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Gayathri D. Naik


Groundwater is the key source for irrigation, industrial and domestic uses in India. It is extensively relied upon in different parts of the country without taking into consideration, hydrological nature and availability of water resources resulting in depletion of groundwater at an alarming rate. Existing legal framework along with several other factors add up to this situation. Groundwater-landownership nexus proves to be the hurdle in effective groundwater regulation and management. Present laws only focus on regulation of use and do not provide for conservation of groundwater. These laws do not change the ownership status. In the light of increasing demand for water for drinking and agricultural purposes, and need for realization of human right to water, there is urgent need to delink groundwater landownership nexus by applying public trust doctrine to groundwater like surface water. Supreme Court of India has already declared rivers and lakes in the country to be held by the state as public trustee but the same has not been applied to groundwater resources. This paper focuses on the applicability of public trust doctrine to groundwater resources in India to ensure its effective conservation. There have been several instances around the world where public trust doctrine has been applied by the courts for groundwater conservation. The principle developed from Roman law has been applied in several jurisdictions for natural resources management. This paper analyses how this principle can be applied in Indian situation for groundwater conservation. For successful application of these reforms, public participation in decision making is inevitable. The affected/ to be affected sections of the society should be included especially in environmental issues. The paper focuses on the need for public participation in groundwater related issues in India. Though both these elements have been incorporated by the central government in the recently introduced bills, these reforms remain still a distant dream in case of groundwater reforms in India due to landownership-groundwater nexus.