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Merits Undeniable despite Drawbacks

While welcoming the overall thrust of the Mihir Shah Committee report and its suggestion for a National Water Commission of technical experts to assist the states, this article underscores that it does have some blind spots. These would include its non-inclusion of waterbodies and preference for floodplain zoning, among others. 

In his memoir, Cusecs Candidate: Memoirs of an Engineer, K L Rao writes that during visits to Sri Lanka he saw ancient irrigation structures that were the mainstay of the island’s modern irrigation. He did not know that his own state had more than 50,000 such old structures that were worth developing. The self-imposed ignorance in the parent organisation, the Central Water Commission (CWC), seems to be continuing even now. The Report by the Committee on Restructuring the CWC and Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has nothing do with tanks and such structures although its mandate is to plan for integrated water resources management (IWRM) and development. From that perspective, the authors rightly include “current issues of ecological, environmental, social, economic and management concern” (p 83). Meanwhile the ministries, at both the centre and the states, have come a long way. The central government is conducting a national programme for Repair, Renovation and Restoration (RRR) of Water Bodies. The 5th Minor Irrigation Census has already begun. The Telangana government has initiated Mission Kakatiya for rejuvenating 47,000 tanks by 2020. These are only a few of many relevant programmes.

The 4th Minor Irrigation Census informs us that there were 5,23,816 waterbodies in the country in 2006–07. India has a wide variety of indigenous irrigation and related systems built by earlier generations to meet different ecosystem challenges, though with rudimentary technologies. They range from the tanks of Telangana and Tamil Nadu to the kuhls of Himachal Pradesh, including the khadins of the Thar desert and Ramsar sites such as Loktak lake and East Calcutta Wetlands, the reclaimed kharlands of the Konkan, and the johads of Alwar’s Rajendra Singh. They would greatly support extensive groundwater and micro irrigation. The traditional utilisation methods were based on the groundwater recharge and subsoil moisture retention capabilities of these systems. It is sad, therefore, to find that the Mihir Shah Committee report still reflects the amnesia characteristic of national policymakers of the K L Rao era.

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