The prognostication that future wars will be fought over water implies the stark reality that water is a scarce and depleting resource and its conservation should be the key issue in inter-state water disputes. The Supreme Court’s verdict on Friday in the Cauvery waters dispute between the four riparian states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry, is particularly significant in the context of the water scarcity for domestic, agriculture and industrial use.
There can be no permanent and lasting solution to different water disputes by taking recourse to the courts or the dedicated tribunals set up for the purpose over several decades. While conserving water, the only way forward could be to hasten up river linking, a project that was initiated by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government about 15-years back. Rivers and Ganga Rejuvenation minister Nitin Gadkari has taken up the task of linking rivers very seriously and put together various blueprints for Karnavati-Betwa and Krishna-Gadavari.
Unless every drop of water is put to its best use, there is no way localised shortages can be dealt with in a sustainable way. Recycling, rainwater harvesting, artificial clouding and enhancing storage capacities are some of the best practices adopted globally to get over water shortages. While big dams in the northern and western regions have ushered a green revolution, there is a big cost to be paid in terms of preserving our bio-geo chemical cycles and limiting erosion to the environment.
There are several strategies on the table. One is to go whole hog to revive water bodies – small and big – and breathe life into perennial rivers. This is an alternative strategy to resolve water the crisis in areas like Bundelkhand. Serious shortages faced by the southern megapolis of Bengaluru seem to have forced the Supreme Court bench headed by chief justice Dipak Misra to allocate it 15.75 TMC extra water from the Cauvery. Otherwise, Bengaluru could have been headed the way of South Africa’s Cape Town. Chennai, or for that matter even Tamil Nadu, is no better in terms of water availability, and the city administration has had to regulate water usage. Tamil Nadu farmers have faced water shortages which have impacted farm output in the state. Other southern states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Puducherry are relatively better placed.
The British administration brokered 1892 agreement between then Mysore and Madras states is not sustainable in the present context. Hence, the Supreme Court has rightly re-allocated water from 740 TMC total availability in the Cauvery basin. Strategies to increase inflows into the Cauvery, enhancing storage capacities, linking Cauvery with the Krishna and the Godavari as suggested by Gadkari may be a way out.
Since, water has been a political hot potato, political parties and leaders have to rise above partisan interests to evolve a consensus on the vexed issue given the intermittent drought in the southern states, especially in the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. While the Supreme Court provides temporary reprieve for the riparian states that is applicable for the next 15-years, it is not a lasting solution to water shortages. Playing politics over water could be dangerous and, in the end, self-defeating. Political parties will have to take the lead and show restraint without whipping up public anger on the sensitive issue.