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Mihir Shah Committee – A 21st Century Institutional Architecture for India’s Water Reforms Report

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A high-powered committee led by Mihir Shah Set up by the Ministry of Water Resources submitted its report recently to PMO. The report was titled “A 21st Century Institutional Architecture for India’s Water Reforms: Restructuring the Central Water Commission (CWC) and Central Ground Water Board (CGWB)”.

 

Current Challenges:

-> Poor Irrigation Facilities: Recent instances of droughts and farmers’ suicides underscored the gravity of the poor situation.

-> Groundwater Pollution: As much as 60% of India’s districts faces groundwater over-exploitation and serious quality issues. The contamination by fluoride, arsenic, mercury, and even uranium are another major challenge.

-> Stored water: Water that lies stored in our dams is not reaching the farmers for whom it is meant.

-> Groundwater level: Groundwater, which truly powered the Green Revolution, faces a crisis of sustainability.

 

Recommendations of Shah committee:

-> The key recommendation of the committee is to shift focus from construction to decentralized management and maintenance in order to ensure that the promise of “Har khet ko pani” under Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana does not go unfulfilled.

-> National Water Commission has been proposed which will subsume CWC and CGWB.

-> Committee has suggested that an urgent overhaul of the current water management system is required.

-> Change is required both in surface water as well as ground water management policies to face the new challenges that are emerging. It says that existing institutions are inadequate to address present and future water needs.

-> States should only concentrate on technically and financially complex structures, such as main systems up to secondary canals and structures at that level.

-> Focus on river basins which must form the fundamental units for management of water.

-> It has suggested that industrial water should be brought under its ambit, which is rapidly increasing.

-> Panel has warned against the perils of dependence on large dam projects and also about the dismal spread of irrigation facilities over decades.

-> To adopt the participatory approach to water management that has been successfully tried all over the world, as also in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

 

Proposed National Water Commission (NWC):

-> The commission report recommended that NWC be headed by a chief national water commissioner and should have full time commissioners representing hydrology, hydrogeology, hydrometeorology, river ecology, ecological economics, agronomy (with focus on soil and water) and participatory resource planning and management.

-> It will be an autonomous body & will have a countrywide base and mandate, and greater human-power.

-> It will subsume the CWC, which develops surface water projects, and the CGWB, which monitors ground water use and contamination.

-> The commission aims at reducing inter-state water disputes, bring greater efficiency, better planning and increased emphasis on conservation of water.

-> It also ensures that all water resources in the country are managed in a holistic manner and not separately as surface water, groundwater or river water.

 

Issues associated

-> According to the engineers, India can meet its food and water security requirements only through the development of surface water through the construction of dams. As per the employees of CWC, not following this approach would affect social security in India.

-> CWC Civil engineers and hydrologists are against the Shah committee’s recommendations.

-> Main argument being that water is a state subject and such reforms from centre go against the spirit of cooperative federalism.

-> The argument engineers cite is, China with a population of 1.4 billion has created live storage capacity of 718 bcm, while India has a live storage capacity of 259 bcm for its population of 1.3 billion. We need to build more storage capacity for sustainability of water usage.

 

Why restructuring of CWC is necessary?

-> To optimally develop water resources in India so that all river basins and resources can be managed keeping in mind the increasing unpredictability of the monsoon and other climate factors.

-> Decreasing per capita availability of water and the huge projected demand of this natural resources by 2050 are also triggers for such a move.

-> Despite investments in increasing the agricultural potential through irrigation, vast tracts of our land are still rainfed due to the absence of tertiary infrastructure providing water to farms.

-> The mandate of CWC belongs to an old era when dam construction and tube well drilling was the prime need of the hour. The CWC now lacks expertise in water utilisation, environmental and socio-economic issues and in efficient irrigation management to deal with present-day challenges of droughts, floods, climate change and food and water security.

-> Also, at present, the CWC and the CGWB carry out functions independent of each other. For integrated water management, development, planning, water-use efficiency and for budgeting the adoption of a river basin approach, restructuring is necessary.

 

Possible Suggestion:

-> An integrated approach to solve the country’s water crisis is much needed. Despite investments in increasing the agricultural potential through irrigation, vast tracts of our land are still rainfed due to the absence of tertiary infrastructure providing water to farms.

-> Participatory approach to water management as suggested by the Mihir Committee needs to be adopted.

 

Conclusion:

The recent water crisis in the face of droughts in 2014 and 2015 and growing concerns with groundwater contamination have provided a fresh trigger towards reorganization of CWC.

The recommendations are futuristic and have potential to restructure water resource agencies in India. The recommendation should be implemented after building consensus with all stakeholders within the framework of cooperative federalism

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