Panel calls for shift away from engineers in water management

The seven-member panel headed by Mihir Shah, former member of the erstwhile Planning Commission, has recommended that CWC and CGWB be disbanded and a new multidisciplinary National Water Commission be created in their place.

Written by Amitabh Sinha | New Delhi | Published: August 23, 2016 1:31:20 am

A reforms panel has called for a ‘paradigm shift’ in water management with the involvement of professionals from social sciences, management and many other specialised disciplines, citing this as one of the main reasons for recommending the restructuring of engineer-heavy Central Water Commission and Central Ground Water Board.

The seven-member panel headed by Mihir Shah, former member of the erstwhile Planning Commission, has recommended that CWC and CGWB be disbanded and a new multidisciplinary National Water Commission be created in their place. It has called for a shift away from engineering solutions to water management and towards a “more people-centred approach” that leads to rejuvenation of rivers and aquifers.

It has said water governance must become participatory in nature, and should involve communities and local populations, and river basins must be considered the basic hydrological unit for planning, development and management of water.

The water resources ministry has begun acting on the panel’s recommendations and initiated discussions on the institutional restructuring suggested by it.

“Civil engineers (the main discipline overwhelmingly present in the CWC) and hydrogeologists (the main discipline in CGWB) are crucial for effective water management. But alone, they cannot be expected to shoulder the entire burden of the new mandate. There is an acute lack of professionals from a large number of disciplines, without which these bodies will continue to under-perform,” the panel said in its report submitted last month.

“These disciplines include, most importantly, the social sciences and management, without which we cannot expect programmes like participatory irrigation management and participatory groundwater management to succeed… If we are to tackle demand-side management issues and implement crop water budgeting and improve water use efficiency, we need professionals from Agronomy. We need professionals from Ecological Economics for an accurate understanding of the value of ecosystem services. And to attain the national goals of nirmal dhara (clean flow), aviral dhara (uninterrupted flow) and swachh kinara (clean riverbanks), we need professionals specialising in River Ecology,” it said.

The report noted the CWC and CGWB have remained “unreformed” since the time they were created, in 1945 and 1971 respectively, when “dam construction and tubewell drilling was the prime need of the hour”.

“These institutions were set up in a different era, serving a different mandate and manned by a particular kind of personnel… During the past few decades, researches at the interface of two or more water-related disciplines have given birth to new disciplines such as Eco-hydrology, hydro-sociology, hydro-politics, and hydro-informatics. At the same time, the hydrological science has evolved into an interdisciplinary domain, heavily dependent upon wide range of natural and social sciences including ecology, environmental science, geomorphology, sociology, economics, politics, law etc, and utilises a variety of tools and techniques for data collection and analysis,” the report said.

The panel noted that neither CWC nor CGWB has any expertise in these areas.

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