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River On Fire: NETAS MUDDY WATERS, By Poonam I Kaushish, 13 Sept 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 13 September 2016

River On Fire


By Poonam I Kaushish


Kahein sookha, kahein baar. Jahaan sookha wahain atamhatya, jahan baar wahaan durghatna. Till yesterday, this nature-made dilemma encapsulated the erratic history of India’s water cycle. Today, this quandary goes beyond the quest for water and has become a major politically volatile issue. Thanks to our I-me-myself netas who have sullied the flow of water and made it into yet another poll plank to massage their vote-banks. Big deal if it ends up as political sewage to completely drain the future.


One look at the continuing Karnataka-Tamil Nadu fracas over the sharing of the Cauvery waters says it all. If one hoped the Supreme Court’s order Monday last directing the Karnataka Government to release 15,000 cusecs of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu for the next 10 days to save the samba crops would put an end to the 125-year old riparian politics which began in 1892, one was sadly mistaken. Instead, it further aggravated the political war of words, intense politicking, hate speeches culminating in a bandh.


Whereby, both States played the emotional card. While Karnataka said its farmers would suffer, ten thousands acres of land would go waste with release of even one TMC water to Tamil Nadu and Bangalore and Mysore would experience water shortage by next February. 


Countered Chennai, “Our 15 lakh acres of land would go waste. Karnataka has wrongly appropriated its share of Cauvery river water.” Citing figure to buttress its claim: Tamil Nadu houses 6% of the country's population but only has 3% of its water resources, the per capita availability is 800 cubic metres, a third of the national average and gets annual rainfall of 792 million metres compared to the national average of 1,250 million metres.


The Siddharamaiah Congress Government caught in a cleft stick with hardly 46.7000 million cubic feet of water in all four Cauvery basin reservoirs and angry farmers in his backyard, has now turned to Prime Minister Modi to resolve the impasse. But the BJP seeing this as political opportunity to score brownie points refuses to play ball. 


Cauvery is only the tip of the iceberg. Inter-State disputes over water-sharing have grown over the years and become major politically volatile issues. More so, after the bifurcation of some of the bigger States, leading to inter-State political and legal battles wherein no State wants to release water to another State. 


Worse, instead of finding a durable and sustainable solution to the problem, the Centre has taken recourse to short-cuts and quick-fix remedies which have compounded the mess. Bringing it to such a pass that the concerned States have started taking independent action in brazen violation of the Constitution.


Already, the Centre is embroiled in sorting out water-sharing disputes between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka over the Krishna waters, between Maharashtra and Karnataka over Godavari, between Goa and Karnataka over the Mandel-Mandovi Basin and between Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat over Narmada. And many more. Despite the Inter-State Waters Dispute Act 1956 having set up five tribunals to go into the matter.


Moreover, not a few Parties and leaders rake up water issues for their political survival, ignoring the consequence of their action. At other times, State interests override national interests. Many a time a State refuses to honour a tribunal award or it rescinds its agreement.


Telengana’s ruling TRS too has asked the Centre to relook into the River Krishna water-sharing award as the new State was being unfairly treated by Andhra, Maharashtra and Karnataka through which the river flows.


Look at the absurdity.  Water is managed by as many six Union Ministries---Water Resources, Rural Development, Agriculture, Urban Development, Food and Environment. Predictably, there is no effective coordination between these Ministries. The Agriculture and Water Resources Ministries work in opposite direction. Various rural development programmes are independent of others. Each Minister guard their fiefdom with zealousness. Modi or no Modi.


Importantly, the search for water and its management has become the most harrowing and frustrating task for 21st century India. According to forecasts by the Water Resources Ministry and presentations by the Agriculture Ministry, 11 river basins, including the Ganges, will be water deficit by 2025, threatening 900 million lives.


Moreover, the challenge gets graver by 2050 as demand is set to rise to 1,180 million cubic metres, 1.65 times the current levels even as fresh water resources dwindle. The symptoms are visible. The Government’s solution? Look skywards to ward off the crisis. Ignoring the reality that due to global warming even the glaciers are melting rapidly.


Raising a moot point: Where will India get its water in the coming years? Time has come for the Centre has to treat water as a national asset and go in for durable long term solutions. This needs national planning geared for local solutions. Else, the country will face a severe water crisis within the next two decades and have neither the cash to build new infrastructure nor the water needed by its growing economy and rising population.


Simultaneously, States need to maximize a fair distribution of water and minimize its use as a weapon of conflict. Concerned States must show magnanimity and adopt a give-and-take approach instead of rushing to courts. Rivers need to be seen as a composite whole that includes forests, environment, watersheds, seepage, evaporation, crop patterns, irrigation etc.


Tragically, in their squabbles our polity fails to realize that our rivers are being over-exploited and getting increasingly polluted. Thanks to being used as dumping grounds for industrial waste and garbage. The Ganga and Yamuna are two cases in point.


Think. We are spending over Rs 10,000 crores on cleaning the Ganga and another over Rs 9000 crores on accelerated rural water schemes. Yet wells are dry and women continue to trek long distances for water.


As it stands, the per capita water availability has reduced alarmingly. If in 1951 it was 5,177 cubic metre, 2209 cubic metre in 1991, 1820 cubic metre in 2001 today it is 1,582 cubic metres and rapidly dropping. Also, the annual extraction of groundwater is the highest world-wide wherein the unsustainable over-extraction has lowered the water table to dangerous levels.


Today, realizing the gravity of the situation Modi has unveiled his dream project Ganga Rejuvenation and River Development as rivers are being over-exploited, increasingly polluted and used as dumping grounds for industrial waste and garbage. It now remains to be seen whether his proposals are implemented and, if so, how fast?


Perhaps he can take a leaf out of Ambedkar plan to encourage a permanent solution between States: ‘Water sharing equity’ through a Constitutional mechanism by allocating autonomous governance rights to the Centre to ensure water sharing equity was met even in distressed years.


In the ultimate analysis, our leaders need to pull up their socks and put an end to their reckless drift on a subject involving basic human requirement. Offering pies in the sky and indulging in zabaani jama khurch is no substitute for much-needed pragmatic competence. All eyes are now on the course the Cauvery water dispute will take.


Let us keep our fingers crossed that the waters are not muddied further and our leaders don’t leave us high and dry. Mere words will not quench India’s growing thirst! ---- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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