In­dia’s real prob­lem

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIAL & COMMENTS -

OUR real prob­lem is pop­ula tion, I told an Amer­i­can No­bel Prize win­ner. He con­tra­dicted me and said: “Your prob­lem is go­ing to be wa­ter.” We were dis­cussing the or­deals that In­dia would face in the years to come. Our views did not tally even af­ter a long discussion. What has hap­pened at Latur, in a bet­ter off state like Ma­ha­rash­tra, has re­newed the Amer­i­can’s warn­ing. Sec­tion 144 had to be clamped down to en­sure that pots and pans were in an or­derly queue to re­ceive wa­ter from a tanker and it brought back my mem­ory to the warn­ing.

The Amer­i­can had also given me an op­ti­mistic side: There is an ocean of wa­ter un­der Ya­muna-Gangetic plan wait­ing to be tapped. I won­der if this is true. Had it been so, the govern­ment would have done a sci­en­tific study by this time to es­ti­mate the col­lected wa­ter. I have not heard of any such plan so far. Ma­ha­rash­tra may be the worst hit state this year. There were some other states last year. The econ­omy of most states or, for that mat­ter, the coun­try is very much de­pen­dent on the mon­soon. We would con­tinue to scan sky for dark clouds. Wa­ter means so much to us for grow­ing crops and drink­ing pur­poses.

The Bhakra Dam in Pun­jab-Hi­machal Pradesh has con­verted the en­tire area, in­clud­ing Haryana, into In­dia’s gra­nary. In­dia’s first Prime Min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru hailed the Bhakra Dam as a tem­ple. He said at that time that In­dia’s tra­di­tional temples, mean­ing the dams and in­dus­trial projects, would be there but new temples have to be built for our eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. This Bhakra Dam alone can feed the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try. How­ever, it is not nec­es­sary to build big dams which cre­ates prob­lem of re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing up­rooted peo­ple from their hearths and homes. Small, satel­lite dams can prob­a­bly serve the same pur­pose well, if not bet­ter.

This was the gen­e­sis of the ag­i­ta­tion led by so­cial activist Medha Patkar over the height of the dam on River Nar­mada. She could not suc­ceed even though the govern­ment spon­sored re­port by Sai­fud­din Soz, then Wa­ter Re­sources Min­is­ter, said that the gain from the dam would be far less than the loss from the oust­ing of peo­ple who had been liv­ing in area for many years. How­ever, dam came to be built sev­eral years later when Gu­jarat gave an un­der­tak­ing that it would give land to com­pen­sate farm­ers and oth­ers who got up­rooted. It is an­other mat­ter that state govern­ment could not ful­fil its prom­ise be­cause there was not enough land to go around.

In­dia has seven ma­jor rivers—the Ganges, Brahma­pu­tra, In­dus, Nar­madha, Kr­ishna, Go­davari and Cau­veri—and nu­mer­ous trib­u­taries. New Delhi has set up Cen­tral Wa­ter and Power Com­mis­sion to have a sys­tem­atic plan to har­ness not only wa­ter but also gen­er­ate power. This has worked to a large ex­tent but in cer­tain parts of In­dia the fall­out has been a se­ri­ous of dis­putes which even af­ter decades re­main un­solved. This sit­u­a­tion has also led to es­trange­ment be­tween peo­ple of one state and the other. For ex­am­ple, the shar­ing of Cau­very wa­ter be­tween Kar­nataka and Tamil Nadu has been hang­ing fire for sev­eral years now. This is de­spite the Supreme Court’s ver­dict to re­lease a cer­tain cusecs of wa­ter to Tamil Nadu. Nearer home, Pun­jab has re­fused to re­lease wa­ter to Ra­jasthan. This goes con­trary to the stand New Delhi had taken dur­ing the In­dus Wa­ter Treaty. At that time, to claim more wa­ter from the In­dus In­dia ar­gued be­fore the World Bank, which was fund­ing the project, that it re­quired a large quan­tity of wa­ter to ir­ri­gate the sandy area of Ra­jasthan. It’s com­i­cal that Pun­jab has now re­fused to re­lease wa­ter to Ra­jasthan which got a favourable ver­dict from New Delhi. The World Bank then ac­cepted the ar­gu­ment that In­dia could not give Pakistan wa­ter be­cause it needed to re­trieve the land from sand dunes in Ra­jasthan. What ex­pla­na­tion do we have when Pun­jab goes back on its un­der­tak­ing to give wa­ter to Ra­jasthan?

It is con­ceded that wa­ter reach­ing Ra­jasthan would help grow nu­mer­ous crops but some land in Pun­jab and Haryana, al­ready un­der ir­ri­ga­tion, would have to be de­nied wa­ter. Such in­con­gruities are re­spon­si­ble for in­ter­state wa­ter dis­putes. Even af­ter 70 years of in­de­pen­dence, the dis­putes are far from set­tled. When the Congress ruled both at the Cen­tre and in the states, the prob­lems never as­sumed an ugly shape. The Bhar­tiya Janata Party (BJP), which then only com­manded a few Lok Sabha mem­bers, did not count much. It is a dif­fer­ent sce­nario to­day. Now that it has a ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment, the party sees to it that the states run by it get the max­i­mum ben­e­fit, rules or no rules. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi did de­clare from the ram­part of the Red Fort soon af­ter tak­ing over that In­dia was one and there would be no dis­crim­i­na­tion against states on the ba­sis of their af­fil­i­a­tion to dif­fer­ent par­ties. But this is not true on the ground. The Congress party, which is now in the op­po­si­tion, does not al­low even par­lia­ment to func­tion.

The Ra­jya Sabha stayed ad­journed for sev­eral ses­sions till the party it­self re­al­ized that dif­fer­ences would be bet­ter high­lighted if there was a discussion in the house. At present it seems that all po­lit­i­cal par­ties have come to an un­der­stand­ing that par­lia­ment should be al­lowed to func­tion. One hopes that all par­ties will stick to the con­sen­sus they have reached and dis­cuss the mat­ters in right earnest as it used to hap­pen. If that spirit is trans­lated into action, there would be no dis­tur­bance in par­lia­ment and the elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, who have ex­as­per­ated the public by their bois­ter­ous be­hav­iour, will be able to de­vote their at­ten­tion to what ails the coun­try. Then no dis­pute will stall a ses­sion, be it over wa­ter or other is­sues. —The writer is a vet­eran In­dian jour­nal­ist, syn­di­cated colum­nist, hu­man rights activist and au­thor.

Kuldip Na­yar Email:kuldip­na­yar09@gmail.com

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