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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 22 New Delhi May 21, 2016

Better Water Management will Also Help in Resolution of Inter-State Water Conflicts

Monday 23 May 2016


Water disputes involving two or more States have frequently become a source of avoidable tensions in India. One recent instance is the conflict which has emerged once again over the construction of the Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal (SYL) between Punjab and Haryana. Matters appeared to be getting out of hand and could be temporarily brought to some control only after the intervention of the Supreme Court. This tendency of unilateral action and very sudden escalation of tensions seen in this instance should be avoided no matter what is the extent or nature of any grievance.

It is true that a situation of severe water shortage and the resulting stress exists in many parts of the country and in these conditions people genuinely feel very concerned about deprivation of water while politicians find it convenient to whip up emotions on such issues. However, a more dispassionate and fact-based analysis of the issue would reveal that water shortages in most areas are more frequently rooted in non-sustainable and over-extractive water management including cropping patterns not in keeping with basic water resource and spread of urbanisation, industries and mining without even keeping in mind the implications for the most basic resource of water. This has on the one hand led to the depletion and destruction of invaluable water sources and on the other hand resulted in very massive and unsustainable withdrawals of water.

Clearly foremost efforts should be made to promote better water management based on conservation of water, improvement and expansion of rainwater harvesting and water-shed based environment protection works, linking cropping patterns and rotations to local rainfall pattern and water availability and also linking any expansion of industries, mining, urban and tourism projects etc. to water avai-lability as well as their own water harvesting capabilities. The need for all this has increased further in these times of climate change.

This will greatly help to reduce water stress and hence the possibilities of escalation of tensions over water sharing will also be reduced. However, some possibilities of this will still remain and so it is important to re-emphasise that all such conflicts can and should be settled only by peaceful talks in a spirit of give and take. More specifically it needs to be made very clear that there is no room for unilateral action to cancel or breach any agreements that were reached earlier. There is room certainly to take up any issue relating to these which become clearer later, but the path is that of mutual discussions and the legal and constitutional processes only.

There is so much work to be done with mutual co-operation for protection of catchment areas of rivers and for reducing pollution. Should this not receive more attention?

New Delhi Bharat Dogra