‘No custodian of State’s water resources’

By Our Special Correspondent

 Shillong: There is no codified custodian of water resources in Meghalaya. The State has no land records and since customary laws are not codified, there are also no records on water resources.

This statement came from former Chief Engineer, PHE Himanshu Prasad while presenting a paper at the state-level consultation on water use efficiency organized by Indian Environmental Law Office (IELO) in collaboration with British High Commission, New Delhi.

The consultation brought together key stakeholders to the round table organised at the Agriculture Complex, Department of Water Resources on Friday.

Interestingly two key stakeholders — the District Councils and the Chief Engineer, PHE, SK Sunn — were conspicuous by their absence. According to the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution the use of any canal or water course for the purpose of agriculture falls under the District Councils. However, since forest and community lands are also under the purview of the Councils, hence catchment areas, water sources and springs would also fall under them.

IELO representatives presented a background paper for creating an institutional framework for the National Bureau of Water Efficiency which included mapping water use efficiency in Meghalaya.

Additional Chief Secretary in charge Soil and Water Conservation, PBO Warjri, while addressing the meeting said water may appear to be a free resource but bringing it to peoples’ doorsteps requires investments.

“We have never attached a value to water just as we have not learnt to value time. Peoples’ attitude to water and its management has to change to enable more efficient use and less wastage,” Warjri pointed out.

He also rued the pollution of water bodies due to reckless mining. Referring to the Greater Shillong Water Supply Scheme (GSWSS) Warjri said, “We are shortening the life of the GSWSS due to the quarrying and sand banking at Umtyngar. We also have to prevent the rapid flow of water as there is 98% run-off and only 2% is actually conserved and used.”

Meanwhile, Principal Secretary, Water Resources Department, RM Mishra informed that the State Water Act is in the pipeline but added that any legal framework for water must be citizen-centric.

Stating that there are three tiers of administration in Meghalaya, all of which exercise control over water, Mishra said it is high time the existing customary laws and practices on water use and conservation are codified.

Mishra also pointed at the need for regulatory mechanisms to reduce conflict between upper and lower riparian settlers.

“We need to incentivise those who fall in line with good water use practices and disincentivise those who violate them,” Mishra stated, adding that water touches lives and participation of all stakeholders cannot be incidental.

Urban Affairs Director, BK Panda, informed that by 2014 the first pilot work on sewerage would have been implemented and waste water recycled.

Panda said at the moment water is not scientifically handled and there is a huge loss during distribution over lengthy pipelines. He also stated that 25% of the urban poor are yet to be reached.

Other speakers included Toki Blah, president ICARE, T Lyngwa, CEO of Shillong Municipal Board and WR Kharkrang, Meghalaya Pollution Control Board.

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