Perform or perish

What do you do when you have to chose between water and water scientists?

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- WHEN the finance minister P Chidambaram presents the Union budget, there would be some words of con-cern (and a few crore rupees) about India's water crisis. The failure of our water management practices is too obvious. But the reasons for it aren't understood well. The responsibility of politicians is well known, and is criticised even in the public domain. Even the bureaucrats get hauled up once in a while. But the government research establishment manages to consistently perform badly and yet avoid a critique of its failures.

Research feedback is the basis of all decision making. Take the case of the national programme for repair, renovation and restoration of waterbodies (see pp 40-43). This Rs 300-crore pilot project was launched in a haste last year without considering the experiences and learning from innumerable similar projects, espe-cially in the southern states. The Union ministry of water resources believes more in government experts than in common sense. It wasn't clear exactly what the government wanted to learn out of this pilot. As sound research took a back seat, monitoring too was given the short shrift. To cover up its failures, the gov-ernment is hastily planning yet another national water resources development programme.

We know that close to 60 per cent of India's agriculture depends on groundwater. Yet the commitment to recharge groundwater just isn't there. The closer you look at government water schemes, the more you realise that very basic questions haven't been raised even. Which begs the question: who's advising the pow-ers that be? The Central Groundwater Board (CGWB) and the Central Groundwater Authority (CGWA) are.

The master plan for artificial groundwater recharge was prepared by these two centres of knowledge. What's the point of having expensive engineers and geologists when they can don't see the value of a simple, time-tested structure like a dugwell? CGWB's Rs 520 crore plan for Gujarat focuses on interventions that require technical training. The same efficiency -- if not greater -- comes from a well dug by a farmer. But India's groundwater technocrats get allergic reactions from anything that has the simplicity of common sense.

When technocrats take over important positions in bodies liek CGWB and CGWA, their professional repu-tation ought to rest on their ability to provide real-time solutions. That is the very purpose of public-inter-est research. And if dugwells are a better option, then engineering and geology degrees be damned.

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