Insights into Issues: Mihir Shah Committee Analysis
A high-powered committee led by Mihir Shah submitted its report recently to PMO. The report was titled “A 21st Century Institutional Architecture for India’s Water Reforms: Restructuring the CWC and CGWB”.
About CWC & CGWB:
- The CWC was 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 (CGWB) is has objective of managing groundwater resources
- The Shah committee was set up last year to recommend ways to restructure the CWC, which develops surface water projects, and the Central Ground Water Board (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
- The committee has suggested a restructuring of Central Water Commission and Central Ground Water Board. It has recommended the establishment of National Water Commission to be established as the nation’s apex facilitation organization dealing with water policy, data and governance. It has suggested thati ndustrial 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
- The Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh model of participatory last-mile connectivity should be deployed across the country.
- States should only concentrate on technically and financially complex structures, such as main systems up to secondary canals and structures at that level.
- Tertiary level canals and below, minor structures and field channels should be handed over to Water Users Associations of farmers and Integration into the planning and cost developing process for all irrigation projects.
- 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
Why is an overhaul of water management required:
- In 2016, a situation of drought or semi scarcity was reported in over 1000 villages
- Groundwater sustains around 60 per cent of agriculture in India, while 80 per cent of the people living in rural areas use groundwater for their domestic needs. Nearly half of India’s farm lands are un-irrigated and groundwater is the major source of water for irrigated holdings. 45% of irrigated land the source of water is through tube wells drawing groundwater resources. In comparison, canals irrigate just 26% of irrigated land, and tanks and wells only 22% of irrigated land.
- Big dams which were widely considered to be the panacea for the water woes of the country are now faced with several challenges. The issue today is to utilize the potential of dams through creation of field application channels etc. Moreover widespread ground water exploitation has led to a situation where ground water is rapidly depleting in many parts of the country, highlighted by reports of NASA and Central Ground Water Board
- If the current pattern of water usage continues, about half of the demand for water will be unmet by 2030. Besides, contamination by fluoride, arsenic, mercury, and even uranium is another major challenge.
- Recent instances of droughts and farmers’ suicides underscored the gravity of the situation. Climate change poses fresh challenges as more extreme rates of precipitation and evapo-transpiration exacerbate impacts of floods and droughts.
Design of the proposed National Water Commission:
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 to have a countrywide base and mandate, and greater human-power.
- It will subsume Central Water Commission & the Central Ground Water Board.
- 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
- The new body will forge partnerships with world class institutions, eminent experts and voluntary organisations in the water management field. The new body is to serve as a world class capacity building, data and knowledge institution.
Why restructuring Central Water Commission is necessary:
- To deal with the issue of water shortage and scarcity. The focus is on developing water resources in India so that all river basins and resources can be managed to serve the water needs of the country
- Decreasing per capita availability of water and the huge projected demand of this natural resources by 2050 are also triggers for such a move.
- 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.
- The country has invested Rs 4 lakh crore in major and medium irrigation projects since independence, created 111 mha of irrigation potential, of which only 89 mha is utilised, hence leaving a huge gap. Vast storages of water are not reaching farmers
- Also, at present, the CWC, which develops surface water projects, and the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), which monitors ground water use and contamination, 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.
- 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.
- 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. Not following this approach, as per the employees of CWC, would affect social security in India
- 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.
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 that has been successfully tried all over the world, as also in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, needs to be adopted. Groundwater and surface water must also be viewed in an integrated, holistic manner.
The recent water crises 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.