Water: Perspectives, Issues, Concerns
Publication Year: 2003
“This is an unusual, intriguing and insightful book…. [Water] sometimes reads like a detective yarn, where wily old Poirot attempts to unravel the complex chains of events, actions (inactions sometimes) that have led to the present failure of hydrological institution building in India…. This is a useful book, and indeed and important one.” - Progress in Development Studies
“This book will be of interest to the general reader as also to students and academics on the fields of water resources, hydrology, environmental studies and public administration. It will also attract the attention of policy makers and the media.” - CAB Abstracts
Water resources are an issue of ever increasing importance worldwide given rising populations and increasing environmental degradation. Water has also become a divisive issue, both within ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
Part I: Aspects of Federalism
- Chapter 1: Water and the Constitution of India
- Chapter 2: Inter-State Water Disputes Act 1956: Difficulties and Solutions
- Chapter 3: The Cauvery Dispute
- Chapter 4: The Story of the National Water Policy 1987
- Chapter 5: The National Water Policy 2002
- Chapter 6: The Idea of River Basin Planning
Part II: Water: Perceptions, Rights, Laws
- Chapter 7: Perceptions of Water
- Chapter 8: Water and Rights: Some Partial Perspectives
- Chapter 9: Groundwater Legislation
- Chapter 10: Towards a National Water Law?
Part III: Large Dams
- Chapter 11: The Large Dam Controversy
- Chapter 12: Large Dams, Trans-Boundary Waters, Conflicts
- Chapter 13: Large-Dam Projects: The Framework of Laws, Policies, Institutions and Procedures
- Chapter 14: The Narmada Judgement
- Chapter 15: World Commission on Dams and India: Analysis of a Relationship
- Chapter 16: Changing Views: A Personal Note
Part IV: The Language of Security
- Chapter 17: Scarce Natural Resources and the Language of Security
- Chapter 18: Water and Security in South Asia
Part V: Relations with Neighbours
- Chapter 19: Conflict-Resolution: Three River Treaties
- Chapter 20: The Fallacy of ‘Augmentation’
- Chapter IV: Water: Looking at the Future
- Chapter 21: Water: The Basics
- Chapter 22: Problems, Weaknesses, Failures
- Chapter 23: Objectives for the Future
- Chapter 24: Assessments of Future Water Requirements
- Chapter 25: The Dilemmas of ‘Water Resource Development’
- Chapter 26: Linking of Rivers: Vision or Mirage?
Copyright © Ramaswamy R. Iyer, 2003
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
First published in 2003 by
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Iyer, Ramaswamy R.
Water—perspectives, issues, concerns/Ramaswamy R. Iyer.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Water—supply—Government policy—India. 2. Water resources development—Government policy—India. 3. Water—Law and legislation—India. 4. Dams—India. I. Title.
ISBN: 0-7619-9759-8 (US-Hb)
Sage Production Team: Ankush Saikia, Mathew, P.J., Neeru Handa and Santosh Rawat
[Page 5]To Suhasini who saw the importance of water long before I did[Page 6]
List of Maps[Page 9]
3.1 The Cauvery Basin between pages 40–41 6.1 River Basins of India between pages 70–71 26.1 Proposed Peninsular Links between pages 310–11 and 26.2 Proposed Himalayan Links
This book has grown out of papers and articles on water-related issues and themes written by the author over the past 10 years and more. The attempt to weave them together into a structured whole entailed much work by way of deletion, addition, rewriting and reorganizing. It is for the reader to judge the result. This is neither a comprehensive survey on water nor a work of scholarship or research. It is a book of exposition, analysis and discussion, which covers a number of interconnected themes and issues (but, alas, also leaves out some). The discussions aim at lucidity and readability, without sacrificing depth and rigour of argument. They are addressed primarily to the interested and concerned general reader. However, the author hopes that scholars and students in various disciplines, policy makers, administrators, engineers, NGOs, activists and media persons will also find the discussions useful from their respective points of view. He hopes further that his readers, in whatever category they fall, will join him in his efforts at exploratory thinking, even if they eventually arrive at conclusions and recommendations different from his.
The book is organized in six sections. The first section is a cluster of chapters on matters arising from India's federalism: the appropriateness and adequacy of the provisions relating to water in the Constitution, and the need, if any, for amendments; the difficulties encountered in operating the constitutional/statutory mechanism for resolving inter-State river water disputes, and the solutions recommended/adopted; the nature of the current Cauvery waters dispute, why it has become so intractable and how it can be resolved; the need for a water policy at the national (i.e., federal) level, the story of the National Water Policy 1987 and a critique of the new National Water Policy adopted in 2002; and a discussion of the idea of ‘river basin planning’ in a federal context.
The second section relates to perceptions, perspectives and laws: different ways of perceiving water (commodity, commons, basic right, divinity); different perspectives (riparian, federalist, legal, civil society, human rights, economic and other) on water and rights, and the [Page 12]possibility of bringing these within an overarching framework; legislation relating to groundwater; and the question of whether there is a need for a national water law.
The third section relates to an important and vexatious controversy of our time, namely the one relating to large dams. An account of the controversy, the arguments on both sides, and the implications, is followed by a brief chapter on large dams and trans-boundary aspects; a longish chapter on the framework of laws, policies, institutions and procedures within which large-dam projects have been undertaken in India; a critique of the Supreme Court's judgement on the Narmada Bachao Andolan's writ petition on the Sardar Sarovar Project; an analysis of the dysfunctional relationship that developed between the Government of India and the World Commission on Dams; and a personal note on the evolution over the years in the author's thinking on the subject of large dams.
The fourth section consists of two chapters on the recent trend of discussing scarcities and conflicts relating to water resources in the language of security. It draws attention to the fallacies and dangers implicit in that language.
The next section entitled ‘Relations with Neighbours’ consists of a long chapter on conflict-resolution as illustrated by the three Treaties between India and her neighbours (the Indus Treaty with Pakistan, the Mahakali Treaty with Nepal and the Ganges Treaty with Bangladesh), followed by a short chapter on the question of a perceived shortage of waters in the Ganges and the idea of ‘augmenting’ the flows of that river.
The final section is concerned with planning for the future. It sets forth some basic information and concepts; provides a diagnosis of past weaknesses, problems and failures in relation to water resource planning and management; outlines a set of objectives for the future; attempts a review and critique of some recent studies of future water requirements; examines the dilemmas that confront what goes by the name of ‘water resource development’; makes a set of recommendations as to what we should do to minimize, if not eliminate, those dilemmas, and finally, discusses the proposal for the linking at the rivers.
New Delhi, December 2002.
Some Terms Used in This Book[Page 13]
The expositions and discussions in this book are largely in language accessible to the general reader, and abbreviations and acronyms are explained on the first occurrence. However, the following explanations may be found useful.
- Measures of water flows:
- Cusec = cubic feet per second.
- Cumec = cubic metres per second.
- One cumec = 35.315 cusec.
- Measures of Volumes:
- TMC (an old measure still in use in the southern states) = Thousand million cubic feet of water.
- One TMC = 28.32 million cubic metres = 22956.8 acre-feet.
- MAF = Million acre-feet (One acre-foot is one foot of water on an acre of land).
- One MAF = 1233.48 million cubic metres.
- One hectare-metre = 8.107 acre-feet.
- BCM = Billion cubic metres.
- Km3 = Cubic kilometers.
- One BCM = One km3
- Norm for water supply:
- LPCD = Litres per capita per day.
- MHA = Million hectares.
- One hectare = 2.47 acres.
- Explanations of Terms:
- Aquifer: ‘A water-bearing stratum of permeable rock or sand or gravel’ (Websters); ‘a body of permeable rock able to hold [Page 14]or transmit water’ (Concise Oxford, 10th edition). Loosely used, particularly in writings and discussions on groundwater, in the sense of an underground water source.
- Artesian well: A perpendicular well where water rises constantly to the surface under pressure, without pumping.
- Afflux bund: A low embankment for holding the ‘afflux’ (i.e., the waters that rise because of a barrage or other structure) and preventing it from spreading.
- Barrage: A structure across a river by which the water level is raised for the purpose of diversion. The difference between a barrage and a dam is that the former does not store waters significantly whereas the latter does.
- Basin: Area drained by a river and its tributaries. The basin of a river is the total area within which whatever water falls will, except for evaporation and seepage into the ground, eventually find its way to the river.
- Catchment: Area from which a river or reservoir draws its water. The terms ‘catchment’ and ‘basin’ are often used interchangeably.
- Embankment: ‘A raised structure to hold back water or to support a roadway’. In the context of floods in rivers, embankments are structures of earth or stone constructed to contain flood waters and prevent them from spreading, and to thus protect certain areas from inundation.
- Gigantism: A preference for big projects; the fascination that gigantic projects hold for some people. The term is in common use now as an extension of the biological or medical sense in which the term occurs in dictionaries.
- Make-up water: If the water supply authorities were to insist on the recycling and reuse of water by industry, a small allocation of water may have to be made periodically to make up for the water that will be lost in the process of recycling. This is referred to as ‘make-up water’.
- Pondage area: The area in which water collects behind a structure such as a barrage.
- Precipitation: Fall of rain, sleet, snow or hail.
- Riparian: Household, farm, settlement, village or larger political unit (including a nation), located alongside of a river (or abutting on to a river, or through which a river flows), [Page 15]and therefore having claims (referred to as ‘riparian rights’) on the river.
- Run-off: The surface-flow that results from rainfall (apart from whatever evaporates or seeps or percolates into the ground) and eventually joins the river. The river-flow is also sometimes referred to as ‘run-off’.
- Transpiration: Water vapour given off by plants.
- Watershed: Literally, the ridge or line of high land separating two areas so that rainwater falling on one side of the line drains on that side and cannot pass to the other side. By extension, the term is used to refer to the area bounded by the ridge. The term is generally used to denote a small local area bounded by low ridges, but a large area bounded by high hills, including a river basin, can also be described as a watershed.
- Water-harvesting: Capturing and conserving rainwater, or retarding run-off through various structures either for the direct use of stored waters or for recharging groundwater aquifers.
CBA Cost-Benefit Analysis. CGWB Central Groundwater Board. CGWA Central Groundwater Authority. CPR Common Pool Resource. CWC Central Water Commission. EIA Environmental Impact Assessment. ETO Exploratory Tubewells Organization. GSI Geological Survey of India. MEA Ministry of External Affairs. MoEF Ministry of Environment and Forests. MoWR Ministry of Water Resources. NCIWRDP National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development Plan. NCRWC National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution. NGO Non-Governmental Organization; also referred to as ‘voluntary agency’. [Page 16] NWP National Water Policy. NWRC National Water Resources Council. PIM Participatory Irrigation Management (refers to the transfer of the management of parts of major/ medium irrigation systems to farmers’ associations; also known as Irrigation Management Transfer or IMT). TAC Technical Advisory Committee, a popular name for the Committee (set up by the Planning Commission) that clears major/medium irrigation projects for inclusion in the five-year Plans. WCD World Commission on Dams. WUA Water Users' Association.
- In this book, ‘state’ with a small ‘s’ is the abstract noun, i.e., the political-science concept, and ‘State’ with a capital ‘S’ refers to a State in our federal structure.
Permissions received from diverse sources for the use of material earlier published or contributed by me in various contexts are gratefully acknowledged. A list of the papers and articles from which material has been drawn (in varying degrees, ranging from indirect/negligible to direct/extensive) is given in Appendix I at the end of the book.
Over the years, my thinking about issues relating to water has been helped and influenced by exchanges, discussions and collaborative work with friends, colleagues and associates in many different contexts and forums. They have included government officials past and present, academics, World Bank officials, NGO leaders, prominent social workers, activists and campaigners, young researchers and others. To all of them, too numerous to list in full here, my thanks. Without being invidious, I must mention some with whom I have worked more closely than with others: R. Rangachari, B.G. Verghese, A. Vaidyanathan, V.B. Eswaran, Shekhar Singh, G.N. Kathpalia, L.C. Jain, John Briscoe, S. Parasuraman, Ajaya Dixit, Dipak Gyawali, Himanshu Thakkar and Radhika Gupta. I have also benefited greatly from exchanges with the late Dr Anil Agarwal, Medha Patkar, Shripad Dharmadhikari, Vandana Shiva, Anna Hazare, Rajendra Singh, Anupam Mishra and the late Vilasrao Salunke, as also Dr M.P. Vasimalai and Prof. C.R. Shanmugam of the Dhan Foundation.
I am very grateful to Dr Ajit Mozoomdar who took the trouble of reading and commenting on the entire text, and to Usha Ramanathan who performed a similar service in relation to a part of the text. The responsibility for any errors or deficiencies that remain is entirely mine.
Finally, I must express my gratitude to Sage Publications, and in particular to Omita Goyal and Ankush Saikia, for their understanding and helpfulness.
December 2002[Page 18]
Select References and Bibliography[Page 319]1984), The Ganges Waters Dispute, University Press Ltd., Dhaka.(AdhikaryK.B., Q.K.Ahmad, S.K.Malla, B.B.Pradhan, KhalilurRahman, R.Rangachari, K.B. SajjadurRasheed, B.G.Verghese, eds. (2000), Cooperation on the Eastern Himalayan Rivers: Opportunities and Challenges, Konark Publishers, New Delhi, under the auspices of Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad, Dhaka, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and Institute for Integrated Development Studies, Kathmandu.AhmadQ.K., Asit K.Biswas, R.Rangachari, M.M.Sainju, eds. 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(1999), Participatory Watershed Development: Challenges for the 21st Century, Oxford University Press.Gaur, Vinod K., ed., (1993), Earthquake Hazard and Large Dams in the Himalayas, INTACH, New Delhi.1996), ‘Basic Water Requirments for Human Activities: Meeting Basic Needs’, Water International21 (1996), International Water Resources Association.: (1998), ‘The Human Right to Water’, Water Policy I (1998), Elsevier Science Ltd. 1999.([Page 321]1984), The Social and Environmental Impacts of Large Dams, Vol. 1 & 2, Wadebridge Ecological Centre, Cornwall.and (Government of India:‘National Water Policy’, Ministry of Water Resources, 1987.‘Report of the Commission on Centre-State Relations (Sarkaria Commission)’, Government of India Press, Nasik, 1987–88.‘Organizational and Procedural Change Requirements in the Irrigation Sector’, Central Water Commission, 1992.‘Reassessment of Water Resources Potential of India’, Central Water Commission, 1993.‘Guidelines for Watershed Development’, Ministry of Rural Areas and Employment, 1994.‘Report of the Five Member Group on Various Issues Relating to the Sardar Sarovar Project’, Ministry of Water Resources, 1994.‘Further Report of the FMG on Certain Issues Relating to the Sardar Sarovar Project’, 1995 (unpublished).‘Report of the Expert Committee on the Environmental and Rehabilitation Aspects of the Tehri Hydro-Electric Project’, Ministry of Power, New Delhi, 1997 (unpublished).‘Report of the Working Group on Participatory Irrigation Management for the Ninth Plan’, Ministry of Water Resources, New Delhi, 1997.‘Report of the Working Group on Perspective of Water Requirements’ (National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development Plan), Government of India, Ministry of Water Resources, New Delhi, September 1999.‘Integrated Water Resources Development—A Plan for Action: the Report of the National Commission on Integrated Water Resources Development Plan’, Ministry of Water Resources, September 1999.‘Reply to the World Commission on Dams’, letter No. 2/WCD/2001/DT (PR) Vol. III dated 1-2-2001 addressed to the Secretary General of the WCD (see WCD's Website http://www.dams.org).‘Comments on the Internet on WCD's Report’, (see http://genepi.louisjean.com/cigb/Inde.htm).‘National Water Policy 2002’, Ministry of Water Resources, New Delhi, 2002.Government of India, Tribunals’ Awards:Krishna Waters Dispute Tribunal, May 1976.*Narmada Waters Dispute Tribunal, December 1979.Godavari Waters Dispute Tribunal, July 1980.*(*Date of notification of final awards in the Government of India Gazette).Ravi-Beas Waters Dispute Tribunal-Report 1986 (not yet notified; further reference made to the tribunal).[Page 322]Cauvery Waters Dispute Tribunal-Interim Order 1991 notified (proceedings in progress).Government of India, Treaties:The Indus Waters Treaty 1960.The Mahakali Treaty 1996.The Ganges Water Sharing Treaty 1996.1993), The Cauvery River Dispute: Towards Conciliation, Frontline Publications, Madras.(1973), Indus Waters Treaty, Allied Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi.(2001), ‘How Not To Do A South Asian Treaty’, Himal, South Asian Magazine, Kathmandu, April 2001.and (2001), Water in Nepal, Himal Books, Kathmandu.(2000), ‘Watershed Development in India: Recent Experiences and Emerging Issues’, Economic and Political Weekly, Bombay, 4 November 2000.(Himal, South Asian Magazine, Kathmandu, Nepal: Fantastic Dams (special issue), Vol. 11, Number 3, 1998.Indian National Academy of Engineering (1990), Water Management: Perspectives, Problems and Policy Issues, New Delhi, 1990.Indian Water Resources Society: ‘1997: River Basin Management: Issues and Options’, New Delhi.‘1998: Five Decades of Water Resources Development in India’, New Delhi.International Conference on Water and Environment, Dublin Statement, Dublin1992.International Law Association (1966), ‘Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers’, International Law Association, London.See Appendix I.2001), ‘Dams Versus Drinking Water: Exploring the Narmada Judgement’, Parisar, Pune, 2001.(1993), Ecology and Human Rights, INTACH, 1993.(‘Imagining Rivers’, Economic and Political Weekly, Bombay, 1 July 2000.:‘Rebirth of a River’, Economic and Political Weekly, Bombay, 14 April 2001.1998), Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams, Orient Longman (India).(‘WCD Report: A Framework for Underdevelopment?’The Hindu, 14 August, 2001.,1990), Barh se trast-Sinchai se past: Uttar Biharki Vyatha Katha’ (Hindi), Samata Publications, Patna.(‘Living with Floods: People's Perspective’, Economic and Political Weekly, 21 July 2001., [Page 323]MoenchMarcus, ElisabethCaspari and AjayaDixit, eds. (1999), Rethinking the Mosaic: Investigations into Local Water Management, Nepal Water Conservation Foundation, Kathmandu, and Institute for Social and Environmental Transition, Boulder, Colorado, USA, December 1999.National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (2002), Report, Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2002.‘World Commission on Dams: Biased?’, Economic and Political Weekly, 24 March 2001.,OIKOS and IIRR (2000), Social and Institutional Issues in Watershed Management in India, OIKOS India and International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, Y.C.James Yen Center, Silang, Cavite, The Philippines.1992), ‘From Poverty to Plenty: The Story of Ralegan Siddhi’, INTACH, New Delhi, 1992.and (‘WCD Report: Response to a Misreading’The Hindu, 11 September, 2001.,The Water Manifesto, Zed Books, London, and Books For Change, Bangalore, 2001.,Planning Commission:‘Report of the Committee on the Pricing of Irrigation Water’, New Delhi, 1992.‘Report of the Ninth Plan Working Group on Major/Medium Irrigation’, New Delhi.‘Internal Papers on “Externally Aided Projects” and “Rural Water Supply”’.‘Approach Paper to the Tenth Five Year Plan (2002–2007)’, September 2001.Presentation at WISCOMP Symposium on ‘Conflict-Resolution: Trends and Prospects’, New Delhi, 3–7 October 2001.,‘Some Disturbing Questions’, Seminar, 478, June 1999.,2000), ‘Large Dams: India's Experience, A Report to the World Commission on Dams’., , , , (1975), India's Water Wealth: Its Assessment, Uses and Projections, Orient Longman, New Delhi.(‘Electrical Part of the Sardar Sarovar Project’, Submission to the Five Member Group on the Sardar Sarovar Project, (Report of the FMG, Vol. II, Appendices, 1994).and ,1999), The Greater Common Good, India Book Distributors.(Seminar (a New Delhi journal) No. 478, June 1999, Issue on ‘Floods: A Symposium on Flood Control and Management’.1985, ‘Irrigation: Traditional versus Modern’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 20, No. 45, 46, 47, 1985.[Page 324]1991, Managing Common Property: Irrigation in India and the Philippines, Indo-Dutch Studies on Development Alternatives, Sage Publications, New Delhi.1993, User Friendly Irrigation Designs, Sage Publications, New Delhi and London.2001, ‘Report of the World Commission on Dams: Biased if Misread’, Economic and Political Weekly, Bombay, 12 May 2001.See also R. Rangachari, Nirmal Sengupta et al. above.1998), India's Dry Lands, Oxford University Press, Delhi.and others (2002), ‘Water Policy Blues’, The Hindu, 7 June 2002.(1994), ‘Inter-State Water Disputes: A Historical Review’, International Journal of Water Resources Development, Vol. 10, No. 2, Oxford, UK, 1994. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07900629408722621(1993), Groundwater Markets and Irrigation Development, Oxford University Press, Bombay.(1993), Water Management Traditions in India, PPST Foundation, Madras.and (2000), ‘Guidelines for Future of Dams’, The Hindu, 17 November 2000.(1998), ‘Development, Ecology and Women’ in Debating the Earth: The Environmental Politics Reader, eds. 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Pvt. Ltd., for Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, 1990.:1999,Second edition, with the sub-title From Vision to Reality in Himalaya-Ganga Development Cooperation.1994, Winning the Future, Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd.New Delhi.1993), Harnessing the Eastern Himalayan Rivers: Regional Cooperation in South Asia, Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd., for Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.and (Verghese, B.G., Ramaswamy R.Iyer, Q.K.Ahmad, S.K.Malla, and Pradhan, B.B., eds. (1994), Converting Water into Wealth, Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi (also published simultaneously at Dhaka and Kathmandu).1990), Managing India's Water Resources, INTACH, New Delhi.(WATER NEPAL, journal of water resources development, Kathmandu, Nepal, Vol. 6, No. 1, January-July 1998 (special issue on water resources development).Water Vision 2025 papers:Bangladesh Water Partnership, ‘Bangladesh Water Vision’, June 1999.India Water Partnership, ‘India Water Vision’, July 1999 (Published by India Water Partnership and Institute for Human Development, New Delhi, 2000).‘Nepal Water Vision’, June 1999.,Pakistan Water Partnership, ‘Pakistan Country Report-Vision for Water for the 21st Century’, 15 June 1999.‘Sri Lanka Water Vision’, prepared for the South Asia Regional Water Vision Workshop, 26–27 June 1999.World Bank:‘India: Irrigation Sector Review’, Vol. 1 and 2, July 1991.‘Water Resources Management—A World Bank Policy Paper’, 1993.‘India-Water Resources Management Sector Review’, March 1998.India Water Resources Management (set of six publications), The World Bank and Allied Publishers, in collaboration with GOI, Ministry of Water Resources, 1999.[Page 326]‘Round Table on Water Sector Strategy Review’, New Delhi, 11–12 May 2000, WB's Website http://www.worldbank.org Topics and Sectors-Environment-Water Resources Management-Water Resources Management-Water Resources Strategy-South Asia).‘Water Resources Sector Strategy Review Draft’, March 2002.World Commission on Dams, Report, Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making, Earthscan Publications Ltd., London and Sterling, VA, November 2000.World Bank and IUCN, ‘Large Dams: Learning from the Past, Looking at the Future’, July 1997.World Humanity Action Trust (WHAT), ‘Governance for a Sustainable Future, IV. 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Appendix I[Page 327]List of Articles and Papers by the Author which Have Been Used to Varying Degrees in This Book
(Note: Papers not significantly used or drawn upon have not been listed. Book reviews have also not been mentioned.)Papers/Chapters Contributed to Books Edited by others‘Dispute and Resolution: The Ganges Treaty’, in Indian Foreign Policy: Agenda for the 21st Century, Vol. 1 & 2, Foreign Service Institute, in association with Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 1997).‘Water Resources Planning: Changing Perspectives’ in Environmental Management: Indian Perspectives, eds. S.N.Chary and VinodVyasulu, MacmillanIndia, 2000.An essay on the large dam controversy in the section on ‘Indian Dams’ in History in Dispute, Vol. 7, Water and the Environment Since 1945: Global Perspectives, eds. CharMiller, MarkCioc, KateShowers, Detroit: St. James Press/Gale Publications, 2001.‘Three River Water Treaties’ in Conflict and Peacemaking, ed. P.Sahadevan, Lancer's Books, New Delhi, 2001.Papers/Monographs Brought out by Centre for Policy Research‘The Cauvery Dispute’, May 1996.‘Water Resource Planning: Changing Perspectives’, February 1999.‘Conflict Resolution: Three River Treaties’, June 1999.‘Water: Charting a Course for the Future’, September 2000.[Page 328]Articles Published in the Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai‘Large Dams: The Right Perspective’, 30 September 1989.‘Federalism and Water Resources’, 26 March 1994‘Scarce Natural Resources and the Language of Security’, 16 May 1998.‘Water Resource Planning: Changing Perspectives’, 12 December 1998.‘Conflict Resolution: Three River Treaties’, 12 June 1999.‘The Fallacy of Augmentation’, 14 August 1999.‘A Judgement of Grave Import’, 4 November 2000.‘Water: Charting a Course for the Future’, 31 March and 14 April 2001.‘World Commission on Dams and India: Analysis of a Relationship’, 23 June 2001.‘The New National Water Policy’, 4–10 May 2002.‘Was the Indus Waters Treaty in Trouble?’, 22 June 2002.‘Inter-State Water Disputes Act 1956: Difficulties and Solutions’, 13–19 July 2002.‘Linking of Rivers: Judicial Activism or Error?’, 16 November 2002.Other Articles/Papers‘Water Policy I—Towards Optimal Use’, The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 16 November 1993.‘Water Policy II—Not Much Headway’, The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 17 November 1993.‘Indian Federalism and Water Resources’, International Journal of Water Resources Development, Oxford, UK, Vol. 10(2), 1994.‘The Cauvery Dispute’, Liberal Times (Friedrich Naumann Stiftung), New Delhi, Vol. 4 No. 1, 1996.‘Towards the Resolution of the Ganga Waters Dispute’, Politics India, New Delhi, Vol. 1, No. 4, October 1996.‘India Must Bridge the Divide on Ganga Waters’, The Times of India, New Delhi, 10 December 1996.‘Ganga Waters Treaty: Give it a Fair Chance’, The Times of India, 15 July 1997.‘The Ganges Treaty in Operation’, The Daily Star, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 24 July 1997.[Page 329]‘The Indo-Bangladesh Ganga Waters Dispute’, South Asian Survey, Vol. 4, No. 1, January-June 1997, New Delhi, Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi.‘Inter-State River Water Disputes: Some Suggestions’, Mainstream, 5 June 1999.‘Water-Large and Small’, The Hindu Survey of the Environment 2000.‘Water and Security in South Asia’, paper prepared for a Project on Environment/Security Linkages, Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, Colombo, and presented at a Conference at Islamabad in May 2000. (An edited version of the paper is also being published in the book Environmental Dimensions of Human Security: Perspectives from South Asia, University Press of America, 2002.)‘Large Dam Projects: The Framework of Laws, Policies, Institutions and Procedures’, Paper prepared for the India country study for the World Commission on Dams, June 2000.‘Large Dams, Trans-Boundary Waters, Conflicts’, Paper prepared for the World Commission on Dams, June 2000.‘Sustainable River Basin Management: The Case of India’, Paper prepared for a Conference organized by Lanka International Forum for Sustainable Development, Sri Lanka Water Partnership, Munasinghe Institute for Development and the International Water Management Institute at Colombo on 17–19 July 2000.‘Water: Transforming Laws and Institutions’, The Asian Journal: Journal of Transport and Infrastructure, Vol. 7, No. 3, September 2000.‘Water: A Note Regarding Conflicts’, Paper prepared for Institute for Resource Management and Economic Development's (IRMED) International Conference on Socio-Economic, Institutional and Environmental Aspects of Sustainable Development of Water Resources, New Delhi, 27–30 November 2000.‘Water And Rights: Some Partial Perspectives’, Paper prepared for a Conference on Water Resources, Human Rights and Governance organized by Nepal Water Conservation Federation, Kathmandu, and Institute for Social and Environmental Transition, Boulder, Colorado, USA, at Kathmandu on 26 February-2 March 2001.‘Water-Related Conflicts: Factors, Aspects, Issues’, Paper presented at a Seminar on Conflict Prevention and Management in South Asia organized by the European Centre for Conflict Prevention, Utrecht, The Netherlands, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, and International Centre for Peace Initiatives, New Delhi, at New Delhi, 15–17 May 2001. (Being included in Mekenkamp, M.; P.van Tongeren; H.van de Veen, (eds.), Searching for Peace in Central and South Asia: An Overview of Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Activities, under publication by Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, London).[Page 330]‘Delay and drift on the Mahakali’, Himal, South Asian Magazine, Kathmandu, June 2001.‘Water: Commodity, Commons, Basic Right, Divinity’, paper prepared for an International Conference on ‘Globalization, Environment and People's Survival’ (September-October 2001), and brought out under the ‘Lok Swaraj Series’ by Navdanya and the Research Foundation on Science, Technology and Ecology, New Delhi.‘Groundwater Legislation’, Paper prepared for Workshop on Water Harvesting with Special Reference to Artificial Recharge, National Geo-Physical Research Institute, Hyderabad, 9–10 October 2001, on the occasion of the Annual General Meeting of the Geological Society of India.‘The Dilemmas of Water Resources Development’, Paper prepared for the Second Biennial Conference of the Indian Society for Ecological Economics, Bhopal, 19–21 December 2001.‘Review of Studies of India's Future Water Requirements’ and ‘Some Clarificatory Remarks on ‘Population and the Environment’, prepared in December 2001-January 2002 for the Wellcome Trust India/Population Project (London School of Economics), Wellcome grant no. 053660.‘Cauvery: Disturbing Developments’, The Hindu, 22 September 2002.‘The Cauvery Tangle: What is the Way Out?’, Frontline, Chennai, 27 September 2002.‘Disputes Over Sharing of Inter-State River Waters-Towards Cooperation and Conflict Resolution’, The Sunday Tribune, 6 October 2002.‘Rivers of Discard’, article on the Linking of rivers, The Times of India, 9 November 2002.‘A Cauvery Debate’, Frontline, 6 December 2002.‘Linking of Rivers: Vision or Mirage?’, Frontline, 20 December 2002.
Appendix II[Page 331]The Cauvery Dispute: A Debate at Bangalore
An informal discussion on the Cauvery dispute took place recently at Bangalore at my initiative. The group was a small non-official (largely professional) one. At the outset I referred to the recent developments, and stressed the need for a ‘civil society’ initiative to find a solution to the problem, as also to promote goodwill between the people of the two States. The discussions that followed covered many points. The present note aims at bringing those points to the notice of a wider audience. In the following paragraphs I set forth the points raised and comment on them. Needless to say, the comments reflect my views.
(1) The Supreme Court has no jurisdiction
(This point was made with reference to the recent and continuing proceedings in the Supreme Court.)
It is true that once a dispute on an inter-State river is referred to a Tribunal under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act 1956 (ISWD Act), the jurisdiction of the courts is barred. However, what has gone before the Supreme Court (SC) in this case is not the water dispute, which is still before the Tribunal, but the question of implementation of the Tribunal's Interim Order, and the related issue of compliance with the decisions of the Cauvery River Authority and with the directions of the Supreme Court itself. These are entirely within the SC's jurisdiction. It is evident that the SC had no doubts in this regard.
(2) Adjudication is not the best means of settling such disputes. Mutual agreement through negotiations is the best course. Conciliation and arbitration should also have been tried
Certainly, a negotiated settlement is the best course, but when that fails (as it did in the present case—20 years of talks produced no result), adjudication becomes necessary as a last-resort. This is what Article 262 [Page 332]and the ISWD Act provide for. These are very useful and necessary last-resort provisions, and important components of our federalism. (Some perceived deficiencies in the ISWD Act have also recently been sought to be set right through amendments.) It is not right to be negative and dismissive towards these provisions. There is no reason why adjudication should necessarily be divisive; it can be approached in a constructive, cooperative spirit.
The question of arbitration under the River Boards Act 1956 (RSA) will be discussed later, but in general, it may be noted that once a dispute is referred to arbitration, thereafter there is not much difference between that course and adjudication; each side argues its case strongly, but finally the arbitrators’ or adjudicator's award has to be accepted.
Given goodwill and reasonableness on both sides, any route—negotiations, conciliation, arbitration, adjudication—can be made to work; in the absence of goodwill and reasonableness, nothing will work. Incidentally, the recourse to adjudication does not rule out continuing negotiations or non-official efforts at conciliation. If through these means an agreement can be reached, that can be reported to the Tribunal and converted into an Award. That was what happened in the Godavari case: the Godavari Tribunal's Award is nothing but an agreement arrived at by the concerned States.
(3) The entire action under the ISWD Act in this case is illegal. There is another Act, namely the RBA. That is a far more comprehensive Act with greater potential for constructive management. It provides for arbitration in the event of disputes. That was the route that should have been followed. The ISWD Act itself rules out adjudication under it if arbitration under the RBA is possible. A writ petition challenging the recourse to the ISWD Act in this case has been filed and is pending.
We must await the outcome of the writ petition which is said to be pending, but evidently it has not prevented adjudication from proceeding and the Karnataka Government from participating in the proceedings. After 12 years of participation, it seems doubtful whether they will or can now argue that the entire proceedings were illegal.
Apart from that, the argument outlined above is based on a misunderstanding of the relationship between the two Acts. The RBA is primarily concerned with the planning and management of inter-State rivers and river valleys and not with conflict-resolution, though it does provide for the arbitration of disputes (arising in the context of the [Page 333]functioning of the Board). That Act was passed under Entry 56 in the Union List which gives the Central Government a role in relation to inter-State rivers to the extent that Parliament legislates for it. The ISWD Act was enacted under an entirely different constitutional provision, namely Article 262 which deals specifically with inter-State river water disputes and enables Parliament to pass legislation for their adjudication. The ISWD Act certainly rules out recourse to it if the route of arbitration under the RBA is available, but a prerequisite for that is the existence of a River Board. There is no Cauvery River Board.
(Incidentally, under the RBA the arbitrators are appointed by the Board, and not nominated by the parties to the dispute; and the arbitrators will be judges assisted by technical assessors. In other words, arbitration under the RBA will be exactly similar to adjudication under the ISWD Act!)
No Board has been set up under the RBA because of resistance by the States. It is a well-known fact, frequently commented upon in related literature, that the RBA has been inoperative and virtually a dead letter. When the National Water Policy 1987 was being drafted in 1985–86, the question of river basin organizations came up, but the idea was stoutly resisted by several Chief Ministers, including the then Chief Minister of Karnataka, Ramakrishna Hegde. More recently (in 1997), when the Central Government circulated a draft notification for the establishment of a Cauvery river authority in the form of a standing professional and empowered body, it was rejected by Karnataka, and eventually a purely political committee called the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) with the Prime Minister as Chairman and the Chief Ministers as Members was set up with the limited function of monitoring the implementation of the Interim Order of the Tribunal and resolving disputes in that context.
Against that background, it is clear that the alternative of arbitration via the RBA was not available in this case because there was no Cauvery River Board. The route of adjudication under Article 262 and the ISWD Act was very much available and was taken after prolonged talks proved fruitless. (In fact, even after Tamil Nadu asked for a Tribunal in 1986 the Centre continued to explore the possibility of a negotiated settlement for four more years; it was only under the specific direction of the SC that the Tribunal was set up in June 1990. It can hardly be argued that the SC was ordering an illegal course of action!) It seems unrealistic to suggest at this stage, when the final Order of the Tribunal seems likely [Page 334]to be received within a matter of months, that the work of 12 years should be abandoned and an alternative route embarked upon. That would entail first the establishment of a Cauvery River Board (assuming that Karnataka would agree to this, which is very doubtful), and then the reference of the dispute to it for arbitration. Such a suggestion cannot be seriously entertained.
It was argued that this should be the course of action in future cases. By all means let us try to bring the moribund RBA back to life and set up a number of River Boards, if that is politically feasible. However, that course of action is not available at this stage as a means of resolving the Cauvery dispute.
(4) The 1991 Interim Order of the Tribunal is patently unimplementable. How can an unvarying quantum of 205 TMC be released year after year without regard to changing circumstances?
The figure of 205 TMC was arrived at by the Tribunal by taking the average of 10 years, after eliminating the best and worst years. It must have seemed a fairly safe figure, considering that the historical use of Cauvery waters by Tamil Nadu, as determined by the Central Fact-Finding Committee of 1972–73, was much higher. Tamil Nadu has therefore to manage with less water than they were using in the past. That is as it should be. Besides, there has been no difficulty in recent years when the rains were good. The quantum of 205 TMC presents no problems except when the rains fail. The weakness of the Interim Order was that it did not provide a formula for distress-sharing in lean years. When Karnataka went back to the Tribunal in 1992 saying that the IO was unimplementable, the Tribunal reaffirmed its order, but said that in a difficult year a pro rata adjustment could be made. That was merely an observation. No formula was laid down. That was the source of all the subsequent trouble. The Tribunal must since then have taken note of the difficulties actually experienced, and the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka Governments must also have argued these points in their presentations to the Tribunal. It seems certain that the final order will contain: (i) a proper water-sharing pattern taking all the points urged by the parties to the dispute, and (ii) suitable provisions to cover the contingency of low-flow years.
(5) In a year of distress (like the current year), when there is not enough water even for its own farmers’ needs how can Karnataka spare water for Tamil[Page 335]Nadu? This will be totally unacceptable to Karnataka farmers. These ground realities must be recognized. As the water levels in the reservoirs fall, tempers will rise further. The relationship between Kannadigas and Tamils will come under further strain. The Tribunal, the CRA, and the SC do not recognize these realities
To what extent should the Karnataka Government be guided by what is acceptable to the farmers in Mysore/Mandya? The latter have (either on their own or under the advice of some leaders) taken an extreme position. They assert their exclusive rights over Cauvery waters, and have said that ‘not a drop’ should be released to Tamil Nadu. They hold their position with passion and mount violent agitations. They are asking the State Government to ignore the decisions of the Tribunal, the CRA, and the Supreme Court, and have virtually declared that their own decisions will override the decisions of all those authorities. (Even after the SC's severe strictures and the Karnataka Government's apology, the farmers are continuing their strident position and their agitations.) Are these the ‘ground realities’ that we must accept? The Karnataka farmers in the Cauvery basin have been profoundly misguided. It is the responsibility of the Karnataka Government and politicians (of all parties) to educate them on the right approach. Instead, they are being guided by the sentiments of the farmers. This is very unfortunate and fraught with serious consequences. (It is also unfortunate that the intelligentsia have been silent.) In Tamil Nadu, film stars have jumped into the fray and are holding meetings and going on fasts; that is equally deplorable.
Even in years of poor rainfall and low flows the sharing principle remains valid. There has to be a sharing of the distress. There is no question of anybody ‘giving’ or ‘sparing’ water for anyone else. No one—not Kerala or Karnataka or Tamil Nadu or Pondicherry—‘owns’ Cauvery waters: all have rights of use. The shares will vary according to various criteria, but there is no hierarchy of rights. In the Ganga Treaty of 1996, India has recognized that Bangladesh as the lower riparian has rights over the Ganga waters; it has gone to the extent of undertaking to protect the flows arriving at Farakka, which is the sharing point. In situations of exceptionally low flows, the two Governments have to enter into consultations on an emergent basis, but the Treaty rights of Bangladesh are not extinguished. (That Treaty was signed on behalf of India by the then Prime Minister Deve Gowda.) Unfortunately, Karnataka has not been willing to recognize that Tamil Nadu has rights as a lower riparian. It has been talking about ‘giving’ or ‘sparing’ waters, implicitly assuming [Page 336]the primacy of its own rights as the upper riparian. It reserves the right to determine how much it needs and how much it is willing to release. This is nothing but the Harmon Doctrine which commands no acceptance; neither does the doctrine of prior appropriation or prescriptive rights adopted by Tamil Nadu. What finds general acceptance, and has been adopted by successive tribunals, is the principle of equitable sharing for beneficial uses. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have to recognize each other's rights, needs and problems: that is the only way in which this dispute can be resolved.
Purely as a water-sharing dispute this is not a particularly difficult one. (The difficulty in this case lies not in water but in politics.) Some kind of a sharing pattern was attempted by the Central Government in the 1970s and we can proceed further from there. Out of the available flows of 671 TMC (as determined by the Fact-Finding Committee in 1972–73), some 40 TMC or so have to be earmarked for Kerala and around 10 TMC for Pondicherry (these are purely hypothetical figures), leaving around 621 TMC for being shared between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. This can be split as 416/205 or 400/221 or 380/241 or 350/271 (or some such division) depending on the factors and criteria adopted. The range within which a decision has to be taken is fairly narrow. The Tribunal will doubtless take all the relevant factors and all the arguments put forward by the four States into account and arrive at its final order, and will surely set forth its reasoning at great length; and it will also surely lay down the manner of sharing in the event of low flows.
(6) We do not expect a good report from the Tribunal because Karnataka has not argued its case properly before the Tribunal; many important aspects and issues have not figured in the proceedings
It is very difficult to believe that in 12 years of proceedings the officers, engineers and lawyers of Karnataka have failed to present the State's case fully, competently and comprehensively. If indeed this is the case, the State must accept the consequences; but prima facie this seems very unlikely. Assuming that there are some points and arguments that have been overlooked, there are two remedies. First, even at this late stage, the possibility of making further submissions to the Tribunal can be explored. Secondly, when the Tribunal gives its Award, that is not the end of the story. Within three months, one or more of the States concerned or the Centre can (in terms of a provision in the ISWD Act) make a further reference to the Tribunal seeking clarifications or a [Page 337]supplementary report; even new points can be raised at that stage. Thus, if any of the four States involved in this dispute is dissatisfied with the final order of the Tribunal, it has an opportunity of saying so to the Tribunal. The Tribunal will then consider the points raised and give clarifications or a supplementary report. It can substantially modify or revise its final Order at that stage.
(7) Karnataka has a sense of grievance about the past. In the 1892 and 1924 Agreements the princely State of Mysore was at a disadvantage in relation to Madras Presidency which was part of British India
This is disputed by Tamil Nadu which argues that the British Government was fair and objective; that the negotiations leading to the 1924 Agreement were long and hard, and that the Agreement was welcomed by the then Diwan of Mysore. Be that as it may, it must be recognized that Karnataka does have a sense of grievance. However, that bit of history is no longer relevant. Assuming that Karnataka did have a grievance about the 1924 Agreement, and granting that in comparison with Tamil Nadu it was a late starter on irrigated agriculture, that initial disadvantage has since been remedied to a large extent. As the upper riparian it has physical control over the waters, and has proceeded to build several dams and reservoirs on the different rivers in the Cauvery system, reducing flows into Tamil Nadu. There is no ground now for Karnataka to nurse a sense of grievance; today, Tamil Nadu as the lower riparian suffering reduced flows is the complainant.
(8) It is hardly fair that Tamil Nadu should insist on taking three crops when Karnataka is not able to take even one. And Tamil Nadu wants to grow paddy, paddy, paddy
Tamil Nadu has its answers to these points, but we need not go into them here. Both States are growing water-intensive crops (paddy in Tamil Nadu, sugarcane in Mandya). Both have to learn to use water better, and if that calls for changes in cropping patterns, they should go in for such changes. If water availability is restricted, as it is bound to be under any allocation of a limited quantum, farmers in both States will adjust themselves to that situation over a period of time. The Cauvery Delta area in Tamil Nadu is already getting much less water than it used to in the past, and the process of adjustment has begun. Over a period of time, farmers in Thanjavur may learn to grow paddy with less water or partially shift to other crops. As to how much should be allocated to [Page 338]each State, each must have presented and documented its claims to Cauvery waters before the Tribunal, and also commented on profligate or improper use by the other. The Tribunal can be trusted to take all these arguments into account in its final Order.
(9) Tamil Nadu has groundwater; it also has the benefit of the north-east monsoon
What this means is that Tamil Nadu has other sources of water besides the Cauvery. That point must have been made by Karnataka before the Tribunal, and Tamil Nadu must have answered it. Without going into the arguments of the two States let us note that it would not be right to say to Tamil Nadu: ‘You have groundwater and the north-east monsoon, so leave Cauvery alone.’ The Cauvery is an inter-State river and all the States in the basin are entitled to make reasonable use of its waters. The Tribunal will surely take the totality of circumstances into account in making its allocations.
My final plea
At the conclusion of the meeting I made the following plea, which I would now like to repeat to a larger public in both the States:
- Let us not undermine the work of 12 years by questioning the legality of the Tribunal proceedings or the soundness of adjudication. These arguments are entirely wrong, but they have the potential of causing confusion and delay.
- The RBA has been a dead letter. By all means try and revive it for the future, but it cannot be invoked in the present case.
- Let us not waste too much time on the Interim Order. That Order will soon be replaced by the Final Order of the Tribunal.
- Even at this stage, explore the possibility of bringing about a negotiated agreement, which can be reported to the Tribunal and converted into an Award. Non-official initiatives in this regard will be very useful.
- If need be, present supplementary material to the Tribunal if that is possible at this stage.
- The Final Order is bound to be a fair, objective, carefully considered and fully argued Order. Wait for it and consider it with an open mind. If there are any doubts or dissatisfactions with it, [Page 339]a further reference can be made to the Tribunal within three months, and a supplementary report asked for.
- Mount a campaign to dispel the miasma of suspicion, anger and misunderstanding that clouds public opinion in both States. Educate the general public—and in particular the farmers in the Cauvery basin—on the facts, the issues involved and the applicable principles.
- More than anything else, try and prevent the further deterioration of the relations between the peoples of the two States. Build bridges, promote goodwill and understanding. Avoid the tragedy of a deep divide.
Appendix III[Page 340]Some Notes on a Partial Study of Local Water-Harvesting and Watershed Development Initiatives
Note: During the period November 2000-October 2001, I was engaged (at Winrock International India, with a grant from the Ford Foundation) in a study of local, community-based water-harvesting and watershed development initiatives. As the first part of that two-year study, a preliminary round of field-visits was undertaken with a view to obtaining a better understanding of the nature of such initiatives and the operative factors and forces, as the preparation for a deeper and more intensive study in the second part. For personal reasons (mainly health-related) I was obliged to leave the project in October 2001. The project is continuing at Winrock and will in due course result in a set of findings and perhaps a book. Being no longer associated with the study, I do not know the direction and thrust of the second-phase of work and cannot guess what the findings will be. I await the outcome with great interest. However, the ‘preliminary’ round of field-visits in the first half of 2001 did provide some insights and raised some issues for consideration. In August-September 2001 I wrote a ‘Discussion Paper’ with the assistance of Radhika Gupta who was working with me on the project. That paper was discussed with a select group of experts at a meeting organized by Winrock on 27 September 2001, and the discussions at that meeting must have been of considerable assistance to Winrock in designing the second-phase study. As I found the preliminary round very interesting, I thought I should share my observations with the readers of this book. Extracts from the discussion paper of September 2001 are reproduced below.[Page 341]Extracts from the Discussion Paper Prepared for Winrock International India in September 2001Extract 1: Questions Formulated
What is the potential and significance of these activities as contributors of water? Are they bound to remain small, minor and supplementary, or are they in fact capable of becoming significant, even substantial, components of national water policy and planning? That split itself into three groups of sub-questions: (i) What has been the extent of increase in local water availability through these means in different places, and what have been the economic and social consequences of such increases? Do they have any offsetting negative consequences? (ii) What have been the operative factors? How do such initiatives start and how do they proceed to success or failure? What forces and factors help or hinder them? How sustainable are such developments over time? (iii) How replicable are such approaches in different physical areas and different economic, social, cultural, political and institutional environments and circumstances?Extract 2: Places Visited
[Page 344][Page 345]Extract 3: What We Saw and Heard
- Water-Related Points
- In all the areas that we visited, water harvesting or watershed development had been driven by a scarcity of water: either a constant state of water scarcity as in arid or drought-prone areas, or seasonal scarcity or unreliability even in areas where rainfall is moderate to heavy. (Periodical water scarcity can be experienced even in areas of very heavy rainfall, as for instance in Cherrapunji, known as the wettest place on Earth with an annual rainfall of over 11,000 millimetres (mm), but suffering from a severe seasonal water shortage because of the rapid run-off. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has suggested that water harvesting could help even Cherrapunji.)
- A modicum of precipitation might seem a pre-condition for successful rainwater harvesting, but evidently the limit is fairly low. Watershed development and water harvesting have been successfully undertaken even in areas where the average rainfall is lower than 400 mm a year (e.g., Alwar district in Rajasthan, Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh). It would appear that (purely from the point of view of a threshold of rainfall, and ignoring other relevant aspects) this activity is feasible in other parts of the country where the rainfall is of the order of around 300 mm or higher. The actual extent of water harvested will of course vary according to the soil conditions and topography of each area.
- In some cases, external sources of water are complementing water made available through water harvesting and watershed development. In Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra for instance, the water drawn from the Kukdi canal must be taken into account.
- In some areas, traditions of water harvesting or tank irrigation systems have gone into relative decline and people have resorted to other measures such as the increased mining of groundwater through tubewells (e.g., in Tamil Nadu). In such cases, it may not be easy to revert to the old systems, particularly where (as in the areas where the Dhan Foundation is working) there have been not merely the neglect and decline of tank systems, but also changing demographic and land-use patterns. However, the effort needs to be made, and is being made.[Page 346]
- While it is clear that more water has become available for use in the places visited, it is difficult to quantify this. Data on the availability of water before and after the intervention is generally not available.
- What was strikingly noticeable in all the cases was an increase in agricultural production and an enhancement in livelihoods (including milk production and holdings of livestock). Even in arid areas, water-harvesting has made possible cultivation where there was none before, if only to meet subsistence needs. In some areas (the Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS) area, for instance) greenery, agricultural activity and the continuing presence of water in the wells, though at low levels, could be observed even after three successive droughts.
- The incidence of benefits from water harvesting varies across groups, such as the landowners, the landless (usually working as wage labour), and the cattle owners (grazers). For the last two categories the benefits of watershed development are not always direct and assured, but they are real and can be significant. For the landowners, the main use of the increased availability of water is for irrigation. For wage labourers, the availability of work on the construction of structures within their area or village, or growth in farm-labour opportunities arising from increased agricultural activity, reduces the need to travel long distances in search of work. For those maintaining cattle or goats, rainwater harvesting in communal structures and increase in biomass from catchment-area treatment (to protect those structures from siltation) provide drinking water and fodder for livestock, leading to the increased production of milk for sale and growth in dairy development. This was clearly evident in Ralegan Siddhi and Hiwre Bazaar. Moreover, as watershed development (especially the ‘ridge-to-valley’ approach) often necessitates a ban on grazing in the catchment, an inducement or compensation has been provided in some cases in the form of permission for the sale of (saleable varieties of) grass, which increases in availability because of that protective measure. For instance, in Sukhomajri, the community has in the past benefited from the sale of bhabbar grass, the production of which was made [Page 347]possible through the work of watershed development (though the saleability of that grass has declined in recent years). Similar benefits could also be observed in the TBS areas in Rajasthan.
- To the extent that water harvesting through various structures (johads, earthen check dams, tanks in south India, etc.,) leads to the recharge of groundwater aquifers (which can be seen in the rising of water levels in wells, or the availability of water in wells even in times of drought), there is a direct correlation between water harvesting/watershed development and the availability of drinking water. (The availability of drinking water from the municipality, and the sources of that water, will of course need to be taken into account.)
- In the course of water harvesting and watershed development efforts many issues of equity and justice arise. With the exception of Sukhomajri and Dhamala (in Haryana), where the landless have equal rights to water, and are free to sell their share of it, and the ‘Paani Panchayat’ in Pune, which has adopted the principle of delinking land and water rights, it seemed clear that the landed stood to benefit most from local water augmentation. The landless, as mentioned earlier, do benefit, but indirectly, from the improvement of common property resources.
- Distortions and inequities in the incidence of the benefits of increased water availability arising from water harvesting and watershed development can result from the freedom of landowners to exploit the groundwater in their lands by virtue of the easement rights to such water that vest in them under the law as it stands at present. (In Maharashtra WOTR has been trying to get tubewells banned, but has met with little success in the absence of any legislation.)
(It could be argued that issues of water distribution and equity arise only after water has been generated, and that to judge any water-related intervention ab initio on the grounds of equity and justice would be premature. However, in the post-augmentation stage one must definitely confront this issue.)
- Leadership and Approaches
The places visited could be broadly grouped under three heads: (i) individual initiatives, (ii) governmental initiatives, and (iii) the programmes of NGOs. Inspirational leadership undoubtedly plays an [Page 348]important role in the first category. Anna Hazare's name is ineluctably linked with the story of Ralegan Siddhi, and the name of Rajendra Singh with the work of the TBS. It is clear that these two success stories can be attributed to the exemplary motivation and zeal that these leaders brought to social/community mobilization in their respective areas. In purely government-fostered initiatives such as those in Madhya Pradesh, community mobilization is more institutionalized and less dependent on the presence of an individual with leadership qualities in a village, though over time some sort of leadership seems to emerge naturally within any community. However, even in such cases, the presence of an enthusiastic, committed, energetic Collector or Com-missioner61 makes a vital difference. We came across an instance of this in Madhya Pradesh. Similarly, the evident success of the Hivre Bazaar story in Maharashtra is entirely due to the commitment, enthusiam and energy of the Sarpanch Popatrao Pawar. In Haryana, the late P.R. Mishra, formerly director of the Central Soil and Water Conservation Research and Training Institute, is widely acknowledged as having been the inspirational leader behind the Sukhomajri success story. (Even today, the senior officer concerned in that Institute and the present Principal Chief Conservator of Forests of the State are dedicated officials.) However, we also have other cases where no such ‘prime mover’ can be identified. These are interventions of the third kind: that of nongovernmental organizations. In the areas where the Dhan Foundation has worked, for instance, success is not dependent on one visionary local leader or an exceptional government official. Leadership seems to emerge gradually within the Tank Farmers’ Associations.
It may be useful to note here the differences in approach among the various instances mentioned above. Anna Hazare was inspired by Gandhi and Vivekananda and his earnest desire was to bring about a moral and social transformation; water was an important entry point and continues to engage his attention, but that interest is subsumed under his larger concerns. Sarpanch Popatrao Pawar of Hiwre Bazaar was doubtless inspired by Anna Hazare, but his approach seems to be more managerial (an ability to make the official machinery work and [Page 349]to make people listen to him) than moral. However, as an elected leader of his village, his own personal motivation has charged the work of watershed development, and he too is driven by a pride in his village and a desire to enhance not merely its economic status but also its reputation and social standing. On the other hand, the leadership provided by Father Crispino Lobo in the areas where WOTR has been working seems more impersonal in nature, guided by the objectives of the organization. The community's relationship with him would probably be very different from that of Ralegan Siddhi with Anna Hazare. He also does not feel that it is necessary to build up and depend on strong local leadership. He believes in providing help to those villages which wish to help themselves. However, it would be wrong to minimize his deep commitment to the cause and his concern for human need, equity, and good resource management.
- ‘Replication’ or Spread Effect
An effort on the part of the Maharashtra Government to replicate the Ralegan Siddhi model in 300 other villages through a committee under Anna Hazare's chairmanship appears to have failed. On the other hand, Hivre Bazaar is in a sense a replication of Ralegan Siddhi, because Sarpanch Pawar was motivated and inspired by that example. In Rajasthan, it has been stated that the movement started by the TBS now extends to 700 villages. That figure has been questioned by critics who say that it is an exaggeration, but there is no doubt that the TBS's efforts in Alwar district have had some spread effect. NGOs such as Paani Panchayat and WOTR in Maharashtra, Pradan in the North and East, and MYRADA and Dhan Foundation in the South, have also stretched their coverage slowly and to a modest extent. In Madhya Pradesh the Government is steadily expanding the coverage of its watershed development activities from a limited number at the start to a few thousands now, and the ambitious plan now is to bring the entire State within the ambit of the Paani Roko Abhiyan. Prima facie, it would appear that while methods, techniques, institutional arrangements, and so on, will vary from place to place, the broad approach of the local harvesting and conservation of water has been and can be replicated.
- Difficulties, Decline?
There have been reports of a ‘decline’ in Sukhomajri, but this is disputed [Page 350]by the PCCF who contends that even with the passage of time the motivation of the community has not significantly declined. He agrees, however, that some difficulties have emerged. The first is the fact that one important source of income and motivating factor, namely the sale of bhabbar grass collected from the protected (socially fenced) catchment area has all but disappeared because the principal buyers, namely the paper mills in the neighbourhood, have largely switched to an alternative material, i.e., eucalyptus. This is a technological development that was not foreseen. An alternative market for the grass (or an alternative income-generating activity) has not yet been identified. This is a serious and as yet unresolved difficulty. Secondly, out of the large number of check-dams built in the 1980s several have been affected by siltation. This was not an unforeseen problem, but the problem has not been dealt with satisfactorily as yet. Thirdly, while afforestation in the catchment initially improved the availability of water by retarding the run-off, it eventually resulted in reduced flows into the check-dams. The answer is said to lie in a balancing of trees and grass in the catchment, as trees retard the flow of both water and top-soil, whereas grass retards the latter more than the former. Further, there is a longstanding conflict of interests between Sukhomajri and Dhamala. Undoubtedly, these two ‘successful’ villages are beset with some difficulties, but none of them seems insurmountable. In Ralegan Siddhi the very success of the effort may be creating problems. The younger generation have grown up in a situation of prosperity, which they tend to take for granted. They cannot recall the bleak and desperate situation faced by the older generation, and cannot be expected to have the same zeal to work hard for the common good or to accept sacrifices in the process. They are also likely to be susceptible to the blandishments of urban lifestyles. The future of Ralegan Siddhi seems uncertainly poised.
- Tradition and Modernity
In many cases, rainwater harvesting initiatives involve the revival of age-old traditions, but this is not true in all the cases. While the repair of johads in Rajasthan and the rehabilitation of tank systems in south India may be instances of the revival of old traditions, the concept of water harvesting appeared to be fairly new in some parts of Madhya Pradesh, where drought propelled the need for it. In Haryana (Sukhomajri), the primary objective to start with was the stopping of the siltation of the Sukhna lake through the treatment of the catch-ment [Page 351]area; water harvesting was an incidental development and an incentive for the people in the region to conserve the catchment. Watershed treatment itself, especially the holistic ‘ridge-to-valley’ approach, is a modern, technically worked out idea. Within that framework, old traditions of water harvesting, if extant, could be incorporated. Water harvesting brings to the fore the hydro-geological specificity of each area. The combination of tradition with innovation is important if old water harvesting systems are to be successfully revived so as to be responsive to present day needs. However, tradition can be an important tool for invoking collective memory for social mobilization. It can also be an important assertion of the functioning of customary rules, as opposed to state-imposed norms.
- Institutional Development
The work of water harvesting and watershed development has fostered institutional development within communities across all the cases we visited. Similarities can be discerned amongst all the cases in the formation of some sort of association/committee/samiti, to govern the actual work as well as the distribution and management of water, as also the evolution of micro-credit and self-help groups. However, the degree of institutional development (in terms of the financial strength of the institutions, their ability to interact with state agencies and donor organizations effectively and independently, and the overall structure and systems evolved) varies from case to case. For instance, the samitis (also known as the ‘gram sabhas’) in Alwar (TBS area) still appear to be fledgelings in comparison with the degree of institutional development of the Tank Farmers’ Associations in South India, which have federated into a ‘district federation’, as a stronger forum for dealing with external agencies.
- Role of Women
In some of our visits we noted that women were present at the meetings of watershed committees and gram sabhas, and that some of them participated in the deliberations. However, it was difficult to judge to what extent this was an indication of real and effective participation by women in the processes of decision-making. This will need to be probed further.
- Source of Funds
There are variations in regard to the funding of such activities.
[Page 352]The funds come from Plan programmes, World Bank loans, Indian foundations, foreign donor agencies, etc. These variations by themselves did not seem to cause significant differences, but this again is a matter that needs to be gone into further.
The lack of inter-sectoral coordination hinders the effective implementation of watershed-development programmes. For instance, the Forest Conservation Act, if literally and rigidly enforced, could hinder an integrated ridge-to-valley treatment approach, if the ridge areas fall within the purview of the Forest Department. In governmental programmes, tasks which form part of an integrated whole are undertaken separately by different Departments—such as the Soil Conservation Department, the Department of Agriculture and so on—with community-mobilization often being treated as a separate if parallel process. This creates confusion at the ground level, and calls for a review of implementation strategies.
(In general, the success of community initiatives in the area of water harvesting and watershed development is often helped or hindered by policies and laws that have no direct connection with them but nevertheless impinge on them … such as agricultural subsidies which may promote cropping patterns that are more water-intensive, subsidies on diesel which may result in the over-extraction of groundwater, etc.)
- Watershed Committees and Panchayats
It is noteworthy that watershed development work in many of the places visited is being undertaken not through the local panchayats but through the constitution of independent water users’ associations/tank farmers’ federations/village watershed-development committees. (This has been understood as being ‘administrative devolution’ in terms of the 1994 ‘Common Guidelines’, as opposed to statutory or constitutional decentralization.) The politicization of panchayats, and the fact that panchayats do not constitute ecological units (with the result that villages falling under a certain panchayat may not correspond to the boundaries of a watershed), are the two principal reasons cited for this situation. The relationship between panchayats and the committees/ associations mentioned above varies from case to case, being more difficult in some places than in others. The sharing of usufructs between tank farmers’ associations and the panchayats has been problem-atic [Page 353] in south India. On the other hand, while villagers may not want to undertake watershed work through the panchayat, as it is seen as being overly politicized, panchayat members are generally co-opted ex-officio into the committees/samitis/associations formed. (It is perhaps ironic that over-politicization becomes a hindrance to greater panchayat involvement with watershed and water harvesting work, as panchayats can be effective vehicles for political will at a larger level.) An illustration of the right kind of link could perhaps be found in the work of PRADAN in West Bengal. It has been successfully trying to foster increasing panchayat involvement. Similarly in Madhya Pradesh, the figure of Chief Minister Digvijay Singh (and therefore the State) looms large in any discussion of development work. Other instances of positive panchayat involvement have been found in Hiwre Bazaar and Ralegan Siddhi. The Dhan Foundation too is exploring the idea of advocating the formation of sub-committees on tanks under the panchayat in the future, in order to enable tank farmers to gain usufruct rights.
(Most water users’ associations/village watershed-development-committees/tank farmers’ associations have been registered under an Act of the State—often the Indian Societies Registration Act, but sometimes other Acts, and in Andhra Pradesh a special Act—in order to give them a legal status. However, this confers only limited powers on them. Panchayats, as the third tier in the federal structure brought in by the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, have a statutory role to play, depending on the extent of devolution actually carried through, and have legal rights over usufructs. They are in fact ‘state’ at that level. They have the power to constitute statutory bodies with the responsibility of handling government funds, collecting revenues and delegating responsibilities. It will be necessary to examine what functions and powers have in fact been devolved to panchayats in each State, particularly in relation to natural resource-management. It is important to develop a good working relationship between the watershed committees/samitis/associations and the panchayats. At the same time, from the point of view of equity and local power relations, there is the danger that the processes of panchayati raj may help the local power elite to consolidate their power further to the detriment of weaker groups or sections within a village or a community.)
- Community Initiatives and the State
- In practical terms, funds from donor agencies available for development [Page 354]still constitute only a fraction of the total funds needed, ensuring that the Government, both at the Central and State level, remains significant. Even though the savings funds of watershed committees/associations, etc., are important sources for communities to draw from for repair and maintenance work, there still seems to be a need for outside help when it comes to major repairs. In the event of the withdrawal of a development agency or the closure of a specific project, communities/villages are left only with the local government as a source of support. We found that in Mayurbhanj (Orissa), where the Lutheran World Service (LWS) had implemented the construction of water-harvesting structures under an integrated rural development programme, the grain banks and savings groups formed for looking after maintenance work were still functional five years after the withdrawal of the LWS, but the people were dependent on the Block Development Office for funds if any major repair work had to be undertaken. Under the ‘Rajiv Gandhi Watershed Mission’ (RGWM) in Madhya Pradesh for instance, the funds being diverted to the ‘Village Watershed Committees’ are nothing but the ‘greening’ of the existing Department for Rural Development funds for rural development.
- The emergence of the ‘Arwari Parliament’ in Rajasthan in the context of a dispute with the State government over the licensing of fishing raises important issues concerning the relationship between state and civil society that will need further discussion.
(This issue, which appeared to have become quiescent, has once again come to the fore with the recent questioning by the Irrigation Department of the legality of a water-harvesting structure built by the villagers. This confrontation between civil society and the state seems ominous. The principle of ‘people's participation’ is enshrined in the ‘Common Guidelines’ of 1994, which was an enlightened document considerably ahead of its time. Anna Hazare received significant support from the agencies of the Maharashtra Government. The Madhya Pradesh Government is actively enlisting the cooperation of the people and NGOs in its RGWM and Pani Roko Abhiyan programmes. At this juncture, the assertion of the Rajasthan Irrigation Minister that every drop of rain belongs to the state and that the water-harvesting activities of the people are illegal seems very retrograde and is fraught with serious consequences. It is to be hoped that this setback to the movement will be quickly removed.)
61 This personal motivation may be an exceptional individual phenomenon, or it may be inspired by and reflect the visionary approach, zeal and high commitment at the highest political level in the State.
About the Author[Page 369]
Ramaswamy R. Iyer is Honorary Research Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. In a civil service career spanning 34 years, he served in different capacities in various ministries and organizations of the Government of India before retiring in 1987 as Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources. He has also served as a consultant for various international bodies, including the World Bank and the World Commission on Dams, besides being the chairman or member of many committees, commissions and working groups set up by the Government of India, including being a member of the National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development Plan (1996–99). Mr Iyer has published four books previously including A Grammar of Public Enterprises, Harnessing the Eastern Himalayan Rivers (co-edited) and Converting Water into Wealth (co-edited). He has also contributed chapters to edited volumes and written articles and essays on water resources, the environment, public enterprises, public administration, management and economic policy.