India Flooded & Submerged

Will nda drown or play saviour?

By Poonam I Kaushish

Phew, as political India dissects Modi’s Cabinet reshuffle, our fellow countrymen let lose a volley of expletives and curses. Jahan baar wahaan durghatna. Year after year, it’s the same sorry state of affairs. Lord Indra’s fury encapsulates our water woes. Whoever said when it rains miseries, it pours, was dead on!
Take the on-going flood fury which has submerged Andhra, Assam, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Orissa, Karnataka and Bihar under the deluge of torrential rain. Appallingly, it has already claimed over 900 lives countrywide and counting. Standing mute testimony to a callous and selfish Administration bereft of cure and consolation. The aam aadmi, after all, translates into sterile statistics to be manipulated at will. All cursing the Government!
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.
Worse, the per capita water availability has reduced alarmingly from 5,177 cubic metre in 1951 to 2209 cubic metre in 1991, 1820 cubic metre in 2001 today it is 1,582 cubic metres and rapidly dropping. Also, the annual groundwater extraction is the highest world-wide wherein the unsustainable over-extraction has lowered water tables to dangerous levels and water storage available in 91 major reservoirs is 55% of total storage capacity ending August!
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 rise 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. Various rural development programmes are independent of others. Each Minister guards his fiefdom with zealousness. Modi or no Modi.
Clearly, the search for water and its management has become the most harrowing and frustrating task for 21st century India. Questionably, where will we get water in the coming years? Specially as water-sharing inter-State disputes have grown and become major politically volatile issues wherein no State wants to release water to another.
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. Despite, the Inter-State Waters Dispute Act setting up five tribunals to look into them.
Tragically, in their squabbles our polity fails to realize that our rivers are being over-exploited and increasingly polluted. Thanks to being used as dumping grounds for industrial waste and garbage. Even as thousands are being spent on cleaning rivers and on rural water schemes wells are dry and women continue to trek long distances for water. Moreover, the Government cannot ignore the reality of global warming wherein even glaciers are melting rapidly.
Happily, after years of foot-dragging India will begin work on an $87 billion plan to connect some big rivers to end floods and droughts. As States which were not flood prone are now witnessing calamity and those which flooded, the situation has deteriorated. All thanks to accumulation of silt in huge quantities in rivers.
Modi’s mammoth plan entails linking 60 rivers including Ganga which the Government hopes will cut farmers’ dependence on monsoon rains by bringing millions of hectares of cultivatable land under irrigation. It constitutes two main components connecting the Himalayan Rivers and the Peninsular Rivers. When completed, the project would consist of 30 river links and 3000 storage structures to transfer 174 billion cubic meters of water through a canal network of about 14900 km, flood control and generation of 34000 megawatt of power.
The project’s first phase involves a dam on the Ken river in north-central India and a 22-km canal connecting it to the shallow Betwa which would set the template for other proposed river inter-linking projects. Next are projects in the West linking the Par-Tapi with the Narmada and the Daman Ganga with the Pinjal.
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 hydrologist. Others contend India would be better off investing in water conservation and improved farm practices while environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts warn of ecological damage.
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.
In fact, Ambedkar envisioned a way to foster a permanent solution between States. He felt India should follow a path that insisted on ‘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
Either way, the 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.
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. It remains to be seen if our I-me-myself netas don’t leave us high and dry. Mere words will not quench India’s growing thirst! —— INFA