Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Shrinking Water Nationalise Inter-State Rivers

Updated: January 15, 2011 3:13 pm

Water is a natural resource. No man, no nation makes it. It falls as rain from skies and flows down as brooks, rivulets ad rivers to join the seas, oceans and in some fortunate lands, into lakes(eg. Baikal in Russia). Some of the rain water seeps underground and gathers in layers. We draw it through bore-wells.

                Rivers follow the lay of the land, always flowing from higher to lower regions. They traverse all the lands to the sea. They recognise no boundaries of states and countries. Rivers like Danube and Bhine flow through the territories of several independent, sovereign nation states. No nation has exclusive claim on the water of the portion of the river, flowing in its territory. The states through which the river passes are called riparian states. They mutually agree how much of the river water can be used by each of them.

                Israel, the tiny desert state depends on the waters of the river Jordan. Jordan is fed by waters from Turkey, Syria, Jordan and a little from Israel. To starve Israel into water starvation, Turkey-Syria planned to build a dam across the river Banas, in their territory. Banas is a tributary to Jordan. Israel vowed to destroy any dam built on Banas anywhere as such dams would reduce the inflow of water into Jordan, the life-line for Israel. The Banas Dam project was abandoned.

                India shares rivers with Pakistan and Bangladesh; Nepal and China. China was reported to be planning a dam across Brahmaputra (Chinese call it, Tsan Po) in the Tibet region. Out north-eastern states like Assam would be starved of water. We protest. Although an international award settled what shares of the Punjab’s river waters India and Pakistan should utilise, disputes persist.

                Populations are growing. People need more and more water for drinking, for growing more food grains, for industrial processes like steel-making, thermal power generation and so on.

                Within India, almost every state has irrigation projects. Excepting the rivers that originate in the Western ghats and flow west, all our rivers—Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, Mahanandi, Godavari, Krishna Tungabhadra, Kaveri are inter-state rivers. In the South, Andhra and Tamil Nadu are lucky because the English rulers built anicuts over Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri as early as in the 19th century. None disputed them.

                After Independence, we carved our linguistic states and each state is planning and constructing since the last few decades, numerous medium and mammoth river dams. In the early 1950s itself, our great patriotic, national (not regionals) leaders in Delhi created the Central Water and Power Commission (CWPC). This is to regulate the construction of dams for irrigation and power generation on all India’s rivers. Overtime, the central government has become weaker and weaker degenerating to a coalition of even more than twenty parties—regional, casteist and proprietary. A new concept of “coalition dharma” is held up. The effective outcome is that ministers in the central government are nominated by the proprietors of the regional parties; they are responsible, and accountable to the owners of their parties; not to the Prime Minister. They are replaced, or their portfolios changed not by the Prime Minister but by their masters in the states. The two all India parties Congress(I) and the Bharatiya Janata Parties are totally dependent for majority in the Lok Sabha on these regional parties, which switch sides, sometimes just before elections. The maintenance of integrity, security and defence of India is thus slipping from the union to the states. Different states are ruled by different combinations of the local and national parties. Even when two adjacent states like AP and Maharashtra are ruled by the same national party, the party High Command is not able to get the two Chief Ministers on so vital matter as sharing of the waters. Even courts are not able to impose decisions as all sort of appeals are made in the High Courts and even the Supreme Court. The result just the beginning is what we saw in AP-Maharashtra over the Babli dams on Godavari. One set of parties, led by their proprietors are invading the others’ territory, bashed up by police, put in jails and thrown out. The next step may well be the police forces of the two States thrown into the fray.

                Before things become worse and states forces and masses are hurled against one another for the protection/ destruction of the dams, we should take out all inter-state rivers from the jurisdiction of the states and declare them union property/resource. Required legislation must be passed including amendment of the Constitution to transform the CPWC as the authority that manages the interstate river water resources of the country.

                The authority shall be a statutory body. It will be financially resourced to construct dams and storage reservoirs on interstate rivers. It will also manage the release of waters into the interstate canals.

                The states will construct and manage the intra-state canals; which are supplied from the interstate canals. Districts will be in charge of construction operation and maintenance of intra-District canals.

                This set up will be analogous to the system of national highways, state highways and district and panchayat roads. Alternatively, the states may have their water management institutions. Israel has a national water grid. We may study how it works.

                Just as we should have the national authority for inter-state river waters, we must have one for electrical power. Centrally constructed and owned power generating stations, inter-state power grid. If the people of Bharat cannot share the vital resources like water and electricity, what for can we be one nation, one country and one people states-men, intellectuals and national parties must exert for national management of natural resources. Sooner we act, the more avoidable will be inter-state conflicts, confrontations and invasions between states as we witness between AP and Maharashtra (Tamil Nadu and Karnataka; Tamil Nadu and Kerala, AP and Karnataka).

By Dr TH Chowdary

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