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Gauhati High Court directs to constitute Assam State Groundwater Authority

The Gauhati High Court directed the respondent authorities to constitute the Assam State Ground Water Authority as per the provisions of the Assam Ground Water Control and Regulation Act, 2012.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Rashmin Manharbhai Chhaya and Justice Soumitra Saikia disposed of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL)  raising  a very important and essential aspect with a prayer to stop illegal sale of ground water by private tankers and have prayed for the following reliefs: 

 “In the premises aforesaid, it is therefore, respectfully prayed that Your Lordships may be pleased to admit this petition, call for the records and issue a Rule calling upon the respondents to show cause as to why a writ in the nature of 

(A) A writ in the nature of Mandamus shall not be issued directing the State respondents to stop carrying out the illegal sale of ground water in violation of the Acts and Rules by the concerned authorities; 

(B) A writ in the nature of Mandamus shall not be issued directing the respondent authorities to rescind and/or otherwise forbear the private tankers from supplying groundwater without any valid permission and license from the competent authority or department so as to protect the safety health and life of the people residing in the entire Gauhati Metropolitan City; 

(C) A writ in the nature of Mandamus shall not be issued directing the respondent authorities to take appropriate legal action against those plying illegal tankers in supply of ground water without any valid authority of law and to take remedial reassures for protection of life and security of the people. 

(D) A writ in the nature of Mandamus shall be issued directing the respondents to install safety mechanism for water supply check point in Kamrup (M) district. 

(E) A writ in the nature of Mandamus shall not be issued directing the respondents not to act beyond the law and to pass any other direction as the Hon’ble Court may deem fit and proper under the aforesaid facts and circumstances of the case. Upon cause/causes that may be show, after hearing the parties and upon perusal of the records be pleased to make the Rule absolute and/or to pass any other appropriate order or direction as to Your Lordships may deem fit and proper in the facts and circumstances so as to give full and complete relief to the petitioners. 
AND 
Pending disposal of the Rule, Your Lordships may be pleased to issue a direction to the respondents not to allow the private tankers in supply of groundwater without leave of this Hon’ble Court and/or to pass such further or other order(s) as Your Lordships may deem fit and proper.”

Various contentions have been raised and it is alleged that there has been rampant misuse of ground water for personal gain, which would hamper vital renewable and widely distributed resources. On notice being issued, the respondents who are the concerned respondents, filed their affidavit-in-opposition dated 15.03.2021 wherein inter alia it is contended that in order to regulate, control, management and development of ground water in the State of Assam, the Assam Ground Water Control and Regulation Act, 2012  came to be enacted. It is further stated that the said Act received assent of the  Governor on 14.05.2012 and the same was published in the Assam Gazette No. 226, Dispur dated 19.05.2012. 

It is further averred that under the said Act the Assam Ground Water Authority has been constituted with the Secretary to the Government of Assam, Irrigation Department, as its Chairman; the Director of Geology and Mining as the Member Secretary and Members from various line departments. It is also contended by the respondents that as per the provisions of the 2012 Act the Assam State Ground Water Authority held its first meeting on 17.08.2013 with all stakeholders followed up by another meeting held on 05.07.2014, more particularly, for formulation and finalization of rules under the 2012 Act. 

It is also contended by the respondents that in view of the 2012 Act, Central Ground Water Board, Northeast Region, was directed not to process any application for issuance of No Objection Certificate (NOC) for withdrawal of ground water by industrial/infrastructural/mining projects etc. However, as the rules were not formulated, the implementation was not possible. The affidavit-in-opposition further recites about the meeting of the Assam State Ground Water Authority, which took place on 02.06.2016 and 05.06.2018 as well as the various steps taken by the authorities in the month of January, 2021. 

The affidavit also indicates about the meeting of the Assam State Ground Water Authority held on 03.03.2021, which was after filing of this writ petition. The respondents have also narrated about the various steps which are taken by the Guwahati Municipal Corporation and it has been averred that the Guwahati Municipal Corporation, the Assam Urban Water Supply & Sewerage Board as well as PHE department are not issuing any more NOC for extraction of ground water commercial purpose. The Central Ground Water Board, however, issues permission for extraction of ground water only for infrastructural and industrial purposes. It is further averred that in the meeting held on 10.03.2021 the following resolutions were passed: 

“A. The Chief Secretary, Assam directed all the respondent departments in the PIL not to issue any NOC for extraction of ground water for commercial purposes forthwith. 

B. The Chief Secretary further directed the Transport Department and Police Department to take action against illegal water tanker plying in Guwahati city. 

C. The Central Ground Water Board was directed to submit the list of permission issued by them in Guwahati city for extraction of ground water. The Irrigation Department, GMC and PHE department shall jointly do the verification exercise to find out the violation, if any, by the permission holders/licences. 

D. All the respondent departments shall furnish a copy of the affidavit filed by them in the matter of PIL No. 06/2021 to the Irrigation department for better coordination. 

E. The Chief Secretary further directed the Irrigation Department to move the Legislative and Judicial Departments for getting the Rules vetted so that the same may be placed before the Hon’ble Cabinet at the earliest.”

From the records , the Bench noted  that thereafter, as per the decision taken in the said meeting, the Assam Ground Water (Control & Regulation) Rules, 2016 were prepared and sent for its approval. The records also indicate that the respondent nos. 1 and 2 also filed affidavit-in-opposition dated 17.08.2021 and 24.08.2021, respectively, and have brought on record the actions taken by the District Transport Officer, Kamrup (Enforcement), against any illegal use of water tankers. Similar affidavit dated 02.09.2021 has been filed by the respondent no. 10 and has also narrated the steps taken as per the provisions of the 2012 Act and framing of the 2016 Rules. 

By an affidavit dated 01.11.2022, the respondent nos. 4 and 5, through the Secretary, Government of Assam, in the Irrigation Department, has brought on record that the Assam Ground Water Control and Regulation Rules, 2022  have been notified in the Official Gazette on 18.05.2022 and the rules have been duly placed before the Assam Legislative Assembly on 12.09.2022. It is also averred that the Assam State Ground Water Authority is under way as per the   provisions of the 2012 Act.

In the light of the aforesaid affidavits-in-opposition, which are not disputed by the petitioners, the Bench held  that the authorities have initiated necessary actions for implementation of the 2012 Act and the rules which have now been framed.   

Considering the aforesaid, the Bench observed that  the reliefs prayed for by the petitioners in the petition stand redressed. However, the High Court directed the respondent authorities to constitute the Assam State Ground Water Authority as per the provisions of the Assam Ground Water Control and Regulation Act, 2012 read with the relevant rules and the Assam Ground Water Control and Regulation Rules, 2022 as expeditiously as possible, latest by 31.01.2023. 
The respondents are further directed by the High Court  to implement the provisions of the 2012 Act and the 2022 Rules in its letter and spirit so that no illegal use of ground water is made by any person. The respondents are also directed to maintain a close vigil and to eradicate any illegal use of ground water and, if necessary, to take appropriate steps as per the provisions of the 2012 Act and the Rules.  

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