Phew, as political India dissects Modi’s Cabinet reshuffle, our fellow countrymen let lose a volley of expletives and curses. Year after year, it’s the same sorry state of affairs. Take the on-going flood fury which has submerged Andhra Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Odisha, Karnataka and Bihar under the deluge of torrential rain. Appallingly, it has already claimed over 900 lives countrywide and counting.
Look at the paradox. India has 18 percent of the world's population but only 4 percent of usable water yet it wastes more water than it produces and spends billions of dollars on inane projects instead of focusing on water conservation. Perversely the Government gives incentives to produce and export thirsty crops such as rice and sugar cane.
Shockingly, 11 river basins including Ganga will be water deficit by 2025, threatening a billion lives with the challenge getting graver by 2050 as demand is set to grow to 1,180 million cubic metres, 1.65 times the current levels even as fresh water resources dwindle.
Scandalously, instead of finding a durable and sustainable solution the Centre has taken recourse to short-cuts and quick-fix remedies which have compounded the mess. Look at the ludicrousness. Water is managed by six Union Ministries---Water Resources, Rural Development, Agriculture, Urban Development, Food and Environment.
Predictably, there is no effective coordination between them. The Agriculture and Water Resources Ministries work in opposite direction.
Already, the Centre is embroiled in sorting out water-sharing disputes between Andhra and Karnataka over Krishna waters, Maharashtra and Karnataka over Godavari, Goa and Karnataka over Mandel-Mandovi Basin and between Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat over Narmada.
This is in spite of the Inter-State Waters Dispute Act setting up five tribunals to look into them.
Proponents of the rivers interlinking projects claim this would answer the country’s water misery as it would help conserve abundant monsoon water, store it in reservoirs, deliver it using rivers inter-linking projects to areas which are water scarce and facilitate navigation and fish farming to broaden income in rural areas.
Further, the surplus flood waters from Brahmaputra Mahanadi, Ganga and Godavari could be diverted through a network of canals and dams to water deficient rivers in south India. This would help boost agricultural production, increase the forest cover and bring down pollution.
Already, half-a-dozen intra-State river linking schemes, including Sujalam Sufalam, Sabarmati-Saraswati and Bhadar-Mahi links have started yielding positive results and mitigated the potable as well as irrigation water woes in several parched areas and drought-prone in north and central Gujarat and increased greenery and improved environment in the State. Inter-linking of rivers would also raise the irrigation potential to 160 million hectares for all types of crops by 2050, asserts another
True, inter-linking of rivers is not a panacea for all issues as water cannot be created, manufactured in a factory nor imported like oil. Therefore, management of available water resources becomes vital to cater to a growing population and changing life style. India could take a leaf from N America, Australia and Africa where inter- basin water transfer projects are implemented quite effectively.
The 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 and irrigation, among others.