ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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New Institutional Structure for Water Security in India

There has been no significant change in the knowledge-base and institutional structure for managing water systems since colonial rule. This makes the recent efforts of the Ministry of Water Resources for restructuring the Central Water Commission and the Central Ground Water Board significant. This article argues that the effort should be backed by interdisciplinary studies that see surface water and groundwater as ecologically connected.

In the past two or three decades, especially following the publication in 1992 of the Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development, the global community of water professionals has been extensively involved in generating new and interdisciplinary ways of handling the challenges of water security in a world facing growing water scarcity. As a result, water governance worldwide has started to change in fundamental ways. The European Union in general, and countries like South Africa and Australia, have put in place new institutional structures for water systems management. In the case of India, the monsoon-dominated climate adds to the problems of scarcity by the temporal concentration of very large parts of the annual precipitation within the three months of July to September. In China, another country with monsoon-dominated climate, some important institutional innovations were undertaken in the 1950s to address periodic devastating floods and constant water scarcity in the Yellow River and Yangtze basins. In India, there has not been any basic transformation in both the knowledge base and institutional structure for managing water systems since the end of the British rule in 1947 (Bandyopadhyay 2009; Briscoe and Malik 2006). This makes the present efforts of the Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) for restructuring of the Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) very potent.

Over the past two decades independent professionals have been recommending changes in the institutional structure of water governance in the country. That hundreds of millions of people still do not have access to safe drinking water is a matter of shame and concern. Recent initiative at the MoWR in the formation of a committee chaired by Mihir Shah on the restructuring of the CWC and the CGWB has to be seen in that perspective. The older way of looking at surface water and groundwater separately has to give way to a holistic vision where the two are seen as ecologically-connected. Thus, water governance has to be based on a broad interdisciplinary framework, within which the various activities of the existing CWC and CGWB could be distributed and internalised, as part of a larger process of deeper transformation. The need is for fundamental changes and not minor alterations within the existing institutional structures. In that background, the institutional responsibilities of a restructured water governance strategy are listed below:

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