CWC, CGWB lack expertize on environmental, social impact, as also impact on R&R due to large dams

waterExcerpts from a South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP)  submission* before the Mihir Shah Committee for Restructuring of Central Water Commission  (CWC) & Central Ground Water Board (CGWB):

Rationale for restructuring: All the available indicators and past experience suggest that CWC-CGWB needs complete restructuring and need to start with fresh institution mechanism. These are very old institutions and antecedent of CWC existed even before India’s independence. Such old institutions find it very difficult to change and any changes attempted within the existing institutional mechanism is likely to not lead to the intended results since the institution may find ways to continue to function in the old ways while absorbing the changes attempted.

CWC, for example, is involved in large number of functions including: research, techno-economic appraisal, design, policy making, approvals, implementation monitoring, implementation, financial sanctions and financial monitoring, data gathering, analysis, forecasting, using the data gathered to design, appraise and approve projects, resolve inter-state disputes, make policy for dam safety and also monitor dam safety, advise on dam safety, decide if the dam is safe or not, decide operational rules of dams, monitor operation of dams, advise on operation of dams and also decide if the dam operations are safe or optimum, help judicial and other bodies resolve technical issues, CWC representative sits on environment clearance process and also on techno-economic clearance process, in many cases it selects EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) or CIA (Cumulative Impact Assessment) agencies, sanction their funding, appraise EIAs/CIAs and also approve them, work as gatekeeper of information, work as regulator on dam related issues, repository of information about dams, provide consultancies, among others. It can be seen that a number of functions of CWC are in conflict with each other.

There are number of aspects related to dams that CWC has no expertise even though it is required to have such expertise. For example on environmental impacts, social impacts and rehabilitation & resettlement as also on the services provided by rivers and such other natural resources, CWC does claim expertise, and it indeed needs to have expertise, but unfortunately, available evidence suggests that it does not have these, even though it has departments or divisions for example on environment and rehabilitation issues.

These institution need to have much better mechanisms to ensure learning from past experiences, anlayse their work and also learn from the experiences of others. There is need also to enhance the research activities, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Similarly there are many examples one can give about the short comings of CGWB and CGWA. For example, India’s water lifeline is groundwater. It is well known that the country using the maximum groundwater in the world and having the largest number of groundwater users is using this resource in most unsustainable way in large parts of the country. However, we have seen little by the way of achievement of success stories of sustainable groundwater use and effective regulation of groundwater.

Even though the Supreme Court of India gave powers under Environment Protection Act while directing constitution of CGWA in 1996-97, CGWA has not achieved any effective groundwater regulation. Even in the regulated sector of giving NOC for bottled water and cold drink industry, CGWA has not achieved transparent, accountable, participatory, appropriate or effective regulation. Similarly our knowledge base about the groundwater aquifers and their recharge systems leave a lot to be desired. The CGWB has also not been able to achieve sufficient awareness about the groundwater recharge systems, need to protect them, rejuvenate them and also achieve greater groundwater recharge systems.

Hence a fresh start for these institutions through complete restructuring is the best way forward.

India Water Resources Information Service

Rationale: Why we need this? A new institution is necessary since the quality, reliability, adequacy of the data gathered currently leaves a lot to be desired. Our hydrology data is notoriously inadequate, undependable and incomplete. To hide this reality, there is also tendency to keep the data secret.

Functions: A new institution, say India Water Resources Information Service could possibly be under DST/ Ministry of Earth Sciences. It will be an autonomous and statutory organisation. Among the functions it will perform include the following:

  • To Generate, monitor, validate and disseminate all data related to water in India
  • Monitor river flows, sediment flows, aquatic biodiversity
  • Groundwater levels,
  • Water quality in rivers, aquifers and other important water bodies, including surface water-groundwater linkages
  • Monitor and forecast floods, Currently CWC work on this leaves a lot to be desired. Bangladesh and Nepal, our neighbors, have better flood forecasting information sharing websites than that of CWC.
  • Monitor reservoir levels
  • Bring out National Dam Register and National Hydropower projects register.
  • Map aquifers and river basins
  • Monitor siltation of reservoirs.
  • Do periodic census of water resources in every basin
  • Monitor use of river flood plains and bring out warnings of any problematic activities of floodplain use
  • Will have in its governing board and in its ranks people specializing in some of the relevant disciplines like hydrology, hydrogeology, ecology, river science, aquatic life science, social science, climate science, among others. 50% of governing board members will be from outside the government with independent track record.
  • All information thus collected by IWRIS will be promptly in public domain.
  • It will enter into MOUs with neighbouring countries for sharing hydrology/ flood related information and put such information promptly in public domain. India Water Resources Board Create a new institution called India Water Resources Board that will have following among other functions.
  • It will have groundwater and Surface water wings. It will have sections including Design, appraisal, management, research, among others.
  • Groundwater: It is a matter of fact that groundwater is India’s water lifeline, but is treated as a poor cousin to surface water bureaucracy. In IWRB, they will get treatment as per their importance to the society, environment, economy and water, livelihood and food security.
  • As some recent research has shown, India’s agriculture production is less sensitive to the monsoon deficit in recent decade, compared to earlier decades, but this is possibly only because of unsustainable use of groundwater. However, the sustainable use of groundwater has seen no priority, we hope IWRB will help movement in that direction. This will require action on several fronts, including linkages with minimum support price, incentives and disincentives for cropping pattern, recognition that paddy and sugar export is tantamount to water export, recognising the role played by groundwater recharge mechanisms, and ensuring bottom up groundwater regulation.
  • Under IWRB, there will be RBOs for all major & medium rivers and composite rivers where necessary.


  • There are 14 major rivers, 42 medium rivers and 55 minor rivers and many more streams besides. Need to have a basin organization at all three levels. The basin must be emphasized as otherwise current silos will persist.
  • As such major restructuring will take time, so it is suggested that smaller basins may be taken up as pilots [i.e. ground upwards] immediately and this will yield the necessary lessons and acceptability to upscale.
  • There will be RBOs with offices located in respective basins, will have state representatives in RBO governance body and will have significant autonomy. The RBOs will monitor groundwater and surface water situation in the basins. o The RBO shall be a multi-disciplinary body to provide guidelines for sustainable river basin management, implementation of projects ensuring that rivers continue to perform the functions and provide the services in a sustainable way.
  • States will be consulted and participant at every step of the way in formation and functioning of RBOs.
  • Each RBO will prepare land & water use situation and how land & water use is changing with time. Where state land use boards exists, necessary information will be taken from them. The situation report will monitor changes in the basin and impact on water resources thereof.
  • Each RBO will prepare GW-SW dynamics in different sections of the basins in different seasons and how this is changing. Groundwater regulation rules and monitoring
  • Each RBO’s annual report, to be finalised and published by June each year following the March 31 financial year end, which will provide status of water use in previous year, including cropping patterns, Urban and Industrial water use and status of pollution. It will also have status of positive and negative aspects/ case studies of the situation in the basin.
  • Each RBO will also produce state of research reports on annual basis where all available major and significant research analysis of water sector in the basin will be included.
  • Will prepare basin wise Ground and Surface water use status for different sectors on annual basis, will get information about all water allocation decisions from the concerned states and user agencies.
  • The RBO annual report will include water storage capacity in the basin including through major, medium, minor water storages, including status of groundwater aquifer storage situation. It will also include soil moisture conditions and how soil moisture holding capacity is changing.
  • RBO annual report will include state of irrigation in the river basin, including irrigation projects of all types and the progress in Repair, Restoration, Renovation & Management.
  • Basin water resources management will have through decentralised bottom up linkages
  • Subsidiarity principle should govern: all functions of CGWB-CWC that can go to RBOs should go there. To that extent the manpower at the centre should be reduced. This is true for all wings of CGWB-CWC. All functions of RBOs will also be decentralised on same lines.
  • RBOs should be autonomous and statutory bodies.
  • Other IWRB activities will include:
    • Will prepare aquifer use status and prepare guidelines & rules related to Groundwater use approvals.
    • Appraisal, monitoring and quality assurance of all water resources development projects.
    • Will appraise the HEPs and their operation from hydrology and other river related aspects.
    • IWRB will come out with state of India’s water situation in July of each year, taking into account the RBO reports available the previous month.
    • IWRB will also produce state of research reports on annual basis where all available major and significant research analysis of water sector in the basin will be included.
    • India has very large number of irrigation projects of all types which if Repaired, Restored, Renovated & Managed optimally efficiently can substantially improve water supply to all sectors both qualitatively & quantitatively. IRWB annual report will have information about state of irrigation sector and all its various aspects.
    • Red flags for inappropriate water allocations, cropping patterns
  • Will have in its governing board and in its ranks people specializing in agriculture, hydrology, hydrogeology, ecology, earth science, river science, aquatic life science, social science, climate science, among others. 50% of governing board members will be from outside the government with independent track record.
  • All information will promptly be in public domain.
  • The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC: Links to analysis of TAC work) will have 50% members from outside government. Agenda of the meeting to be in public domain along with all project documents, at least two weeks before the meeting. Minutes of the TEC meeting to be in public domain within two weeks of the meeting. The minutes to reflect the discussions, not just decisions and project details. Some of those sending submissions could be invited to the meetings. All committees and decision making and monitoring mechanisms to work on the same lines and as described here.
  • Under Surface water wing there will be a Dam Safety Body (possibly a statutory and autonomous body), with wings in each river basin to monitor structural and operational safety of each dam. This will have a separate governing board again with 50% members from outside the government, to meet each quarter and put out all its reports, agenda and minutes in public domain. Such governing boards will also be there at basin level for each of the basins.
  • To draft new model water laws & rules, amend those as times change and monitor their implementation.
  • Monitor existing inter-basin water transfers and ensure that inter-basin transfers are adopted only as an option of last resort.
  • All residual functions of CWC and CGWB which are not with IWRIS and IRWS (see below) will be with IWRB.

India Rivers and Wetlands Service Create a new institution called, say: India River and Wetlands Service. It will be an autonomous and statutory organisation.

Rationale:  There is no agency in India today that is even monitoring the state of India’s rivers and wetlands, or fighting for the cause of healthy state of rivers and wetlands. The continuously deteriorating state of our rivers and wetlands over the past decades, which has brought the crisis situation for the rivers and wetlands is a good symptom of this state of affairs. This is also reflected in the priority given to Ganga Rejuvenation by the current government.

Some of the functions of IRWS will be:

  • To Generate, monitor, validate and disseminate all data related to state of Rivers and wetlands in India
  • To monitor and work for sustainability of Indian rivers, wetlands, including fish and aquatic life across the rivers. Sand deposits, Salinity mapping. Salinity intrusion will indicate the extent of flow reduction. Situation of these aspects throughout the basin, including at deltas is to be monitored.
  • Will monitor environmental flow requirements and compare with actual flows and work to achieve desired flows, including for  all existing and under construction projects
  • A representative of the IRWS will be a member of the expert appraisal committee on River Valley and Hydropower projects with a mandate to ensure that the decision making at the EAC take into account the issues IRWS is concerned with.
  • IRWS will prepare cumulative impact assessments for different basins, including carrying capacities on periodic basis.
  • Science based approach to conserve, restore and enhance river and wetlands of India
  • Bring out annual report including state of India’s rivers and wetlands, riverine aquatic life, State of aquatic species. It will be made public by June each year with status situation till March 31, of the same year.
  • Will have offices in each river basin.
  • IRWS representative will sit with CEA for HEP appraisals.
  • IRWS will identify rivers/ river stretches to remain undammed/ in as close a state to natural state as possible.
  • Identify rivers / stretches which can be potential fish sanctuaries and recommend the same to MoEF.

India Water Services Examination

Replace the current Central Water Eng Service Exam under UPSC Engineering Service Exam (this exam is a common for departments like Indian Railways, CPWD, Military Engineering Service, Ministry of Roads Transport and Highways, Survey of India etc) with a India Water Service Exam, and min qualification with a graduate from any of the relevant discipline rather than only engineers as is the situation now. Those qualifying can choose to work in any of the above mentioned organisations (e.g. IWRIS/ IWRB/ IRWS), they will get 5 year contract, which can be renewed after the term is over, when they can also seek transfer to another of any of the above organisations. There should also be scope for lateral entry.

Restructuring of other related organizations:

Restructuring is required in case of a number of related organisations like CPCB, SPCBs, GFCC, Brahmaputra Board, NGRBA, Narmada Control Authority, among others. This is not being detailed here since this is not part of the mandate of  this committee.

To sum up:

This is the kind of institutional restructuring that is necessary considering the state and challenges India faces in water sector in 21st century. However, what is necessary is not always possible immediately. In which case, elements from this restructuring proposal can be used immediately and the rest over a period of time.

  • Clearly defined mechanisms of transparency, accountability and participation from non government persons is required at the outset.
  • Subsidiarity principle should govern IWRB, IRWS and IWRIS.
  • Increase avenues of interactions from civil society and academic world in the functioning and governing of all three organisations.
  • There is also a suggestion for an integrated National Water Authority (with autonomous state level water Authorities) with functions that integrate or oversee the roles of IWRIS, IWRB and IRWS backed by the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act (1986) and the Water Act, 1974.
  • There is also need for a Rivers Act with safeguards for protection of rives and services that rivers provide.
  • The committee and MoWR should open up this process and hold consultations in all states so that all the views and perspectives are heard and benefited from there is greater buy in from the states and various groups and individuals working on these issues in all states.

*Those who prepared the submission are: Himanshu Thakkar (, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (, Delhi;  Manoj Misra (, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, Delhi; Dr Latha Anantha (, River Research Centre, Thrisoor, Kerala; Samir Mehta (, River Basin Friends, Mumbai; Manu Bhatnagar (, INTACH, Delhi; Shripad Dharmadhikary (, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Pune; Parineeta Dandekar (, SANDRP, Pune



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