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Modi govt "shelves" water reforms report, shows "no interest" in its recommendations

Mihir Shah
By Our Representative
Has the Government of India shelved the Mihir Shah committee report, which two years ago had recommended setting up an overarching National Water Commission (NWC) in order to build partnerships with independent experts and civil society groups for participatory management of water resources? It would seem so, if committee members and government officials participating in an international conference in Anand, Gujarat, are to be believed.
Organized by the high-profile Colombo-based International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in alliance with the Tata Water Policy Programme, and begun at the sprawling campus of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) campus in Anand, the three day conference is being held to discuss “innovations in water, land, energy and ecosystems” in order to build “climate resilience for doubling farmers’ incomes.”
Addressing media, Himanshu Kulkarni, one of the members of the Mihir Shah committee, which was appointed by the Narendra Modi government to come up with comprehensive solutions for the country’s water woes, regretted, “The Ministry of Water Resources has picked up merely some bits and pieces from the report. It is not showing interest in major reforms recommended in it. There is, in fact, no movement on the report ever since it was submitted in 2016.”
Earlier, making a presentation on the report at the conference, Kulkarni said, integrating CWC and Central Groundwater Board (CGWB) and forming NWC one one reason why CWC officials resisted its implementation. The report, according to him, sought changes in water bureaucracy of the Government of India, especially CWC, and sought involvement of local communities and taking up an inter-disciplinary approach to water-related issues, even as insisting on a decentralized approach.
Later, talking with Counterview, CWC officials participating in the conference admitted that the resistance to the report came “from within”, pointing out, while former minister Uma Bharati took lot of interest in its recommendations, after she was removed from the ministry, the new minister, Nitin Gadkari, takes “no interest”. “It is as good as shelved”, one of them said, requesting anonymity, adding, “Shah was an important member of the erstwhile Planning Commission. We were surprised when the committee was set up under his chairmanship.”
The official said, the biggest grouse with the report has been against its recommendation to restructure CWC into a “brand new” multi-disciplinary NWC, to be headed by “an administrator with strong background in public and development administration”. Under the reformed structure, regional NWC offices were to be set up, even as forging partnership with world class institutions, eminent experts and voluntary organisations in the water management field.
The 150-page document, submitted to the government in July, does not say “no” to the construction of dams but asserts that it must happen in a “reform” mode so that whatever water is stored in reservoirs reaches the farmers’ fields. At the same time, the focus should be on the completion of ongoing projects, management of the potential created so far and community participation for integrated irrigation management transfer.
The report stated, the mandate of CWC and CGWB belonged to “an old era when dam construction and tube well drilling was the prime need of the hour,’’ insisting, CWC lacked “expertise” in water utilisation, environmental and socio-economic issues and in efficient irrigation management to “deal with challenges of droughts, floods, climate change and food and water security.”
Those who were sought to be made part of NWC included full-time commissioners representing hydrology, hydrogeology, hydrometeorology, river ecology, ecological economics, agronomy and participatory resource planning and management. Though NWC was to be an adjunct body to the ministry, at the same time it was to remain “autonomous and accountable”.
Even as saying that CWC was not equipped to undertake radical reforms, the report suggested that simply by completing ongoing projects, an irrigation potential of 7.9 million hectares (mha) can be created and by prioritising investments in command area development and water management, an additional 10 mha can be achieved. Undertaking extension, renovation and modernisation of abandoned works can restore another 2.2 mha of irrigation potential.

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