko Andolan which pioneered the protection of forests and trees in the hill regions of the State. The State has a telling legacy of an environment friendly culture and the living style of its people coupled with their dependence on forests/trees for their day to day needs and demands. The culture of Uttarakhand lends itself to sustaining forests and trees, which is critical to its people and the wildlife that abounds here.
Of the 13 districts of the State in the Revenue Divisions of Garhwal and Kumaon, which comprise Uttarakhand, four of these viz Dehradun, Haridwar, Udham Singh Nagar and Rudrapur are in the plains and the remaining in the Hills. Owing to various reasons, there has been a constant migration of the population from the Hill Districts to those in the plains in both divisions, equally and substantially. As a result, unprecedented construction activity to provide homes for those who have permanently moved and shifted to the four above mentioned districts has taken place and it continues unabated. These districts have been seized by a construction and living culture of multi-story residential complexes, shopping malls and ancillary buildings which support the humongous population. Construction has gone vertical as against horizontal.
To support the construction and subsequently the critical need of water for the people who live in these, there has been an uncontrolled, illegal and rapacious onslaught on the Ground Water Resources of these Districts, which is slowly but surely ruining the Green Forest Cover here and adversely impacting the environment, and the local weather conditions. Should this not be put a stop to and regulated by concerned government authorities entrusted with the mandate to preserve and promote the ambient conditions in these districts of Uttarakhand, we shall very soon surely be staring at pollution levels surpassing what bedevils the NCR of Delhi and destroying the green forest cover which presently obtains here. We will all be guilty of being a party to the devastation of our environment and robbing our future generations of a healthy and happy life.
There exists No Regulation in Uttarakhand that oversees this illegal mining and abstraction of Ground Water by Developers/Builders who are not only plundering a critical State Resource of water but are cheating the State Government of huge revenue which accrues from this wealth. There is no mechanism which is built into the system to approve and allow the mining/ abstraction of Ground Water by Developers/Builders, who not only use this water for construction purposes but subsequently continue to provide this water for use by those to whom it has sold the property. The users continue to enjoy this facility in perpetuity without paying a single paisa to the State Government. This is daylight robbery and plunder of a critical State resource. Not only this, people who have got wise to this lacunae which exists here in Uttarakhand are mining/abstracting Ground Water in their own properties and have made it into a lucrative business by selling it to the needy through private water tankers. A thousand litres of water is sold for Rs 400. With money involved, it seems probable that there is a thriving nexus between State Government agencies and those who illegally mine/abstract Ground Water’
While there is a Central Ground Water Board, with its office in Dehradun, it is not in the loop to approve the mining/abstraction of Ground Water by Builders/ Developers when they seek the approval of their site maps from the State Government’s District Development Authorities. Neither is the Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board with its office in Dehradun, nor the Executive Engineer, Anurakshan Khand, Uttarakhand Jal Sansthan, Dehradun, factored into granting approval for Ground water abstraction/mining. It is in a recent case of reporting the illegal abstraction/mining of Ground Water by a residential housing society, through the mechanism of the Mukhyamantri Helpline that cognisance was taken and the matter brought to the notice of the Sub Judicial Magistrate (Sadar) by the Office of the EE Anurakshan Khand, Uttarakhand Jal Sansthan, Dehradun to proceed in the matter. A notice vide section 10(1) was served upon to the errant Society and the hearing listed in the court. There is a provision in the Garhwal and Kumaon Jal (Sangrah, Sanchay and Vitran) Adhiniyam 1975 Sec 06 forbidding any abstraction of ground water by any person(s) by pumping it without the prior approval of the Sub Divisional Magistrate (Pargana Adhikari) and is operative in the State. But, unfortunately, the SDM (Pargana Adhikari) is also not factored into the approval mechanism of a construction site plan map and which remains the sole preserve of the District Development Authority.
In view of the fact that there is no existing mechanism at the approval stage of a construction site and the Developers/Builders use this lacunae in the powers of the site map approving authority to their advantage and continue to illegally abstract/mine Ground Water, it needs to be formalised and operationalised. Notwithstanding the above, when a serious matter of such a violation is brought to the notice of the authorities concerned, the designated SDM (Pargana Adhikari) should act in accordance with law and as provided for in the Byelaws.
It is, therefore, necessary that to conserve and preserve water resources anywhere in the State/Country and specially the Ground Water which is the well pool of the Atmospheric Water Cycle and contributes largely in sustaining the Green Forest Cover of a land mass very stringent and fool proof provisions must be factored in at the approval stage of construction site maps by the District Development Authorities in the Districts of Uttarakhand in general and the four plains Districts, in particular. The State of Uttarakhand must articulate a comprehensive policy in the matter with punitive safeguards and pass it as an Act in the Legislative Assembly so as to ensure the conservation and preservation of Ground Water and prosecute those who violate such an Act.