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Rejoinder: Inescapable to have Central Water Commission as strong technical body in India

By BN Navalawala*
This is with reference to Counterview Blog (December 5, 2018), "Modi govt 'shelves' water reforms report, shows 'no interest' in its recommendations", below mentioned are my comments/observations thereon:
A committee was constituted under the Chairmanship of Dr. Mihir Shah, Former Member, Planning Commission, for restructuring of Central Water Commission (CWC) and Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) for optimal development of water resources in the country in the backdrop of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).
The committee has proposed for the formation of National Water Commission by merging two of the organizations namely, CWC and entral Water Commission and CGWB.
Curiously enough, neither serving nor retired chairmen from CWC and CGWB were included in the Committee, which was mandated to consider and suggest measures for the merger of these two organizations, although the committee was empowered to co-opt additional experts, as required with the purpose of bridging the knowledge gap in this whole exercise.
Principles of surface water management and ground water management are significantly different and distinct. Surface water can be planned and managed basin-wise whereas ground water is managed through aquifers which are interconnected but not necessarily exacting/matching to the river basin boundaries.
Therefore, super-speciality of both the subjects need thorough scientific know-how of these two exclusive domains and, hence, the functioning of the two super-speciality domains require exclusive work setup, work culture and interaction platform. So, CWC and CGWB are to function as two entities.
In the given situation, what is needed is to focus on institutionalization of interaction (in the form of symbiotic relationship) of the two activities rather than merging the two, lest the latter might mess-up the entire gamut of accomplishment and activity set up which is really a valuable asset for the nation.
In this context, I would like to mention that during my tenure as Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources, this very aspect was seriously considered by the Ministry and, thereupon, Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) at Hyderabad and Indian Institue of Management (IIM)-Ahmadabad were appointed as consultants for assessing the needs of restructuring of CWC and CGWB respectively in the year 2001.
BN Navalawala
The ASCI submitted its Draft report in October 2002 and Final report in July 2007. Again, the ASCI submitted the "amended and corrected" report (presumably after discussions/ interactions with the Ministry) in May, 2010.
Subsequently, a proposal for restructuring of CWC was prepared in the light of recommendations of various studies/ committees and keeping in view the shared vision of CWC/Ministry for the sector. The views of States and Central Ministries were also obtained on the restructuring proposal which were, in general, favourable. The Ministry also got the report examined by appointing a consultant (M Gopalakrishnan, Secretary General Honoraire, International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage).
The consultant reviewed the proposal and recommended for its further consideration of Ministry after duly incorporating some suggestions made by him. The said proposal was, in principle, approved by the then Hon’ble Minster (Water Resources) and submitted to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT)/ Ministry of Finance (FoM) for further consideration in 2012.
The proposal, as considered in detail and then processed by the Ministry, addresses all the concerns and the challenges of water sector as suggested by Dr Mihir Shah Committee in their report.
In this context, one needs to understand the functioning of CWC. One of the core functions/ responsibilities of CWC is to act as a neutral referee in all matters related to inter-State issues. It has the unique institutional memory as a result of multi-disciplinary and multi-layered process of project appraisal and project monitoring, right from the stage of inception of projects over the last six decades.
The CWC provides a strong institutional mechanism to the Government of India in fulfilling its obligations under Entry (56) of List-I and Article (242) of the Constitution. Similar situation prevails when dealing with international issues. International river basins involve a special kind of management issues, handling of which would need not only the super-speciality in hydrology and water management but also scrupulous planning for strategic aspects so as to enable the country to successfully meet with intricate challenges which are in the offing, looking to the present stance of the neighbouring countries like China, Pakistan and Nepal.
India needs strategic storage projects in Brahmaputra basin like Siang for combating floods as well as in view of water diversion plans of China and for Indus river vis-à-vis neighbouring country Pakistan. The creation of storages in Nepal on river Mahakali and Sapt Kosi and Sun Kosi is also needed for ensuring flood protection in UP and Bihar.
The interlinking of rivers (ILR) in the country is a flagship programme of the Ministry. As on this date, as many as eleven ILR projects with international aspects and ramifications have been identified for implementation. Also, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in its judgment in February 2012 has held that ILR programme is in national interest and has further directed the Union Govt. for its expeditious implementation.
The ILR project is not only "mammoth" in size but also technically a very complex and challenging for which the need to have a strong technical organization like CWC is inescapable.
---
*Former Secretary to Government of India

Comments

Sohan Ali said…
It seems that present government is not considering water as a prime issue. Any subject matter can be best dealt by the domain experts only. Looking around the world, one of the perceiving difference between developed and under-developed countries is that in developed countries, every field is managed by its domain experts and in failed nation it is by generalist.

So I am very much agree with author that a committee without experts of field is simply vague and creates doubt on the intention of government.
Unknown said…
Very goòd paper. Needs official response.
Yoginder Alagh
Unknown said…
The paper presents a clear picture of dangers of destroying time tested institutions under evangelical zeal of a few people. Indeed, there never was a unilateral and biased plan than the one cooked up in the name of restructuring in 2015. Expert institutions are not built in a day and need nurturing over period of time and not use and throw approach being advocated by Mihir Shah and all.

A. B. Pandya, Former Chairman CWC
Anonymous said…
Immaculate analysis coming straight from a renowned and experienced domain expert from water sector. Mihir Shah commitee was devoid of such expertise and infact never bothered to consult such people available in same ministry !!!

Raj Kishore
Madhukar said…
Mihir Shah Committee Report(MSCR) is exactly opposite to vision of Govt.
1- MSCR says no dam in Indus , Govt wants to utilize legitimate share of Indus under treaty
2-MSCR says No dam in Ganga Basin, Govt gave go ahead to Pancheshwar Development Authority (PDA).
3-MSCR says no to Interlinking. For Govt it's a priority and Supreme Court has already endorsed the concept in 2012.
4-MSCR says no dam in Brahmaputra Basin ..Govt fully committed to work on ACT EAST policy to develop NE region blessed with Water Resource

MSR says dismantle CWC ... Govt. should not agree considering the above 4 clear cut divergences....
The information, that neither the serving nor any retired senior officials from CWC or CGWB were included in the Committee, is hardly news. We, the water sector watchers, have read the order appointing the Committee, and we are already aware of the composition. What we are interested in is, how did such a thing happen? Who decided the composition of the committee ? Mihir Shah is not exactly famous for being an expert in how Government organizations function. It was also known that he does not have the engineer’s neutrality towards surface water and ground water. Activists are known to be pro-ground water and anti-surface water. Then how come he was appointed as chair of the Committee?

And, a committee whose task was to suggest restructuring of CWC and CGWB, went off at a tangent and addressed the ground water versus large dams debate, and made recommendations that go against the National Water policy. Why didn’t the MoWR summarily reject the report, the way MoEF had summarily rejected the Gadgil Committee report a few years ago?

Mr. Navalawala, author of this article, occupied a high position in the Ministry, as Advisor. One expected that an article from him would provide an insight in to what has been going on inside the MoWR. Unfortunately, he has refrained from commenting on the machinations within MoWR. Water sector analysts will not find the article useful in furthering their understanding of some of the strange things that have happened in the Shrama Shakti Bhavan in the past few years.

Chetan Pandit
Retd. Member, CWC
J Harsha said…
I am a serving employee of Central Water Commission. I am a stakeholder and and I support Dr. Mihir Shah report for restructure and reformation of Central Water Commission and CGWB, because I am of the view that the current format of Central Water Commission is serving vested interests and not the people of this country. I reject the views and opinions of B.N.Navalawala as baseless.

B.N.Navalawala fails to put forth one strong reason to persist with the current format of Central Water Commission. He states that Aquifers and River Basins do not match. And should that be a reason for thwarting reformation of a 70 year old institution that is now fast becoming irrelevant in 21st century water sector? For sure B.N.Navalawala is not a hydrologist, but those who have some basic knowledge of hydrology will agree that surface water and ground water are inter-connected and they are treated as single resource! Unfortunately, B.N.Navalawala has failed to read the National Water Policies drafted, recommended and approved by both Central Water Commission and Ministry of Water Resources! B.N.Navalawala, during his tenure in MoWR, himself has agreed to the National Water Policies - 2002 and 2012 that calls for institutional reform and creation of multi-disciplinary river basin organizations. B.N.Navalawala was silently agreed all of these policies as a Secretary, MoWR, RD & GR. He has written this article by him only for the purpose of staying relevant in Govt invited seminars and other seminars/worshops organized by vested interests.

Whether anyone defending Central Water Commission, can able to say, how many more large dams can be constructed as on 2018 in comparison with 1950s and 1960s? Where do you think you can construct? where is the data? And whether dam design is rocket science as has been made out by vested interests? Come on, the dam design that Central Water Commission assume as rocket science is now an old outdated technology known to States/Private sector and Public Sector. So, what is the prowess of Central Water Commission in this regard?
21st century water management demands a different institution and Central Water Commission is a relic that suits 1950s and 1960s! How does it take water management of India into future?

The country doesn't know that B.N.Navalawala, throughout his career in MoWR, RD & GR, was a vocal critic of Central Water Commission. Quite surprising, what motivated him to make this volta face of defending a 70 year old Central Water Commission and defending its vested interests who have converted the Central Water Commission to suit their way of life instead of the nation.

It is very unfortunate that such a high ranking official as B.N.Navalawala who worked hard to restructure Central Water Commission while in service has now reduced himself to being a turn-coat! What could be the reason? Is it due to the fear of losing invitations to Govt sponsored seminars and conferences? Or is it due to the fear of wading into irrelevance?

Hope this frank and honest counterview will be published by counterview.net.

J.Harsha
Director, Central Water Commission (Views are personal) Author of paper "Thwarting water sector reforms" published in Journal of Economic and Political Weekly dated 22.09.2018 Vol (53) 38.

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