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NGT directs closure of commercial establishments in UP extracting groundwater illegally

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NEW DELHI, Oct 29: Groundwater vests in the state and its extraction is not permissible without consent, the National Green Tribunal has said while directing the closure of all establishments in Uttar Pradesh which are operating without mandatory permissions and withdrawing water illegally.

The NGT said that according to the Central Ground Water Authority’s report, more than 70 per cent of hotels or commercial establishments across nine districts in Uttar Pradesh were found to be extracting groundwater illegally.

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“Under the circumstances, a case appears to be made for direct sealing of all establishments operating without mandatory consents to operate as per Water Act, till compliance and registering criminal cases for theft of groundwater against owners of the establishments.

“The groundwater vests in the State and extraction is not permissible without consent of the State. Further, such extraction can only be on payment of laid down charges,” the tribunal said.

A bench headed by chairperson Justice A K Goel said that the situation was alarming as shown by rampant violations, defeating the directions of the Supreme Court for control and regulation of groundwater extractions.

“There is a grey area of about 25 per cent for want of information being furnished or collected,” the bench said, adding, “We have no other option but to hold that there is an all-round failure of the statutory authorities in complying with the mandate of the judgement of the Supreme Court.”

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The approvals for groundwater extraction were being granted mechanically, while alternatives to groundwater extraction were not being considered, resulting in a shortage of potable water for drinking purposes, the bench said.

“Under the circumstances, the case appears to be made out to direct sealing of all establishments operating without mandatory consent to operate as per the Water Act, till compliance and registering criminal cases for theft of groundwater against owners of the establishments,” the green panel said.

Determining the amount of interim compensation, the bench said it was Rs 50 lakh per establishment having more than 100 rooms, Rs 25 lakh per establishment having 50-100 rooms and Rs 10 lakh per establishment having up to 50 rooms.

“We direct interim compensation at the above rate be deposited by all the establishments identified as extracting groundwater without permission as well those not having consent to operate under the Water Act,” the NGT said.

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The deposit has to be made within one month with the respective District Magistrates, failing which theft cases would be registered against the establishments concerned and borewells sealed, the NGT said.

The already constituted joint committee of the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) had to assess the final compensation after giving an opportunity to the establishments concerned, within three months, it said.

The committee also had to verify the compliance for non-verified establishments within one month, the NGT said.

“We further direct that while granting consents, the requirement of installing digital water meters connected to central servers may be laid down and in respect of establishments having water supply from the local bodies and also extracting groundwater, there should be separate digital meters in respect of both sources,” the NGT said.

If consent was not applied for within one month, the establishments could be closed by the state pollution control board, it said.

“States other than Uttar Pradesh may also study the above directions and take further action by issuing necessary standard operating procedures (SOPs) through their Water Resources Departments and State PCBs within one month,” the NGT said.

Report of the status of compliance as on April 30, 2023, had to be filed before the tribunal by May 15, 2023, the NGT said.

The tribunal was hearing an application against the unauthorised withdrawal of groundwater by 122 hotels in Ghaziabad and during the course of the hearing it took up the larger issue of such problems in nine major cities of the state — Lucknow, Kanpur, Agra, Meerut, Gautam Buddha Nagar, Bareilly, Varanasi, Jhansi, and Gorakhpur. (PTI)

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