Please read my latest article titled, " For a revolution in water management " published in The Hindu BusinessLine on 13th September 2017. ...

Please read my latest article titled, " For a revolution in water management " published in The Hindu BusinessLine on 13th September 2017. Hope you find the article interesting in the context of India. Please click the link: http://m.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/for-a-revolution-in-water-management/article9857919.ece  ; or read the article here: For a revolution in water management J HARSHA Our institutions and theories are outdated, hence we peddle disastrously wrong solutions. An urgent change is needed A category IV hurricane Harvey that struck Texas in the US cause 50 fatalities, whereas a lesser intensity rainfall and floods cause nearly 500 fatalities and affect 10 million people in north India. Floods wreak havoc again this year in Bihar and UP impacting the life of the common man. Floods remain destructive despite the fact that a maze of embankments have been built with considerable investment since decades as defence against floods by multitude of water organisations across India. And then, lakes in Bengaluru catch fire with amazing consistency as rivers run as toxic streams across Indian cities and towns. Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Ahmedabad, drown season after season. Farmers commit suicide as rain fails coupled with poor efficiency of canal irrigation. Concomitantly, groundwater levels have plummeted to alarming levels. Money down the drain Hundreds of crores of rupees have been committed across India since independence for structural intervention as flood defence or defence against droughts. But the question is: are these engineering structures have been worthy of the investment? The Netherlands and Germany have constructed embankments or dykes as a defence against floods, but when these countries discovered that the investment on structural interventions as a defence against floods isn’t worthy, they changed the very concept of management of floods with a novelty namely, “Room for Rivers” or “Living with Floods”. Similarly in the US, as and when dams end their utility, they have been decommissioned, barrier removed to enable river flow smoothly. A new paradigm unimaginable in India! But in India, ideas never change whether it is 20th century or 21st century; this is because the institutions and organisations from where the ideas originate remain the same since independence. Whether it is management of floods or droughts, the engineers in these organisations cannot think beyond the perspective of engineering solutions. There are other issues where stagnation in innovation in water sector is evident. It starts with the Constitutional mandate over jurisdiction of Centre and States over water i.e. Entry 17 and Entry 56 that is outdated, creates confusion and lacks clarity, as it is inspired by pre-Independence era, Government of India Act, 1935. The Constitutional position is blind to the 21st century concepts such as “Integrated Water Resources Management”, “Environment flows”, “Conjunctive use”, “Basin management, “Groundwater”, “Water markets”, “Water footprint” and “Virtual water trade”. A multitude of water organisations and institutions in India has been a bane of the water sector. About 23 organisations and ministries deal with water resources at the union government alone. Similar counterparts exist at State, district and village levels with overlapping jurisdictions. Too many bodies Primary issues such as pollution control, ground water management, policy and planning, environment concerns, rural and urban water supply have been torn between multiple organisations, institutions, ministries, norms and guidelines. Paradoxically, these organisations rarely co-ordinate or integrate between themselves to solve a water problem. Worse, many water organisations in India have become irrelevant in 21st century due to the decades-old mandate of “build” or scientism of dam-building activities that includes barrages, dykes and canals, which were relevant in the 1950s and 1960s. These are irrelevant today. Engineers, dominating water organisations in India, aren’t trained to recognise the inter-disciplinary nature of water resources. In many State water resources departments, most engineers aren’t from specialisations of hydrology or hydraulics at all, which explains why India’s water sector lacks innovation. An example: Central Water Engineering Services, the only organised water service cadre of union government isn’t composed of technocrats who opted water resources as a career choice but composed of the rejects who aspired for railways or roads or buildings or even civil services as their career choice. These flaws have caused stagnation of ideas in water governance and management thus leading to a water crisis of monstrous proportions as witnessed in the form of floods, droughts and pollution across India, every now and then. The impact of a worsening water crisis on the nation’s economy, society and the environment is acute. Unsuspecting citizens face worsening health crises due to consumption of contaminated water, thereby destroying their hard earned savings. So, India’s chaos in the water sector is primarily due to the prevalence of status quo with its outdated and dogmatic water institutions and organisations leading to outdated ideas and methods. New challenges The 21st century faces daunting challenges that were unknown 70 years ago. Some of them demand fresh ideas and solutions beyond engineering ones. They are: population explosion, change in consumption pattern, rise in demand for water for agriculture, industry and environment, plummeting groundwater levels, climate change, water conflicts, silting dams, closed basins, deteriorating quality of freshwater and water conflicts threatening the federal structure of the country, etc. The challenges of the future, say 2035 or 2050, are even more daunting: Ageing of dams, permanent loss of live storage, basin closure, climate variability, water conflicts, etc. These cannot be overcome with a business-as-usual approach or with the same archaic ideas of structural intervention. The water crisis as demonstrated by the floods and water scarcity, and the futility of current methods tells us why governments have to urgently revamp water institutions and organisations to liberate the water sector from 20th century dogma. They need to and align organisations to combat the daunting challenges of 21st century. If India is serious about reducing fatalities that is being witnessed year after year due to floods, droughts and pollution, and replicate global best practices, it needs to generate fresh ideas and innovations through a multi-disciplinary workforce to overcome the daunting challenges to the water sector. And for that to happen, it has to urgently reinvent the entire organisational structure, institutions and constitutional status for water organisations and institutions at union, State and local level at the earliest. The writer is Director, Monitoring South Organization, Central Water Commission, Bengaluru. The views are personal