Skip to main content

Published on: 05/09/2013

The Government of India's planning commission has recently come out with a new model bill for the State Water Regulatory Authority Act. The draft is laudable and progressive in many ways. It incorporates a modular approach to regulation and covers environmental, accountability and transparency concerns. The model bill proposes a new institutional model, which separates political (normative), expert (non-normative), and executive (or implementing) functions and tasks of governance to ensure improved autonomy and independence.

However, the model bill assumes that regulatory authorities will be able to address the woes and ills of water governance in India. In fact, even after a decade, regulators have failed to take-off as they remain institutional superimpositions on a fundamentally distorted governance structure.

Donor-supported, policy-induced regulators in states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra are ineffective institutional liabilities. Laws passed by states like Kerala, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh arepaper tigers. Moreover, the government's model ground water regulation and the constitution of ground water authorities at national and state levels have not produced any meaningful impact.

Water governance in India is ''purposive designed chaos'' characterised by perverse incentives, bounty hunting and short run rationality. The dynamics of the political economy of water create a deterministic butterfly effecton long term outcomes. In a loose democracy like India with weak regulatory capacity and an adverse enabling environment, independent centralised regulators are bound to fail. The Indian water sector is made up of millions of informal atomistic operators, including farmers and community-based drinking water operators who co-exist with monolithic, inefficient water boards and Public Health Engineering Departments (PHEDs). Local government bodies known as Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) are responsible for water governance but are not empowered and lack capacities. Transplanting a regulatory framework on to such a misaligned, fragmented water governance structure is bound to produce unintended and negative effects.

India needs a responsive and adaptive regulatory regime with built-in capacity to coevolve and escalate progressively into a regulatory pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid is the responsive, participatory, networked, decentralised, convergence-focussed and PRI centric model of grassroots stakeholders as users, co-owners and managers. This bottom-up process will generate seeds that grow in complexity and completeness as they escalate beyond districts to river basin, state and national level. Social regulation will dominate the bottom-up process whereas progressive legal interventionist measures will dominate at the higher level of hierarchy.

Recent evidence suggests that evolving polycentric governance regimes alter the institutional setup of water management. They deepen the deliberative spaces available for more actors and enhance access for the most marginalised groups. A participatory governance model at the root and an organically coevolved regulatory framework at the top will guarantee adaptive, efficient and sustainable water governance in India.

India claims numerous examples of successful participatory water resource governance models. These include: Pani panchayats in Marharashtra and Odisha; the Andhra Pradesh (AP) Farmer Managed Ground Water Systems Project; conservation and management in Alwar district in Rajasthan by Tarun Bharat Sangh; experiments in the Khasi hills in Meghalaya and the traditional water bodies (Oorani) conservation project in Tamil Nadu. All such models have distinct context-specific features of success. Hence the obvious answer is not to go for a one-size-fits-all solution, but to create a congenial environment for problem-focussed decentralised approaches for the whole country.

* Butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state

Please see the links below for references and further information.



At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.

Back to
the top