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Inter- linking : Quixotic, Sheikh Chillian

About a third century ago, Dr. K.L. Rao conceived of linking river Ganga to Cauvery and a pilot Dinshaw. J. Dastur mooted an idea of garland canal .These ideas were found impracticable. Still such proposals are thrown up for public consumption with intent to divert people’s attention from urgent public issues. So far there is no clarity as to what the inter-linking of rivers means.

Three kinds of formulations are suggested:-

1) Major rivers in the country be inter-connected to transfer water from surplus basins to deficit basins;
2) Water may be included in the Concurrent List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India;
3) River basins organizations may be set up.

For over a quarter century, the National Water Development Agency has examined the resources of different basins, feasibility of transfer of water from one basin to another.

NWDA mooted the transfer of waters of the Mahanadi to the Godavari and hence to the Krishna and the Cauvery. Orissa and Andhra Pradesh did not accept that waters were surplus in the Mahanadi and the Godavari. With a view to working out a feasible scheme for the linking of the rivers, the Central Government constituted the National Commission on Integrated Water Resources Development Plan (NCIWRDP) in 1997. This Commission submitted its report in 1999 but it could make no significant recommendations. In the National Water Supply Policy 2002, river basin organizations are mooted but their functioning is contingent on the mutual cooperation and goodwill of the basin States.

In its order of October 31, 2002 in Civil Writ Petition No.512 /2002, the Supreme Court has directed the Government of India to complete the networking of rivers, i.e., transfer from surplus basin to deficit basin within ten years. This indicates that interlinking of rivers envisages transfer of water surplus to deficit river basins and creation of mechanism to effect such transfers. [Haryana is going to get hefty quantities of water from Sharda-Yamuna basin which is a surplus basin. Ravi-Beas is a deficit basin].

Our Constitution does not prohibit transfer of water from one river to different areas and has provided for settlement of inter-State river waters disputes. Waters of the intra-State rivers are under the legislative control of the concerned State as laid down in Constitution of India (Article 246, entry 17 of the State List of the Seventh Schedule) and these can be given to other States through mutual agreements. As regards the inter-State rivers, their riparian States are competent under law to settle about the use of common waters and if the disputes remain unresolved these are adjudicable under the Inter-state Water Disputes Act, 1956 enacted by the Parliament pursuant to Article 262 of the Constitution.

If it is proposed to bring ‘water’ under direct control of the Central Government by amending the Constitution, I do not think such a proposal is feasible, practical and will get through. Riparian States enjoying irrigation, fishing, navigation rights and also vulnerable to floods, seepage damages will not agree to such a proposal.

Even if such a proposal is mandated constitutionally, its actual implementation is not an easy job, technically, administratively, financially and politically. Further if our leaders representing States are not in a position to sort out disputes involving distribution of river waters, what is there to indicate that they shall acquire a magic wand that will enable them to solve such disputes when those very leaders work as functionaries of Central Government. Inaptitude and inefficiency of Central management is apparent from the lingering on of various projects like the Thein dam. As much as river-linking project might suggest something to visionaries, to common Indians it evokes a holy grail, an elusive public works project that has been talked about for decades but seems hardly to inch toward fruition.

Our political leaders are shrewd enough not to open a Pandora’s box of new problems for them when they haplessly find themselves incapable of solving the ones at their hands and they are no doubt quite clever at throwing up quixotic ideas to amuse and side-track the gullible masses. Nevertheless, the solution ultimately lies with the political leaders. They shall have to rise to the occasion and address the problem squarely.

The Central Government should act as an impartial mediator and sagacious facilitator for resolving disputes over waters; it should project parental/elder brotherly image and at no occasion be a partisan player. Our leaders have amply proved their capability at resolving water disputes by executing the Indus Treaty of 1960 with Pakistan and the India - Bangladesh Ganga Waters Treaty of December 12, 1996 regarding the Ganga waters with Bangladesh. Why can’t they demonstrate their ability by solving the river-water disputes in the country itself? Doesn’t such an inability provide credible basis for insinuation that our leaders act well when the end of the string maneuvering their acts is in the hands of a foreign puppeteer?

Isn’t there a lesson in that? Why should our attempts at crafting solutions to our internal disputes go awry? The Punjab river waters dispute is a public policy issue which engineers, lawyers, bureaucrats will have input on— but they are not going to be ones making the ultimate decision. It has to come from the political leadership So the buck stops at the door of public men!

To be in favour of the powerful and rich does not take much courage or originality. It is hard to think of anyone who is opposed to either. To be in favour of good governance and social harmony would require a great deal of courage and a soaring sense of vision in the rulers and other politicians. Whether such courage or such vision will someday become transcendent in our nation is by no means clear.




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