Water bodies should be brought under single ambit
Rivers have always been an agenda that has seen itself on the top of the list of political propagandas since time immemorial. The utilization of water and the economics associated with it makes it a potential ground for dispute between various stake holders. Be it disputes and conflicts between two local tribes or between two different states or may be between two different nations – rivers and water bodies have always been among the frontrunner when it comes to popular conflicts and populist agendas.
Kaveri river dispute in India is not at all a new agenda. But what is actually surprising is the age of this dispute. Decades have passed, but this one dispute is still as fresh as its inception. The refusal to drop the claims of Kaveri water by Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has been major bumps on the road in a long standing stand-off that is yet to be resolved. The infighting revolves round the contention of Karnataka’s demand for more water, as they feel they are deprived of its due share, and Tamil Nadu’s counter claim that 3,00,000 acres depend directly on Kaveri’s water and millions of farmers will lose their livelihood if their allotted share is diverted. In a similar sign of locked horns, Punjab and Haryana are entangled in conflict of sharing the waters of Ravi and Beas. Both are agrarian states and depend on irrigation for their agricultural produce. The dispute commenced when Haryana was carved out of Punjab in November 1966 with four perennial rivers Ravi, Beas, Sutlej and Yamuna being crucial for sustaining their economy. In another case, Haryana is emboldened in a new conflict with Uttar Pradesh regarding share of Yamuna with the former accusing UP’s irrigation minister for being the prime cause of suffering of common men in Faridabad and Gurgaon. And the list goes on including Krishna water dispute, Narmada-Godavari dispute, Mahi river dispute, and Karmasana river water dispute.
Since, water bodies are interstate disputes; the center has no power to draw a line. The little role that it can play is to cast out an agreement amongst the stakeholders or constitute a tribunal. Sometimes it takes toll on the national stability as has been the case with Kaveri dispute. Therefore, to stop the states willing has to break the rules of the game, Center should come forward and take the mantle of river water usage on its own shoulder.
For the uninitiated, even during British rule, the water disputes were adjudicated by the central government as irrigation projects were under its supervision, which changed under the constitution of free India making it a state subject. However, under the request of state governments, a tribunal can be constituted that is composed of three sitting Supreme Court or High Court judges overseeing the dispute with right for a verdict under Voter Dispute Act, 1956.
The declaration of the rivers as national properties wills portent the union government to plan out national schemes to harness water prudently and distribute it judiciously. The welcome shift will also attract central assistance and funds for an overall development of the region. Not only it will allow the ministry to use and distribute water logically and judiciously but would also allow them to exploit the same for resources, energy and allied activities, at its best. A limited involvement of the state is acceptable as like Damodar Valley Corporation, which is a case in point in that direction and what it should be as the name of the game.