Central Water Commission facing an identity crisis

Officials of the Central Water Commission measuring the water level of Cauvery. A report says the panel suffers from a lack of professionals. File Photo: N. Bashkaran  

The Central Water Commission will formally protest against a proposal to subsume it into a new organisation. The proposal that resulted from a report — A 21st Century Institutional Architecture for India’s Water Reforms: Restructuring the CWC and CGWB — of a high-powered committee led by Mihir Shah, member of the erstwhile Planning Commission, was submitted to the Water Resources Ministry in July.

The proposed National Water Commission will be a science-led agency to advise the States on how much water they can use without affecting rivers and groundwater, taking surface- and groundwater-usage as a single entity. The CWC, established in 1945, is in charge of surface water and creating storage structures such as dams and medium-scale reservoirs. The Central Ground Water Board is tasked with managing groundwater.

The new body should be an adjunct office of the Ministry, functioning with both full autonomy and requisite accountability; should be headed by a Chief National Water Commissioner; and should have full-time commissioners representing Hydrology (present Chair, CWC), Hydrogeology (present Chair, CGWB), Hydrometeorology, River Ecology, Ecological Economics, Agronomy (with focus on soil and water) and Participatory Resource Planning & Management, the report said.

States’ complaint

“CWC and CGWB suffer from a lack of professionals,” says a summary of the Shah report. “Several State governments testified that huge delays in techno-economic appraisal by the CWC had become a matter of concern.” The Ministry is slated to have its first meeting on August 24 to consider establishing the National Water Commission, a top official told The Hindu.

However, a high-ranking official in the CWC told The Hindu that the five-member committee led by Mr. Shah, tasked with preparing the report over a year, had ignored the CWC’s views and they would be formally registering their protest with Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti within a week. “Many of the plans in the report on having diverse professionals, having more State-level directorates are already in place,” the official said. “There is nothing new in this so-called paradigm shift. Dams were still critical for national water security and frequently dam projects were hindered because of opposition from the States.”

This is the third time since 2000 that reports have been placed for restructuring the CWC and it is still unclear how seriously the government is likely to go ahead with restructuring. However the recent water crises in the face of droughts in 2014 and 2015 and growing concerns with groundwater contamination have provided a fresh trigger, a senior Ministry official said.

Mr. Shah is learnt to have made a presentation at the Prime Minister’s Office. “This will be the equivalent of the 1991 reforms in water that we’ve never had,” he told The Hindu. “We are bringing groundwater management on par with surface water.”

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Printable version | Jun 11, 2021 2:15:03 PM |

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