The government has decided to put all water data about river flows and ground water in public domain
In a bid to bring transparency in the water sector, the Centre has decided to put in the public domain all water data maintained by the Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Central Ground Water Board. The data, including river water levels, river discharge, siltation, reservoir levels, ground water levels and water quality, will be uploaded on the India-Water Resources Information System website. Earlier such data used to be made available only to the State governments.
However, the government proposes to keep as ‘classified’ the water data on rivers India shares with neighbouring countries, although the information under this category will also be shared on certain conditions.
As per the new Hydro-Meteorological Data Dissemination Hydrology Policy released by the government recently, entities seeking information about the Indus basin and other rivers/tributaries discharging into Pakistan or the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin and rivers/tributaries discharging into Bangladesh and Myanmar will have to sign a pact with the Centre for the information and can obtain it for a fee.
The policy provides that ‘classified’ data will be released for a specific purpose (project) and will be ‘non-transferable’. A ‘Classified Data Release Committee’, headed by a joint secretary in the water ministry, will consider the request for a fee of Rs. 75,000 with the rider that the ‘classified’ data shall not be reproduced in any report or publication or detailed project report.
This, however, has not satisfied voluntary organisations working in the sector who want more. According to Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, more information should be made available about the water flows at smaller sub-basins of the ‘classified basins’. The data exchanged with neighbouring countries and all information about functioning of trans-boundary cooperation projects and plans should be put in public domain. The ‘methodology’ of data collections should also be shared to ascertain accuracy and implication.
Among the responses received by the government on the draft of the policy was the demand that projects which require forest land or can cause significant impact on local populations or made available to any private developer or commercial interests or relating to irrigation, drinking water, flood control project and hydro power project must be put in the public domain.
The various water data users that have been identified under the policy are the Indian commercial and non-commercial users and foreign users, including agencies/entities owned partially or fully by foreign citizens including individuals employed by such agencies/entities. The Indian commercial users include private and public sector companies and consultants including non-government organisations.
“Putting water data in public domain will empower stakeholders. For instance, people will be able to ascertain whether the water belonging to them for drinking purposes is coming to them or is being passed on to the industry,” an official source told The Hindu .
An expert, however, felt that lack of punitive measure in the policy for misuse of data or violation of the agreement for specific use of statistics was a “drawback”. The policy only says that “any breach of undertaking [by the user] may invite civil liability”.