Act of omission

The government's latest commission on water may end up churning out myopic, big-dam-centred policies

By Himanshu Thakkar
Published: Friday 15 November 1996

the decision of the United Front ( uf ) government to set up the High Powered Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development Plan has been welcomed as an significant step, though, if the terms of reference, and statements of the chairman of the commission G V K Rao, is anything to go by, the government's focus is to link rivers for interbasin transfer of water. Rao told Down to Earth in Bangalore, "With inter-basin transfer of water, the studies done by National Water Development Agency shows that the ultimate irrigation potential can go up to 140 million ha from the otherwise ultimate irrigation potential of 113 million ha."

However, the terms of reference and constitution of the commission is being kept a secret. But it is clear that the commission represents the continuum in the government's big-dam-centred policy. Apart from representatives of this policy, like S R. Hashim, member, planning commission, who is the vice chairman of the new commission, or S Mohile, director general of National Water Development Agency, convenor of the commission, people like Ramaswamy Iyer have been added as an afterthought. The commission has no representation of advocates of local and traditional water harvesting systems or critics of mega-dam-centered policies, but Rao assured that it will take into consideration whatever point of view is presented.

The terms of reference of the commission include preparation of an integrated water plan for development of water resources for drinking, irrigation, industrial, flood control and other uses, to prioritise on-going and new projects, to identify a technological and interdisciplinary research plan for the water sector and to suggest physical and financial resource generation strategies for the water sector. Rao said that the all-encompassing terms make the commission something like what is called Blue Ribbon commission in us or Royal commission in uk . "We can review anything we want to. But some of the aspects like prioritising are bound to get us into difficult, controversial and political issues" Rao said.

Ramaswamy Iyer, author of the national water policy of 1987, made it clear that the issues will have to looked from the overall perspective of water needs, its priorities and comprehensive, cost-benefit aspects. "If interbasin transfer of water is the main thrust of the commission then I will have to resign, as that is a useless subject," said Iyer.

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