Groundwater Depletion and Water Crisis in Delhi

AuthorMaheshwar Singh
Published date01 June 2020
Date01 June 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Groundwater Depletion
and Water Crisis in Delhi
Maheshwar Singh1
Groundwater governance entails synergetic acts of political, legal social,
economic and administrative systems, which equitably and efficiently distribute
and manage the resource. It involves the formulation, establishment and
implementation of water legislation and policies and creation of institutional
framework for water administration. It emphasises the need for clarification of
the roles and responsibilities of the government, civil society and private sector.
Delhi has complex governance structure due to the simultaneous presence of
the Union as well as state government agencies. The complexity of the situation
is further compounded with the expansion of the Delhi as National Capital
Region and the 1,400 odd square kilometres of the National Capital Territory
(NCT) of Delhi. This article deals with the later. It is an attempt to understand
and analyse the evolving legal regime on groundwater, the policy framework and
institutional structure, as well as the role of courts to manage and regulate the
groundwater situation in the city of Delhi. The article has highlighted that the
rapid depletion of groundwater in Delhi is the fundamental reason for water
scarcity in the city despite efforts of multiple agencies, existence of model bills,
acts and regulations for the management of groundwater. For a highly urbanised
city like Delhi, we need to think about incentives to discourage people from
abstracting groundwater. There are no easy answers to these questions any
more than the efforts to find solutions and effectively implement them to
overcome the water crisis. This article is a modest attempt to find reasons for
water crisis in the NCT of Delhi.
Environmental law, environmental policy, pollution studies, water pollution
Journal of National
Law University Delhi
7(1–2) 14–30, 2020
© 2022 National Law
University Delhi
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/22774017221098381
1 National Law University, New Delhi, Delhi, India.
Corresponding author
Maheshwar Singh, National Law University, New Delhi, Delhi 110078, India.
Singh 15
Water crisis in the National Capital Territory (hereinafter NCT)1 is well-
documented in numerous reports published by government bodies, global inter-
governmental organisations and national and global non-governmental organi-
sations. All of them have abundantly established that unrestrained abstraction of
groundwater has turned NCT into a water-stressed zone. The dangerous and
alarming situation of water crisis in Delhi raises critical and important questions
related to groundwater regulation acts, efficacy of institutional frameworks to
implement the regulation related to water laws, the role of courts, especially the
Green Courts and effective proscription for the violation of laws. There are no
easy answers to these questions any more than the efforts to find solutions and
effectively implement them to overcome the water crisis. Several reasons for
water crisis in NCT may be discerned from the available literature on the
subject. Some of them indicate towards the weakness of the legal regime of
groundwater abstraction, the imbalance between water requirements and their
availability in NCT of Delhi and the collusion between vested interests and
government officials. However, each one of them, broadly, offers us an under-
standing of the crisis as a consequence of the disjoint between the threefold
process, that is, the legal regime, institutional framework to implement the laws
and regulations and, finally, their actual implementation. It is mired with all
kinds of unanticipated mediations resulting in the dysfunctionality of the
groundwater protection regime in the NCT of Delhi. How do we understand it?
This article is a modest attempt to unravel disruptions and blockages in the
revival and restoration of the groundwater legal regime in the NCT of Delhi.
The findings of this article may be tentative but it may provide a springboard to
think about the directions which may require our attention to address before the
crisis begins to worsen in the NCT of Delhi.
The article is divided into five sections. The first section sets the framework for
the article by contextualising the water governance in NCT with the introduction
of the jurisprudential as well as public debate which has transformed groundwater
from a private to public good. The second section elaborates upon limitations of
the legal efforts towards groundwater regulation and management in the NCT of
Delhi. The third section of the article considers and reasons for the demand–
supply imbalance in Delhi. The section has also attempted to identify reasons for
the groundwater depletion in the city and the role of various agencies and courts
to prevent the further loss of groundwater. The last section reflects on some
tentative conclusions and suggestion to improve the groundwater management
and regulation in Delhi.
1 See The NCT covers an area of 1,484 sq. kilometres (573
sq. miles).

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