November 5, 2023

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NITI weighs discontinuing key water report launched 5 years ago | India News

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NITI AAYOG, the government’s think tank, is learnt to have marked the reports on states progress on water management for 2018-19 and 2019-20 for “internal use” after having publicly released the previous editions.

Called the ‘Composite Water Management Index’ report, the first edition launched five years ago in June 2018 brought India’s water challenges into spotlight and ranked states in terms of efficacy based on 28 parameters. The first edition provided data for 2015-16 and 2016-17, and the second edition launched in August 2019 was for 2017-18.

The report, published by NITI Aayog, was prepared in association with three ministries — Water Resources, Drinking Water & Sanitation, and Rural Development.

In May this year, the NITI Aayog wrote to the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti, seeking the government’s perspective on the “use and applicability” of the Index and whether the CWMI should continue. There has been no response from the Ministry, even as the third and fourth editions are awaiting release, sources said.

When contacted, a Niti Aayog spokesperson said there was an idea to club the report for 2018-19 and 2019-20 with that of the next two years (2020-21 and 2021-22). It was also felt that the coverage should be extended to districts. Finally, on the continuation of CWMI itself, there was a view that other channels also need to be explored to undertake the task of indexing rather than bank only on CWMI, the spokesperson said.

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The latest report, a copy of which has been seen by The Indian Express, maps the performance of states for 2018-19 and 2019-20, and points out that water scarcity is a “national problem”. The average annual per capita water availability is expected to reduce to 1,486 cubic meters per person per year by 2021 from 1,545 cubic meters per person per year in 2011, according to the Jal Shakti Ministry.

As per the annual water availability norms, the availability value of less than 1,700 cubic meter/person/year indicates water shortage. Water availability below 1,000 cubic metre/capita/year is considered as “scarcity”.

According to the report for 2019-20, Gujarat tops the list “with continuous improvements year on year and is closely followed by Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh” in terms of performance.

“It is encouraging to see that Rajasthan jumped nine positions upward from 2017-18 to FY 2019-20,” the latest unreleased report states. Goa, it said, has slipped from the fourth position in 2017-18 to tenth position in 2019-20. Punjab too has seen a drop in its rank during this period.

Responding to questions from The Indian Express, a NITI Aayog spokesperson said work on the third and fourth rounds of the index was started in 2022, and attributed the delay to unavailability of updated data due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Niti Aayog also “ideated” whether the third and fourth rounds should be clubbed with fifth and sixth rounds meant to cover years 2021-22 and 2022-23.

“NITI Aayog also commenced the work for 3rd & 4th rounds of CWMI in 2022. However, due to Covid-19, updated 2022 data was not available. In consultation with both the Ministry of Jal Shakti and State Water Resource Departments, it was ideated that (i) a combined report of CWMI rounds 3.0, 4.0, 5.0 and 6.0 should be released; and (ii) coverage of data should be extended to districts level,” the statement reads.

“One view regarding the continuation of CWMI was that other channels also need to be explored to undertake the task of indexing rather than only on CWMI. Views of the Departments have been sought in this regard,” the statement said.

The consultation mentioned in the spokesperson’s response took place on December 12, 2022, two months after the combined report of the third and fourth rounds of the Index were ready. The meeting was chaired by NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand and officers of the Jal Shakti Ministry where it was indeed “ideated” whether a combined report of CWMI rounds 3.0, 4.0, 5.0 and 6.0 should be released together.

However, five months later, the Niti Aayog sent letters to Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, both of which come under the Jal Shakti Ministry, saying that the Member (economist Ramesh Chand and NITI Aayog member) is of the view that “other channels need to be explored to undertake the task of indexing rather than relying only on CWMI and that the CWMI is not widely used or applied in Planning, Decision making, Policy Formulation or Research by public or private stakeholders concerned with water sector.”

“It has also been directed to obtain the views of Departments under the Ministry of Jal Shakti before deciding on the continuation of CWMI,” said the NITI Aayog communication sent to the Ministry on May 12, 2023.

“It is therefore kindly requested to share your views on use, applicability, and whether the CWMI is to be continued anymore,” said the communication, issued with the “approval of competent authority” in NITI Aayog

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Emails soliciting comments of Jal Shakti Ministry and Rural Development Ministry did not elicit a response.

In June 2018, the Niti Aayog said the CWMI report was meant to foster “a culture of evidence and data-backed policy-decisions for efficient management of water resources” and also bring about competitive and cooperative federalism among states.

In October, the United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), had warned that India is close to reaching its groundwater risk tipping point. Environmental tipping points are critical thresholds in the Earth’s systems, beyond which abrupt and often irreversible changes occur.

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