Integrated Water Resources Management in Odisha: A solution or privatization?
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Integrated Water Resources Management in Odisha: A solution or privatization?

By Bikash Kumar Pati

The growing world population has led to an increase in the per capita demand for water and greater competition between its various uses and users. The possible fall in the availability of water due to global warming further complicates the situation. In the present context, traditional approaches with their top-down and sector-based approach and failure to integrate ecosystems and land management can hardly be expected to work. That is why there is need for new thinking and solutions. Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) has evolved out of this yearning for a new approach that takes into consideration all these factors, besides emerging realities. IWRM gives optimum emphasis on participatory approach; involvement of users, planners and policy-makers at all levels for water development and management.

Considering the global demand for better management of water and experiencing the above said problems in water sector, both central as well as state government have started thinking in the same line. Even the thought has been reflected in various policies related to water from time to time. Our state government, moving a step ahead has come out with a draft road-map for IWRM in Odisha. Here few fundamental questions appear in the mind that is it really an IWRM or a platform for water privatization? Does it really talks about water integrated with ecosystem or water in isolation? And most importantly, has it ensured the spirit of IWRM i.e. participation at all levels and all stakeholders? Here is an analysis of the draft document on IWRM, our state government has prepared.

Looking at the definition of IWRM, it is clear that ‘Integrated water resource management is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems”. The concept of IWRM presupposes ‘more integration, more nature and more participation’. But unfortunately, while preparing the report, these three vital components are missed out, which are the real spirit of IWRM. Couple of external person, without having adequate understanding of Odisha’s geographical, socio-economic and cultural aspect, prepared a road-map, upon which the concept like IWRM will be grounded.

Going through the roadmap of IWRM, the report has spelled out the water crisis of Odisha in such a manner, as if IWRM is the only solution left. But is it really a solution? The roadmap speaks more of price fixation than fix to the management problem. It is clear that the management of water, and not scarcity of water, is the problem in many parts of our state. The solution practised diversely in different regions, lies in capturing rain in numbers of storage systems – in tanks, ponds, step wells and even rooftops – and to use it to recharge groundwater reserves for irrigation and drinking water needs. The supply is in the sky. Again looking at the management of water, it is the end user who can really manage it. But the roadmap provides hardly any scope to them to be a part of management. Rather it treats them as consumers, who are bound to pay for the services. If price fixation is the only viable answer to the water crisis of Odisha, then common man will be sufferer all the way. Though there is scope of inclusion of Water User Associations (Pani Panchayat), but is the WUA only user of water? What about the water use by other sectors like drinking and domestic, industries, water related livelihood etc? Focusing on the concept of IWRM, what is about environment as a whole? If the proposed roadmap is not able to include and integrate differences within the water sector, how one can expect that this will work on IWRM, which is much more beyond the water sector. There are many larger issues like pollution, food security, ground water, climate change, which the IWRM should address. But unfortunately the roadmap is more focused on economic benefit rather than social and environmental benefit.

Looking at the current practice of state government, there is differences and tunnel vision among the various departments working on water resources. When department provisioning drinking water is adopting more of a conservation approach, department dealing with irrigation is promoting liberal use of water through subsidies. If there is no consensus among the departments under the same government, how IWRM can be expected to work, which speaks about integration of each and every stakeholders starting from bottom to top?

The document also speaks about a lot of changes in policy related to water. Here question arises that is there really need of policy changes? There are policies like State Water Policy 2007, which also speaks about better management of water resources, putting water for drinking and domestic at the top of the priority. But is it really working? Unfortunately in our state, there is no system to monitor whether the policies are being executed properly or not. Common man, who is really meant for management of water resources are yet to know the availability of policy, forget about use of those policies. Again, are the common man consulted before bringing such policy level changes? If no, can we say it a democratic process?

The document seems to propagate Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization regime which has a very bad impact on Orissa and reform in power sector can be a case point. There are many more issues lies with the report, which clearly speaks about inefficiency of IWRM to be established on the road map proposed. Looking at the whole gamut of issues, it looks as if the document is dictated externally, even without analyzing whether there is a real need of it or not.

IWRM is the buzzword all over the world and appears to provide solutions to most water related problems. The term Integrated Water Management is itself wrong and confusing and has been much debated. There are many incidence of its failure than success. People working at the grassroots level as well as experts in the water sector have serious reservations about its efficacy in our context. Many of them are of the opinion that it may be the panacea for all water related problems in the European countries, but hardly has the answers to the problems in the water sector peculiar to India. Even there are negative experiences of IWRM within India itself.

Bikash Kumar Pati
Programme Manager, Water Programme
Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC)

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