The Cauvery water dispute has once again put India’s river basin management plans in question. The country is divided into 22 river basins by the Central Water Commission and every region has its fair share of water sharing disputes. The water use policy is also something that needs to be looked at by the government of India. In several countries across the world that suffer shortage of water, a responsible and properly implemented water use policy helps save copious amounts of water. A look into successful international projects of the same kind may help Indian authorities devise a more nuanced policy to address the issue that affects crores of people in the country.
The whole country is mired by states unwilling to share a major portion of river water to other states over a variety of reasons. Major examples of river water disputes in the country are Ganga, Sutlej-Yamuna link, Cauvery, Mahanadi, Brahmaputra and Godavari. However, a joint framework for river basin management coupled with a national water use policy will go a long way in handling the country’s water woes.
India can also take a leaf out of successful projects across other parts of the globe where more complicated river water sharing matters have been managed over extended periods of time.
Collaboration not conflict
The successful water sharing project of the Danube river in Europe is a fine example for Indian policymakers to study. Danube is the second longest river in Europe and flows through 10 countries cutting across international borders. The 2,845-km long river starts from the Black Forest in Germany and travels eastwards culminating at the Black sea. It passes through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine.
River water sharing in states in India seems less complicated than one which requires sharing water between 10 countries that were aligned to different political blocs in the past 150 years, often going to war as well. To achieve minimal dispute, all stakeholders in the Danube river basin came on board for the formation of Environmental Program for the Danube River Basin. Further, a legal instrument was formulated called the Danube River Protection Convention which formed the premise for the formation of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River.
This huge framework continually works for managing the ecosystem and environmental quality of the river which itself buffers the availability of water for the countries. The countries recognised the fact that to achieve that end, the basin of the river needed to be handled as a single entity with collaboration from all stakeholders whatever be the difficulties. Countries adopting an independent monitoring system that would look after cross-border pollution, wastage, and environmental impact. The general public was invited in formulating the plans to form realistic action plans accounting for disaster response along with any unpredictable environmental events.
What is required from Indian states are efforts to tilt the balance from conflict to cooperation. Factors like accelerated population growth, poor planning of waterways and water supply systems has added to the water crisis in India.
Swift legislative movement
Swift movement in legislative process is also a bone of contention as the river basin management bill has been stuck in draft stage for three years and now lies in cold storage. In addition to this, a bill for the formation of national water framework has failed to get a proper form and awaits deliberations by lawmakers.
Responsible water usage by industries and management of water resources is also a major point of conflict in high water-use sectors like agriculture, power, textiles etc. In Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the major sufferers are farmers who need a policy framework for ensuring that their water needs for dry crops and wet crops are addressed. However, in the absence of a legal framework, this dispute redressal only moves forward in terms of immediate need through judicial process and not a long term structured process.
Water use policy for the public
Many cities in developed countries like London, Melbourne and more resort to implementing a judicious water use policy for the public that is implemented strictly by the state and the general public. This reduces wastage of water in tough times and ensures ample amount of water is available for everyone.
In the context of the Cauvery water dispute, research by Indiaspend.org reveals that Karnataka’s state capital Bangalore uses nearly half the amount of water from Cauvery designated for domestic use in the state. The research also shows that almost half of that water is wasted in distribution losses and wastage by individuals leading to a shortage. At least 8.5 million people live in the third-most populated city in India with 8.65 lakh water connections but they only receive 65 litres of water per day on average. In comparison, Bengaluru comes second to Kolkata which tops the water-wasting cities’ list.
Cauvery water dispute has led to an extended tussle between states in India reaching legal blockades. Water sharing, a much disputed issue in the country, warrants a relook. As a fresh outlook, India can take a cue from successful management of water sharing from across the borders. As such, till the Centre remains the sole advisor, interstate disputes are not likely to be resolved easily.