An effective governance mechanism is of paramount importance for water management and water use efficiency. The issue of governance is multidimensional, encompassing social, economic, political, and legal institutions, and supported by a responsive policy framework to ensure sustainability and water use efficiency.
Governance of the water sector is complex, involving actors beyond the water sector. They frequently have contradicting interests and responsibilities, culminating in sub optimal choices from sustainability and efficiency perspective. The actors could include national governments, local governments, river basin authorities, representatives of indigenous people, consumer bodies, farmer bodies, energy companies, other private companies, etc. A sound regulatory framework is essential for effective stake holder coordination.
Overexploitation of water resources, coupled with lack of adequate planning initiatives, legal framework and governance mechanism, has resulted in unsustainable water resource management practices in many regions of the world. Indiscriminate use of water by stakeholders is attributable to distorted sectoral policies, such as irrigation subsidies and low water tariffs. Since most key sectors are water dependent, inter sectoral policy implications assume significance. For instance, energy subsidies and improper pricing could lead to over exploitation of ground water for irrigation. Win - win policies for interlinked sectors should be devised after evaluating the sectoral implications in its entirety, together with good governance practices at micro, meso and macro levels. Pricing of water is one of the key components of good governance and water resource management.
The policy frame work for water governance should consider integrating the region's customary practices. Participatory management processes should be encouraged, recognising the social, economic and cultural characteristics of the community. Effective enforcement is the key to successful governance and the administrative system of the country should have adequate capacity to enforce laws, legislations and acts.
Ideally, water management should work through voluntary cooperation among users, but the competing agendas of water users can lead to conflicts, requiring formal rules, regulations, controls and incentives to define user rights and responsibilities. These constitute the elements of good water governance, steering the overall water management process.
Dr Girija Bharat is Fellow at TERI.