Rivers are the lifeline and necessary asset of any country. Our country is gifted with many great rivers like the Ganga, Brahmaputra, Cauvery, Narmada, Godavari etc. All these rivers provide fresh water supply for a variety of purposes in day-to-day lives and we cannot imagine life running smoothly without the flow of water in our taps through these river systems.
Rivers have helped the birth and growth of many civilizations in the past. As of today, the pollution levels in rivers have increased at such an alarming rate that it is high time we work to conserve and clean our river systems, for our future.
River dependence for water supply in India
What if we get up in the morning and find our taps running dry in every corner of our house. We would be unable to even start thinking of our daily chores without the supply of water in our taps. Our country largely depends on rainfall for its river water supply. When rivers are full, dam gates are opened and water stored and let into reservoirs. When summers are high and temperatures start soaring, water levels start receding in these rivers and a drought situation looms large.
So, on one hand rain brings floods in some parts of our nation and on the other hand, a pitiable drought situation. To balance the both, successive governments have suggested river-linking schemes as a major breakthrough in the whole geography of the nation. The future implementation and working of this linking system is currently underrated and is to be waited and watched for in the times to come.
River water disputes between states
Owing to the vast land distribution, the rivers of one state flow into neighbouring states, but the distribution is quite naturally unequal at different places. This has caused the states within the country to war at each other and knock on the doors of higher courts for justice.
There has been no one-stop solution for the interstate water disputes in our country and every following year, these disputes have taken on multi-dimensional colors and expansions at various levels. Some of the most common water disputes occurring every year in our country are:
Cauvery water dispute
The distribution of Cauvery waters between the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is one of the oldest disputes in our country, almost 124 years old.
Every year, the water sharing ratio between the two states take on political colors, resulting in widespread violence and regional disturbances between the local people of both the states. People from both the states are heavily dependent on the river for both domestic needs and agricultural purposes.
Usually in summers, the basin around the Cauvery delta becomes very dry and arid, thanks to poor rainfall during the hot months. The cause of dispute between the two states is quite clear in these dry months. The state of Karnataka claims for a higher share of the river water as the river actually originates at Talakaveri in Madikeri, Karnataka.
Almost more than half of the Cauvery water resources are present in the state of Karnataka and hence they claim a higher share. There has not been any solution found for this river water sharing crisis and we have to wait and watch when a resolution will actually come in place.
Sutlej Yamuna canal linking dispute
The sharing of waters from Sutlej and Yamuna rivers between the states of Punjab and Haryana became a major dispute during the ruling of Indira Gandhi in the year 1976. Around 1990, a major issue cropped up between the two states, regarding not just the sharing of waters but about the construction of the canal linking the river to the two states.
The canal was gradually constructed amidst a lot of controversies and issues. The Punjab government passed the Punjab termination of waters agreement act, 2004 and even now it’s a row of conflict to repeal the case in the Supreme Court.
Mahadayi river issue in Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra
The Mahadayi River, popularly called as the Mandovi River in Goa takes its birth in Karnataka, but flows to Goa. Starting from 1980, the three states of Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra have been fighting to get a solution for sharing of the Mahadayi waters.
Karnataka is especially prominently surging in this battle of water, after a tribunal formed to request for water release to Karnataka was rejected by a Supreme Court order.
Associated problem areas
The Indian subcontinent has faced many water disputes, some even before the country got its independence. Most of the water disputes face legal conflicts and some aren’t peacefully resolved even to this current day. The legal battles take on political colors, especially during elections. Political parties take maximum advantage out of these water disputes and draw people to believe that they actually sympathize with the common man.
The interstate river water disputes (amendment) bill 2017 is a boon in this regard. It was introduced by Miss Uma Bharathi in the year 2017. A ‘dispute resolution committee’ was formed to look into water disputes arising between any two states and work out an amicable resolution for the same. A higher tribunal was also formed in case the dispute resolution committee failed to come up with an amicable resolution.
The setting up of this tribunal found new ways to uphold the co-operative federalism of our nation. The water disputes of our nation between states are bound to bring down the cooperative federalism and water crisis and fight for water is only going to rise without a smooth solution for the same.
Solutions for water disputes
A good solution for the interstate water disputes is to have the central government form a centralized body that will look into such conflicts and resolve water issues between warring states. A central body can engage itself in data acquisition through local agencies of every state to know the plight of water resources and assess current situation of any looming water crisis at present.
After data collection, the committee can then act upon disputes and settle them in a fair manner. For every river basin present in the country, a state level data collection and assessing point should be set up. This point or agency should report to a central level data assessing unit. The state level points should carefully acquire every possible information, like water necessity, their current share, holding etc and submit details to the central unit.
The central assessing unit should double up as an information centre cum data assessing bank to act upon issues at times. A permanently constructed tribunal, a centralized one, a single unit can fairly advocate water dispute policies and amend bills to look after fair judgement to states and ensure proportional sharing of interstate waters.
Water resources are an important asset to our nation. Agriculture is the backbone of our nation and a majority of rural population, even to this day is dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Whenever there is a water dispute, whenever a water conflict takes on political colors, it is these people in the river basin and catchment areas that are most affected.
To maintain status quo in our country and to ensure federalism does not take a beating, we have to support the central government and believe in their centralised judgements and decision making practices.