Over extraction of groundwater to not attract imprisonment now in Himachal

Himachal Pradesh Assembly today amended the Himachal Ground Water Act, 2005 which would not attract the penal provision of imprisonment now.

Deputy Chief Minister Mukesh Agnihotri stated that the government came into the house to only amend section 21 of the act HP Ground Water Act 2005 to remove the provisions of five years of imprisonment.

” Whoever fails to comply with or contravenes any of the provisions of this Act, shall, in respect of each such failure or contravention, be punishable with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to five years or with a fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees, or with both. ” section of act mention.

He said that now, it has been considered prudent that in place of imprisonment, the provisions be made for a fine of ten lakh rupees. 

The government decided to not withdraw the clause of the sentence completely but continue the clause of penalty in it.  This is old law and section 21 is only being amended. Minister said that no enhancement is being made in the fine and only provision of imprisonment has been removed. 

Dy CM stated that all the members instead of hailing this act presented their political pulses as irrigation, drinking water, and hand pumps are already exempted from the act. He said that there is already a provision of deemed permission after sixty days of applying for the setting up of tubewell and extraction of groundwater for commercial purposes.  He said that all the permissions would be provided if they would not do so the action could be taken against the officials. 

”If you gave permission for the industry in a single window to set up industry along with all clearance, how could the government make stringent provisions ” he said in response to a query from the leader of the opposition.

 Minister said that it is not fair to send someone to jail if he wants to come here for investment.  He said that there are provisions of penalty from Rs 5000 to ten lakh still in the act for over-extraction of groundwater. 

He said that to set up a new industry there are also provisions for providing water. He said that it is not proper to charge a fine as well as to make provisions for imprisonment together. 

Speaking in the discussion Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh said that the discussion is being given political overtones as it was going in another direction however the government has already given an exhaustive reply on all the issues.

Speaking on the bill earlier Leader of Opposition Jai Ram Thakur said that the government came into the house with an amendment without having sensitivity on this issue. He said that there should be a rider on the industrial units to keep a limit on the extraction of water from the ground. He demanded that the condition of imprisonment should not be removed as the psychological impact of fear should have been there on the violators. He said there should be two sets of provisions for commercial and drinking water, agriculture, and domestic purposes. The Leader of the Opposition stated that water levels are going down drastically in the industrial belt of the state. 

BJP member Hans Raj(Churah) said that the government has withdrawn the provision sentence but increased the penalty up to Rs 10 lakh. He said that the over-extraction of water from the Bore Well and hand pump should be included in the amendment. He said that a penal provision of Rs 10 lakh is not too much for the sake of the industry and it could be enhanced. Tarlok Jamwal of (Bilaspur) said that amendment would disrupt the extraction of groundwater for the personal purpose of people also. ” If any person wants to set up a hand pump on his own land he has to take permission from the IPH Department. They did not provide permission so easily.” He said that provision of a fine of Rs 10 lakh is too much for an individual vis a vis industrial purposes. 

Supporting the amendment KL Thakur of Nalagarh(Indpt) said that the bill is praiseworthy to stop the over-exploitation of water from the water tables. He said that water sources should be made intact for the industry and provisions of penalty are good. 

Opposing the amendment Dr. Janak Raj (Bharmour) Those who are law-abiding would be affected by the amendment but those who have money would enjoy liberty as money did not matter to well off. He said that in response to a reply the state assembly department has stated that 28 hand pumps are not registered. Seeking to increase the scope of the amendment  Vinod Kumar of the BJP said that some drinking water-affected areas should have been kept out of the purview of this amendment. It would aggravate the problem of such affected areas and there should not be provisions of penalty and sentence for such people.

Sukh Ram Chaudhary(Paonta Sahib) said that the water tables of the plain are very important and it is needed for irrigation and industry as well. No Industry would be set up in the state if there would be no permission for setting up tubewell. He said that permission to set up tubewell and hand pump should be made deemed regular after one month of application for the permission as it remains pending with the department for years. 

The Bill was cleared by the House letter by the voice vote.

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