The article is written by Sonia Shrinivasan, an intern at the RTI Cell, iPleaders.
Table of Contents
Water is the primary resource, highly crucial to the sustenance of life forms on Earth. Though 71 percent of Earth’s surface is known to be made up of water, about 97 percent of this water is unfit for consumption. Freshwater constitutes almost 3 percent, which can be utilized for human consumption and is usually found in lakes, rivers, underground, etc. Out of these sources, groundwater is easily accessible to most of us- through wells, tubewells, borewells etc. and hence is most likely to be exhausted early on. The exponential rise in population with time, coupled with unwarranted climate changes leading to severe drought in places (which leads to depletion of already low groundwater levels in those areas, thanks to global warming), endangers the already low levels of groundwater available.
Historically speaking, the practice of storing and collecting rainwater for later use can be traced back to ancient times (the Neolithic Age, more specifically), where cisterns attached to the floors of houses, plastered with lime all over to make them waterproof, were known to have been used in the villages of southwest Asia. Ancient cisterns found during archeological excavations in Jerusalem and Israel provide enough evidence to point towards the existence of some method/activity of preservation of rainwater in the already water-scarce region, prevalent in those times.
Concentrating on the Indian SubContinent, the history of rainwater harvesting can be traced back to around 300 BC where the farming communities in the North- West, i.e. present-day Pakistan, parts of Afghanistan, and India, were known to use techniques for storing rainwater for agricultural and personal uses. Ancient rainwater collection tanks were built by various dynasties ruling different parts of India viz the Shivganga Tank in Thanjavur, Veeranam Tank in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu, and many others can be seen even today.
What is rainwater harvesting?
In its most basic sense, the term Rain Water Harvesting can be understood as the collection and storage of rainwater for future uses- domestic, agricultural, industrial, etc.; as a means to replenish the groundwater by allowing the accumulated rainwater to seep back into the earth through assisted means, thereby recharging the water levels below the ground. With rapid urbanization, the availability of clean, potable drinking water for the masses is a challenge. Rainwater can be construed as an important renewable resource for all lands. Domestically, it is used to make available water fit for drinking, small-scale irrigation, and most commonly, replenish and restore groundwater levels. For agricultural purposes, it essentially is useful in countries/regions with dry, arid climates, with little or next to zero rainfall. It helps farmers benefit from nature by capturing rainwater and providing a cheaper alternative for clean water. Farmers in mountainous and hilly terrains benefit by minimizing the loss caused by soil erosion by capturing runoffs on the sloping terrains.
The process of Rainwater Harvesting is carried out by the installation of harvesting systems, with varied ranges of complexities. The most basic system, installed in residential and domestic holdings, involves the connection of all outlets of the building’s terrace with a common pipe, which leads to an underground tank, to store water. Additional components like UV filters, chlorination devices, etc., can be further installed for the purification of water thus collected. These systems are specifically designed to sustain the daily water consumption levels of an average Indian Household and hence are ordinarily equipped with large storage tanks.
While in many parts of the world, solar panels are used to harvest rainwater collected on terrace tops of buildings, free from bacteria and unwanted particles, it has been observed that the collection of rainwater in already dug up wells in the ground increased groundwater levels.
Advantages of rainwater harvesting
Along with being an effective method of recycling resources, rainwater harvesting is beneficial for providing water supply in areas facing scarcity thereof and replenishing the deficit groundwater levels in others. It is responsible for lessening the load on primary water sources, adding fresh and potable water availability for the masses. In the urban areas, it is shown to be beneficial by increasing the efficiency of wastewater treatment plants since the need for clean water is compensated by the harvested rainwater, to a great extent. The system’s installation is easy to handle and maintain by laymen, and the entire process decreases the dependence on groundwater, thereby preventing excessive depletion.
Government policies on rainwater harvesting
In spite of living in the 21st Century, it is staggering to note that in a country of more than 1.3 billion people, 29 states and 4100 towns and cities, only two cities- Thiruvananthapuram and Kota, get continuous, 24×7 water supply, and all those cities with a population greater than 1 million, get water for around 3-4 hours a day. This is not due to lack of adequate infrastructure but due to mismanagement of the water distribution system in the districts. This results in a large section of the society, mostly the poor and downtrodden, consuming contaminated water for their basic sustenance, resulting in the spread of diseases.
The first Indian state to make rainwater harvesting compulsory for buildings to reduce groundwater depletion was Tamil Nadu in 2001, which has reaped enormous benefits for the state. Groundwater levels in Chennai five years hence, rose almost 50 percent, and consequently, the quality of water improved. Mass awareness campaigns in rural as well as urban areas were the contributing factors for the success of this initiative.
After the success of the Tamil Nadu model, there have been various rules and regulations introduced by other states, and even the Parliament made efforts towards the cause by introducing central legislation- The Rainwater (Harvesting and Storage) Bill, in the Lok Sabha, in 2016.
The Rainwater (Harvesting And Storage) Bill, 2016
In 2016, the Rainwater (Harvesting and Storage Bill) was introduced as a Private member’s Bill, in Lok Sabha, by the then Member of Parliament- Dr. Kirit Prembhai Solanki, to provide for compulsory rainwater harvesting in every government, residential, commercial, and institutional building, to conserve rainwater and ensure the recharge of groundwater.
- It proposed the construction of rainwater harvesting structures on properties having an area greater than or equal to 1100 square meters to meet a part of its total requirement of water.
- The onus of ensuring compliance to the rules and regulations shall lie on the person responsible for the affairs of the said establishment. For example, in the case of a residential society, the onus shall lie on the Secretary of the society; in the case of an office, the person responsible shall be a manager, and so on.
- The government is obligated to devise an action plan to educate the masses about rainwater harvesting through the internet and other relevant campaigns, encouraging and providing financial assistance to Non-Governmental Organisations and other agencies actively engaged in the field of rainwater harvesting.
- The Bill also proposed a penalty of imprisonment up to two years and/or a fine to the tune of Rs. 10 Lakh for non-compliance with the provisions of the Bill.
However, even five years and one general election since its introduction, the Bill still remains pending before the Parliament.
State-wise legislations on rainwater harvesting
All buildings- existing and new, residential and commercial spanning over 1000 square meters are to mandatorily have rainwater harvesting systems and storage units, proportional to the size/area of the terrace. All toilet flushes are to be connected to this storage unit.
In 2009, the government of Karnataka made it mandatory for each and every building/complex in the state spanning over 1500 meter square to adopt rainwater harvesting and management systems, and those over 2400 meter square, to construct a separate facility for the same.
The Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority made rainwater mandatory for all buildings spanning over 1500 meter squares to construct percolation wells, to store the harvested rainwater, and one well for every additional 4000 m sq. covered in 2002.
Chennai (Tamil Nadu)
According to the Tamil Nadu Municipal Laws (ordinance) of 2003, the state government made it mandatory for all public and private buildings in the state to build and install rainwater harvesting systems, explicitly stating that in all those occupancies, where no such system is installed, the Municipal Authorities (authorized by the Commissioner) may after due notice to the owner, install a system and recover the costs from the property holder as property tax. Non-compliance with these provisions may lead to disconnection of the main water supply by the authorities.
The installation of rainwater harvesting systems has been made compulsory on every building in Chennai, having three stories and more, and the approval for new sewer and water connections is provided only after the construction of such a system.
The state Municipality Building Rules, 1999, were amended in 2004 to introduce a clause of mandatorily installing rainwater harvesting systems in new constructions.
The ministry of Urban Affairs and Poverty Alleviation made rainwater harvesting mandatory for new constructions having a roof area greater than 100 meters square in 2001. Rainwater harvesting is mandatory for the regions of South and South-west Delhi, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, Faridabad, and other notified areas, according to a notification issued by the Central Water Authority and an incentive of 6% rebate on property tax on compounds having fully functioning water harvesting systems is offered for maximum utilization of rainwater, or a 10 percent rebate on the water bills. In the case of the non-installation of the said systems, a 50 percent penalty on the water bill may be imposed.
Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh)
Rainwater harvesting is made mandatory in all new buildings with an area of 1000 sq m or more.
Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh)
A government notification on Rainwater harvesting has made it mandatory in all new buildings with an area of 300-meter squares.
The Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) has made the setting up and installation of rainwater harvesting systems in all new buildings compulsory, irrespective of roof area. All neighboring industrial areas and residential colonies are required to strictly adhere to the notification, especially those having tubewells.
The state government has made rainwater harvesting mandatory for all public and private compounds in urban areas. Rajasthan is one of those few states having a history of traditionally practicing rainwater harvesting. The local authorities have actively been working towards reviving these old water harvesting systems.
Rainwater harvesting has been made compulsory for all buildings constructed on plots having an area equal to or greater than 1,000 sq m. in Pune, the existence of a rainwater harvesting system in a housing society is a prerequisite, whereas in Mumbai, although there is no such mandatory rule in existence, the local authorities are planning to make it mandatory for large and expansive housing societies.
With countless predictions that most major cities around the world are on the brink of running out or exhausting their groundwater supplies in the near future, it is extremely important to look beyond the conventional sources of sustenance and look towards adopting and adapting the non-conventional, renewable sources, essential for our survival. Rainwater is a renewable source prevalent in areas with little to no rainfall, and the gathered water can be put to uses like irrigation and other domestic chores like toilet flushing, washing, etc. It needs to be purified further in order to make it fit for drinking since rainwater collected from rooftops may contain animal and bird feces, dust particles and other particulate matter, and gases like Nitric and Sulphur oxide; which require elaborate purification setups, which are difficult to install, operate and maintain at the domestic level.
As for the legal enforcement of the rules and regulations for rainwater harvesting, all these rules and regulations aim towards one primary objective: to save water- which is the primary essence of life. Formulated by the respective local authorities in the districts, the major impediment in the effective implementation is the lack of information and mismanagement by the authorities themselves. The residential associations contend that instead of every house having a separate rainwater harvesting set up, the authorities should focus on encouraging community rainwater harvesting and that the construction of storage pits to store the water in already existing buildings may lead to seepage and weakening of the foundations.
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