The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Large geographical areas of India go through spells of drought despite the abundance of water. This is because, instead of being harnessed to suit the needs of the people, the valuable resource is being allowed to either escape into the sea or cause extensive damage to crop and property. The new strategy has to focus on the utilization of every drop of fresh water, particularly the waters of transnational rivers like Brahmaputra, Kosi and the Kamla-Balan.

Borderline case

Yet the problem of water management seems to be assuming alarming proportions. For example, Bihar gets excess water to the tune of 200 million cubic feet per second annually, which if properly utilized could provide succour to areas that perpetually suffer from droughts. To do this it is important to tame the turbulent rivers. These, besides carrying huge volumes of water together with silt and sand, strike at a speed that has defied the usual remedies. A barrage on Kosi and embankments have not changed the plight of the affected people.

Among the solutions have been suggestions to construct a high dam on Kosi near Barahkshetra, a Bagmati multipurpose project at Noonthore and the Kamla reservoir project at Chisapani, which however is well inside the territory of Nepal. In fact, many of the rivers like Ghagra, Kosi, Gandak, Kamla-Balan and Mahananda originate in Nepal. Since the days of the raj, the government of India has been looking at high dams as an effective measure to control rivers. But any solution that involves two countries has to be acceptable to the people and the respective governments.

The construction of a high dam on alien soil has been seen by many in India as a security risk. The Janata Party government of Morarji Desai had allegedly dismissed the suggestion as being unworthy of serious consideration.

Control the flow

While looking at other possibilities it is important to remember that with respect to rivers traversing two or more states of the Union, the Centre is empowered by the Constitution under Article 262 to makes laws for the adjudication of any dispute or complaint with regard to the “use, distribution, or control of waters” of any inter-state river or river valley. This authority does not extend to rivers that originate outside the territory. So working out arrangements with foreign countries on water distribution have often been a herculean task.

Given these problems, the government of India has to concentrate on containing the rivers from the point they enter India’s territory. Emphasis has to be laid on the productive use of water that often causes devastation. In effect, this means revival and implementation of the proposal of K.L. Rao for linking rivers of only peninsular India. But given that the north Indian rivers carry enough water to take care of other regions, the idea of creating a national grid of waterways and irrigation needs to be given a thought.

Like the prime minister’s programme for inter-state roads that is to be financed entirely by the Centre, this plan could also follow a similar financial outlay. The linkage will relieve the Centre from providing relief and rehabilitation packages to states affected by flood or drought every year. In fact, the attendant facilities can provide a regular source of income to both the beneficiary states and the Centre.

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