This paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly highlights the recently growing conflicts over water sharing between states in India and argues that the intensity and periodicity of these conflicts are increasing and that these conflicts are expected to get worse with the increasing uncertainty of rainfall and water availability. The document goes on to describe the latest one in the news, the conflict between Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh over the Babhli barrage.
The paper argues that this puts the spotlight on underlying issues like the lack of an efficient mediating mechanism for conflict resolution both within government and the civil society, at all levels. Although this mechanism is specified to some degree for interstate disputes, most generic conflicts often become visible only in terms of conflicts between states, obscuring the underlying issues and the need for a reasoned dialogue on water issues.
The problem is that of evolving shared modalities of dealing with and sharing water surpluses and shortfalls. The water disputes tribunals provide no guidelines on this because water is viewed only in terms of legal property to be apportioned. Also, there is no mechanism to ensure equitable water allocation within a state.
Babhli is also a symptom of the lack of a scientific approach to water management. The science and the policy of dealing with water sharing have both considerably advanced in recent times. However, water management in India is still stuck in the old concepts, which evolved when water was not an issue and the investment required to construct dams was the bigger constraint.
The paper argues that there can be no solution to the water conflicts unless there is a change in approach of dealing with issues related to water sharing from an adversarial, legal perspective, which lays claim to water as a commodity and as disputed property; to an approach which views water as a common and shared resource, and builds common institutions to manage it in common and displays a spirit of dialogue, accommodation and negotiation.
This needs a certain kind of de-politicisation and de-emotionalisation of this issue as an interstate conflict and the need concentrate on the larger political issues of sharing, allocation and management.
Additional information on the Babhli Barrage can be found on this link.
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