Order of the National Green Tribunal in the matter of depleting groundwater level in India, 24/11/2023

  • 24/11/2023

Order of the National Green Tribunal in the matter of In re: News item appearing in Hindustan Times dated 26.10.2023 titled “UN predicts groundwater level in India will reduce to ‘low’ by 2025” dated 24/11/2023.

The OA is registered suo motu on the basis of the news item published in ‘Hindustan Times’ dated 26.10.2023 titled “UN predicts groundwater level in India will reduce to ‘low’ by 2025”. As per the news item report, some areas in Indo-Gangetic basin in India have already passed the groundwater depletion tipping point and its entire northwestern region is predicted to experience critically low groundwater availability by 2025, according to a news report by the United Nations. It is also disclosed in the news report that India is the world's largest user of groundwater, exceeding the use of the United States and China combined.

The news item raises a very serious concern relating to depleting the ground water level. Hence, a substantial issue relating to compliance of environmental laws is involved in the matter, the NGT noted.

The report by the Central Ground Water Authority, November 22, 2023 said that all measures have been taken by the government to improve the situation of groundwater in the country. However, the NGT pointed out that the Annual Report 2022 of the Central Ground Water Board, Department of Water Resources depicted a different picture from the one presented in the report filed before the court. For instance, "a comparison of depth to water level of Premonsoon 2022 with Premonsoon 2019 indicates that 69.7% of the analysed wells (11744 No) show rise in water level whereas almost 29% wells show decline in water level".

The report showed over extraction in several areas which is in particular Rajasthan and Gujarat where prevailing arid climate conditions result in low recharge of ground water hence stress. In peninsular area over exploited units are widespread in the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The report also suggested more experimental studies to be taken up refining the norms taking into consideration irrigation, soil types, agro climatic zones, recharge from water conservation and from water bodies.

Taking a serious view of the situation, the NGT directed notices to be issued among others to the Central Ground Water Authority, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and also 21 states/union territories like included Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Tripura, Jammu & Kashmir facing groundwater deterioration. The next hearing of the case will be held on February 9, 2024. All the respondents have to file their reply one week before the hearing.