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

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Sustaining the Liquid Mosaic

Longer Steps Needed

This critique assesses if the National Water Framework Bill 2016 and the Mihir Shah Committee report are truly interdisciplinary and based on the principles of integrated water systems governance. The question still remains whether the recommendations are enough to bridge existing gaps and address future challenges in water governance.

In May 2016, the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation placed the draft National Water Framework Bill (NWFB), 2016 in the public domain for comments. Almost at the same time, the Model Bill for the Conservation, Protection, Regulation and Management of Groundwater 2016 was also made public. These were followed by the publication in July 2016 of a report entitled “A 21st Century Institutional Architecture for India’s Water Reforms” (henceforth referred as the report). The report and the two bills were drafted by committees chaired by Mihir Shah. All these documents have been placed in the public domain at a time when the world has gone ahead towards describing and practising new paradigms of water governance. In India, the need for a new paradigm of water governance has been stressed by independent scholars and practitioners in water governance for quite some time (Iyer 2003; Bandyopadhyay 2009). However, these initiatives did not have an early effect on governmental policy and practices till the publication of the Mihir Shah committees. All these are much awaited steps in the right direction. The question is whether they are long enough to address the challenges that water governance in India is facing.

The existing policy documents in India related to water allude to terms such as “interdisciplinary approach” and “demand management,” but they have been rather decorative when it comes to the concepts behind, and projects related to, interventions in water systems. Water projects and planning, reliant on a reductionist paradigm of engineering, have looked merely at short-term marginal economic benefits, without considering the long-run implications for ecosystem processes, livelihoods, and other wider economic aspects. This has not only led to prescriptions of socially and ecologically undesirable paths, but also aggravated disputes at various levels (Bandyopadhyay and Ghosh 2016).

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