Govt sets up committee for water management in north-east
New Delhi: With the aim of helping India’s flood-ravaged north-east, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has set up a high-level committee to evolve a strategy for management of the region’s water resources.
“The committee will facilitate optimising benefits of appropriate water management in the form of hydro-electric power, agriculture, bio-diversity conservation, reduced flood damage erosion, inland water transport, forestry, fishery and eco-tourism,” the government said in a statement on Wednesday.
With one of the focus areas being hydropower, the strategy will also help establish first-user rights to the waters of the Brahmaputra. This comes in the backdrop of Japan joining hands with India to aggressively develop infrastructure projects in India’s north-eastern states.
With the ministry of development of north-eastern region (DoNER) serving as the coordinating point, the committee will submit its report as well as a plan of action by June next year. This will involve dovetailing central and state government schemes across departments and autonomous bodies.
The committee’s formation comes against the backdrop of floods that have brought life to a standstill in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
According to data released by the Assam State Disaster Management Authority, 2017 has been the worst of the last four years in terms of floods. The committee will be headed by Rajiv Kumar, vice-chairman of NITI Aayog, the federal policy think tank, and will include secretaries from the ministries of DoNER, power, water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, National Disaster Management Authority, departments of border management and space and the chief secretaries of all the eight states of the region.
The committee follows the flood assessment in August by Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with the chief ministers of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
“The meeting noted that the optimum management of water resources is a cross-cutting task which requires multi-sectoral interventions and concerted strategy, including management of catchment areas in upper reaches involving concerned central ministries and state governments,” the statement said.
The Brahmaputra, a trans-boundary river and among the mightiest in Asia, is unstable in its entire stretch in Assam except for a few places. India and China have joined issue over the diversion of the Brahmaputra river, which originates in Tibet.
“The Brahmaputra and Barak river systems, which account for one-third of India’s run-off, are highly prone to floods. Brahmaputra is one of the largest river systems in the world and causes considerable distress and costs to the region through frequent flooding and erosion,” the statement added.
India has been pushing to establish prior user rights on rivers that originate in China in an effort to fast-track projects in the northeast.
According to the United Nations, the cross-border annual aggregate flow of the Brahmaputra river system is 165.4bcm (billion cubic metres), which is greater than the combined trans-boundary flow of the three key rivers—Mekong, Salween and Irrawady—that run from the Tibetan plateau to South-East Asia.
The committee’s terms of reference also include identification of gaps in the existing mechanisms and arrangements for water resource management, and suggesting policy interventions.
India initiated an action plan to accelerate hydroelectric projects in Arunachal Pradesh, a key element of a multi-pronged strategy, Mint reported on 20 November 2013. This also involves prioritizing the construction of storage projects as a fallback option.
As part of the strategy that is also being viewed as an attempt to contain China, an India-Japan Coordination Forum for Development of North East has been set up to focus on strategic projects such as connectivity and road network development, electricity and disaster management.
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