Patna: As the state reels under a severe potable water crisis, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in Bihar — headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar — has planned to bring a bill in the ongoing monsoon session of the state assembly to conserve groundwater.

Right now, 280 blocks out of Bihar’s total 534 are in the grip of a severe drinking water crisis, as per an official report.

Sources said the Bihar Ground Water Conservation Bill 2019, to be tabled in the House soon, would ensure better management and conservation of groundwater, the level of which is going down very fast. The passage of the bill will not only regulate water use but also focus on water conservation by digging out ponds and cleaning choked water bodies to recharge the groundwater.

The state government is already working on a proposal to renovate 1,389 water bodies, a majority of which have been encroached by local villagers for construction work.

“This year itself, a total of 202 water bodies will be renovated and activated. 90 per cent [of the] work on this project has already been completed,” minor irrigation minister Narendra Narayan Yadav told the Bihar assembly on Monday. He said apart from digging ponds, the government has also planned to construct check dams on small rivers to store water for longer.

According to an official report, 280 blocks out of Bihar’s total 534 currently face the worst-ever potable water crisis while the groundwater table has lowered in 184 blocks, explaining the severity of the situation. The state government has now ordered into operation 35,000 hand pumps that were lying idle due to technical snags. Potable water is being supplied to affected areas through 490 tankers.

The gravity of the situation can be underlined by the fact that the many river bodies have dried up and the groundwater level has gone down even in water-rich north Bihar despite the huge tract of the Indo-Gangetic Plain.

The situation has turned extremely grim in southern Bihar where the groundwater level has gone an average 39 metres down. A report of the Public Health and Engineering Department said there are at least nine districts where the water crisis has become very severe with a sharp fall in groundwater level. They included Nalanada, the home district of chief minister Nitish Kumar, Sheikhpura, Aurangabad, Gaya, Jehanabad, Nawada, Kaimur, Lakhisarai and Jamui.

Authorities said until a couple of decades back, Bihar was a water-surplus state but the whole situation has deteriorated very fast, almost going out of control.

Kumar himself told the House on Monday that a spectre of terrible drought looms large over the state this year. “Just look at Darbhanga, known as a city of ponds, now reeling under severe water crisis,” the chief minister said.