Mihir Shah Committee Report

The committee in its report ‘21st Century Institutional Architecture for India’s Water Reforms: Restructuring the CWC and CGWB’ has recommended for the formation of a new National Water Commission (NWC) to be established as the nation’s apex facilitation organisation dealing with water policy, data and governance. The seven-member committee, headed by former planning commission member Mihir Shah, was constituted in September 2015 to ensure development of water resources in the country.

Current Challenges 

Stored water: While big dams played a big role in creating a huge irrigation potential, today the challenge is to effectively utilize this potential, as the water that lies stored in our dams is not reaching the farmers for whom it is meant. 

Groundwater level: Groundwater, which truly powered the Green Revolution, faces a crisis of sustainability. Water levels and water quality have both fallen creating a new kind of crisis, where the solution to a problem has become part of the problem itself. The new challenge is to manage our aquifers sustainably. Data from the agriculture ministry shows that nearly half of India’s farm lands are un-irrigated and groundwater is the major source of water for irrigated holdings. For instance, for 45% of irrigated land the source of water is tube wells drawing groundwater resources. In comparison, canals irrigate just 26% of irrigated land, and tanks and wells only 22% of irrigated land.

• Water Table falling: Water tables were getting depleted in most parts of India.

Groundwater Pollution: As much as 60% of India’s districts faces groundwater over-exploitation and serious quality issues. The contamination by fluoride, arsenic, mercury, and even uranium are another major challenge.

Poor Irrigation Facilities: Recent instances of droughts and farmers’ suicides underscored the gravity of the poor situation. India has invested Rs.4 trillion in major and medium irrigation projects since Independence. This had created an irrigation potential of 113 million hectares, which was actually utilized by 89 million hectares. However the gap between created potential and utilisation “is growing by the year.”

Key recommendations are:

• National Water Commission has been proposed which will subsume the Central Water Commission (CWC) and Central Ground Water Board (CGWB). The proposed National Water Commission will be a science-led agency to advise the States on how much water they can use without affecting rivers and groundwater, taking surface- and groundwater-usage as a single entity. The new body should be an adjunct office of the Ministry, functioning with both full autonomy and requisite accountability. NWC will subsume Central Water Commission and Central Ground water Board and integrate all the water management efforts.

• A paradigm shift is required in both surface and groundwater management policies to face new national challenges. It says that existing institutions are inadequate to address present and future water needs. 

• CWC and CGWB were created in a different era and needed restructuring to work on a new mandate in a manner that overcomes the schism between groundwater and surface water. The one issue that really highlights the need to unify CWC and CGWB is the drying up of India’s peninsular rivers, the single most important cause of which is over-extraction of groundwater.

• By focusing on water stored in dams we could add 35 million hectares to irrigate area over next 10 years at a very low cost. For this we need to shift focus from construction to management and maintenance.

• NWC be headed by a Chief National Water Commissioner and should have full time commissioners representing hydrology, hydrogeology, hydrometeorology, river ecology, ecological economics, agronomy (with focus on soil and water) and participatory resource planning and management.

• To adopt the participatory approach to water management that has been successfully tried all over the world, as also in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. 

• View groundwater and surface water in an integrated, holistic manner. 

• If river rejuvenation is the key national mandate of the Ministry of Water Resources, then this cannot happen without hydrologists and hydrogeologists working together, along with social scientists, agronomists and other stakeholders. 

• Focus on river basins which must form the fundamental units for management of water.