Editorials, GS-3

Time for a National Water Commission’

The committee on restructuring the Central Water Commission and Central Ground Water Board in its final report has recommended a new National Water Commission (NWC) be established as the nation’s apex facilitation organisation dealing with water policy, data and governance.

Other recommendations made by the committee:

  • Urgent overhaul of the current water management systems.
  • Change in both surface and groundwater management policies to face new national challenges.
  • Restructuring of Central Water Commission and Central Ground Water Board.

Why reforms are necessary in this regard?
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  • India faces unprecedented challenges of water management in the 21st century. As the water crisis deepens by the day, the old 20th century solutions appear to be distinctly running out of steam. These solutions were devised in an era when India had yet to create its irrigation potential.
  • While big dams played a big role in creating a huge irrigation potential, today the challenge is to effectively utilise this potential, as the water that lies stored in our dams is not reaching the farmers for whom it is meant.
  • At the same time, groundwater, which truly powered the Green Revolution, faces a crisis of sustainability. Water levels and water quality have both fallen creating a new kind of crisis, where the solution to a problem has become part of the problem itself. The new challenge is to manage our aquifers sustainably.
  • 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.

What’s the main concern now?

Water tables are getting depleted in most parts of India. 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.
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To tackle these challenges, Mihir Shah Committee set up by the Ministry of Water Resources has recommended setting up a National Water Commission.How to tackle these challenges?

Proposed 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 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.

About Central Water Commission:

It is a premier Technical Organization of India in the field of Water Resources and is presently functioning as an attached office of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Government of India.

  • The Commission is entrusted with the general responsibilities of initiating, coordinating and furthering in consultation of the State Governments concerned, schemes for control, conservation and utilization of water resources throughout the country, for purpose of Flood Control, Irrigation, Navigation, Drinking Water Supply and Water Power Development.
  • Central Water Commission CWC is headed by a Chairman, with the status of Ex-Officio Secretary to the Government of India.
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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.
  • 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, 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.

Conclusion:

It is time to take a multidisciplinary view of water and this requires professionals from disciplines other than just engineering and hydrogeology. 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.

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