In one of the most significant reforms in the water sector in a long time, the government is in the process of ordering a complete restructuring of the organisations responsible for regulating the use of water resources, with the objective of bringing in greater efficiency, better planning and increased emphasis on conservation of water.
The Central Water Commission (CWC), which oversees irrigation projects, flood management and drinking water supply, and the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) are likely to be disbanded, and a National Water Commission is proposed to be set up in their place, official sources told The Indian Express. A few other smaller organisations with specialised mandate like data gathering and analysis are also likely to be created.
Officials said the idea behind the organisational restructuring is to ensure that all water resources in the country are managed in a holistic manner and not separately as surface water, ground water or river water. An effort is also being made to move away from engineering solutions like construction of large irrigation projects and towards more sustainable ways of water use.
A team under Mihir Shah, a former member of the then Planning Commission of India, is already preparing a blueprint for better management of water resources. The idea of institutional restructuring is said to have the backing of this panel. It is likely to submit its report in the next two months.
The restructuring is expected to be completed this year itself.
In the new scheme of things, more emphasis is being given to judicious use, and conservation, of ground water. Officials said adequate attention had not been given to management of ground water till now, leading to indiscriminate pumping of ground water. It is estimated that despite elaborate irrigation projects, about 60 per cent of irrigation during the non-rainy season is still done by pumping out ground water. The large irrigation projects, meanwhile, have given sub-optimal results.
Officials said the country must look towards a future in which ground water is completely banned for industrial use at least. A large number of sewage treatment plants, being built as part of the Clean Ganga initiative that will eventually spread to other rivers as well, will provide a new source of water that is fit not only for industrial use but also for irrigation and many other purposes.
The river rejuvenation plans, not just of Ganga but others as well, will become an integral part of overall water resources management. Apart from reducing pollution in the rivers, and maintaining a minimum ecological flow, the rejuvenation plans would also ensure that the rivers are able to adequately recharge the aquifers in its basins.
Allocation of water resources to each state is also on the agenda. But this process is likely to take time as it would involve extensive consultations with the state governments. Once a consensus emerges, a central legislation on allocation of water resources is planned to be brought in. This is aimed at reducing inter-state water disputes.