As per a report of the National Commission on Integrated Water Resources Development (NCIWRD), the total water availability of India received through precipitation is about 4000 billion cubic meter per annum. After evaporation, 1869 billion cubic metres water is available as natural run off. Due to topographical and other factors, the utilizable water availability is limited to 1122 billion cubic metres, comprising of 690 billion cubic metres of surface water and 432 billion cubic metres of rechargeable ground water. As per NCIWRD (1999), the total water demand of the country has been estimated as 710 billion cubic metres, 843 billion cubic metres and 1180 billion cubic metres for the years 2010, 2025 and 2050 respectively. Availability of water is highly uneven in both space and time, with monsoon confined only to four months in a year. Precipitation varies from 100 millimeter (mm) in the Western parts of Rajasthan to over 10,000 mm in Meghalaya.

There is an increasing stress on water availability due to rising population, rapid urbanization, impact of change in climate, rainfall pattern, etc. In view of depleting spatial and temporal availability of per capita water resources, water conservation and recharge has become necessary for enhancing water availability.

Water is a State subject and is listed at Entry 17 in the state list, however, the provisions are quite complicated. Entry 17 brings water including water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power under state list. On the contrary, the Union may also deal with Inter-State rivers if Parliament legislates in public interest,  via Entry 56 in the Union List. This provision has never been exercised in the Parliament. In 2011 Ashok Chawla Committee underscored the need for a comprehensive national legislation on water either by bringing water in the Concurrent List or through a legal framework for treating water as a unified common resource. However, the proposal to move water to the concurrent list has also been denied by the Legislature in a notification dated 06.02.2020. There is a strong resistance by state governments also qua the enhancement of the role of the Central Government making each riparian state have an unrestrained hold over the portion of a river that runs through it. The Centre cannot intervene unless asked by the contending parties or unless directed by the judiciary to do so.

In August 2020, the Hon'ble National Green Tribunal had directed the Government Agencies to take further steps to prevent wastage or misuse of ground water in light of decisions already taken by the authorities and monitored at appropriate levels.1

The Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA), under the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, has issued a notification under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. It has been notified that Misuse of potable water will be a punishable offence in India punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both, and in case the failure or contravention continues, with additional fine, which may extend to five thousand rupees for every day during which such failure or contravention continues after the conviction for the first such failure or contravention, under Section 15 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986

The Twenty Fourth Report of the Standing Committee on Urban Development (Sixteenth Lok Sabha) was presented before the Parliament on 07.01.2019 on the subject "Rain Water Harvesting in Metropolitan Cities". On 17.03.2021, the Action Taken Report on the same has been submitted before both the houses of the Parliament wherein 65% of the recommendations on the subject has been accepted by the Government.2

The extravagant and wasteful usage of river water one state deprives other states to meet even their essential needs. Same is the case of over-exploitation of ground water at one spot can have detrimental effects in neighbouring areas. It is need of the hour that the Legislature and Judiciary has to work hand in hand and formulate a legislation regulating the issue of scarcity of potable water and depletion of ground water levels across the country.

The Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) has been constituted under Section 3(3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for the purpose of regulation and control of ground water development and management in the Country. CGWA grants No objection certificates for ground water abstraction, in 23 states/UTs, through guidelines which are modified from time to time. Rest of the states/UTs are regulating ground water development through their own Acts, notifications or Government Orders.

While the Centre is formulating its policies and constituting committees towards issues on scarcity and depletion of water, the findings and the guidelines are only directory and not mandatory and the states become the executing machinery and at this level, there is little to no development in this regard. While states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh has launched several schemes towards water resources management and recharging the level of ground water, other states are yet to formulate and implement basic set of guidelines which has led to a lack of interest from the stakeholders and a rather indifferent approach. The decisions passed by the Supreme Court on Cauvery waters3 and Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal4 have not yet been implemented by the Stake Holders.

Another aspect – linking of rivers by canals has also been completely forgotten mainly due to political reasons rather than being an environmental hazard. The Sutlej – Yamuna canal despite having completed 85% construction. The project, in the pipeline since 1980, has been touted by the Centre as one solution to a number of problems: making water available for irrigating 35 million hectares; enabling full use of existing irrigation projects; generating power to the tune of 34,000 MW with added benefits, including flood control. A task force was also formed in the year 2002 which recommended a river linking project in two components. The Peninsular component involving the rivers in southern India envisaged developing a ‘Southern Water Grid' with 16 linkages. This component included diversion of the surplus waters of the Mahanadi and Godavari to the Pennar, Krishna, Vaigai and Cauvery. The Himalayan component envisaged building storage reservoirs on the Ganga and the Brahmaputra and their main tributaries both in India and Nepal in order to conserve the waters during the monsoon for irrigation and generation of hydro-power, besides checking floods. The Hon'ble Supreme Court5 has, a decade ago, given the go ahead for the controversial inter-linking river project, seeking to transfer water from surplus to water deficit areas in the country. As of today, under the National Perspective Plan (NPP), the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) has identified 30 links (16 under Peninsular Component & 14 under Himalayan Component) for preparation of Feasibility Reports (FRs). Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) of eight links have been completed.

Similarly, rain water harvesting policy comes within the purview of the State thereby each state provides its own regulation and incentives on the subject. Having a central legislation will provide a more streamlined way of implementation of the system across the country. The National Green Tribunal6 on 16.11.2017 in an order had ordered government and private schools mandatorily to install rain water harvesting systems. However, the order imposing penalty has been stayed by the Hon'ble Supreme Court and is pending before the Apex Court7. Certain states have formulated incentives and subsidies to rain water harvesting projects in urban and rural areas alike, however, due to the lack of any uniform guidelines or regulations, some states have little to no such infrastructure for rain water harvesting in place although receiving an excessive amount of rainfall annually. Coastal states like Kerala and Odisha have no other option but to let the fresh rain water drain into the sea.

The Supreme Court in its recent times in Jitendra Kumar v. MOEF and Ors.8 held that water bodies should not be diverted for industries and observed that It might be possible to superficially replicate a water body but there is no guarantee that the adverse effect of destroying the earlier would be offset. It is upto the Hon'ble Apex Court9 whereby it has stayed an order passed by the National Green Tribunal10 in a matter dealing with the notification dated 24.09.2020 laying down guidelines to regulate and control ground water abstraction in India and exploitation of groundwater in stressed areas by industries whereby a final verdict is eventually expected to contain efficient and streamlined directions and guidelines towards the regulation of ground water resources.


1. OP No. 597/2019 titled Rajendra Tyagi and Anr. v. Union of India and Ors.


3. Civil Appeal No. 2453/2007 - On 16 February 2018, the Hon'ble Supreme Court has pronounced its verdict. reducing 14.75 tmc water allocation to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to release only 177 tmc of water to Tamil Nadu for next 15 years.

4. Special Reference No. 1/2004 - On 22 February 2017, the Supreme Court stated that the Government of Punjab will have to abide by its order on construction of SYL canal and it will pass a decree if the governments of Punjab and Haryana failed to come to an agreement.

5. Writ Petition (C) 512/2002 – In Re: Networking of Rivers – judgement dated 27.02.2012

6. OA No. 148/2016 titled Mahesh Chandra Saxena v. SDMC and Ors.

7. Civil Appeal No. 2237/2019

8. (2020) 20  SCC 581 – Judgement dated 25.11.2019

9. Civil Appeal No. 2901/2022

10. OA No. 69/2020 titled Sushil Bhatt Vs Moon Beverages Ltd & Others - judgement dated 25/02/2022

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