Two states, a canal and a river

A solution to the problem of sharing Yamuna waters continues to elude Delhi and Haryana even as the river dries up and caste issues flare up.
Munak canal to check seepage losses along the Western Yamuna Canal and to augment its supply Munak canal to check seepage losses along the Western Yamuna Canal and to augment its supply

‘Jat’ reservation and the rampage on a canal

For over a month in early 2016, Delhi and Haryana thrashed around, trying to deal with the mess created after Jat protestors demanding reservation for the community in Haryana, caused a 200 feet breach on the Munak Canal near Sonepat. Waves of menacing men, over five thousand in all, blocked the canal and laid siege using shovels and even a heavy earth mover. The two Irrigation Department employees stationed at the spot fled while the security personnel passively looked on. The 102 km long Munak canal which brings 700 cusecs of water, about 70 percent of Delhi’s water from Haryana, was left high and dry.

 Later that night when the Irrigation Department managed to open the mechanically operated gates and release 100 cusecs of water to Delhi, the mob struck yet again, following which the Army and paramilitary forces were called in to secure the canal. This rampage ensured that seven water treatment plants in Delhi lay idle due to disruption in raw water supply from the Munak canal to Delhi. The damage to the Munak canal affected the production at the Dwarka water treatment plant, leading to a major water crisis in the metro’s sub-city. Water supply to most other parts of Delhi resumed within days but the 40-MGD capacity Dwarka water treatment plant remained dry for over a month. Delhi’s Water Resources Minister, Kapil Mishra termed the damage to the Munak Canal in Haryana ‘scary’.

This was partly a caste assertion to bolster the waning political and social might of the Jat community in Haryana. The violence also had an element of regionalism, with a view to ‘advance’ the causes of the region -- the contentious Munak issue between Delhi and Haryana being the face of the deep schism between regions.

The region where the violence played out was in Haryana’s stretches of alluvial plains of the river Yamuna, a river which has been at the center of a bitter dispute between Delhi and Haryana.

Prosperous agriculturists now faced with crisis

This is a region where huge public investments have gone in during the post independence period in terms of power distribution, irrigation facilities, roads and modern markets for agricultural produce. High-value, water-intensive crops are grown in the area. The “bulk of capital formation in agriculture, both public and private, has gone toward irrigation facilities” (1) here, through canal and groundwater development. The green revolution introduced water-intensive rice-wheat cropping system to the area, doing away with the less water-intensive crops suited to the region.

Sections like Jats, a hardworking community, have dominated the political life of the state for long. Over the years, following the accumulative path of commercial agriculture, these sub-state actors and ‘identity’ makers have become increasingly powerful. But off late, the many-sided agrarian crisis has fueled a sense of socio-economic-political deprivation that has left the region vulnerable. The commercial ‘viable’ farmer now lacked a guaranteed income should there be a crop failure, and also had no other employment options. Output growth in agriculture had declined, input prices had shot up, crop yield had stagnated, bank credit to farmers declined, irrigation infrastructure was failing and agricultural extension services had crumpled. Private investment in agriculture in the region was unable to make up for the decline in public investment. The present situation was a part of a deeper crisis.

Canal water dispute turns two states into bitter foes

Munak complex at Haryana were the dispute played out

The Munak Canal is a part of the larger 325 km long Western Yamuna Canal that takes off from the Hathnikund barrage, built on the upper stretches of the river Yamuna. Actually,  the Western Yamuna (Jumna) Canal is nothing new and dates back to the 14th century (2). The canal was remodeled by the British during 1870-1882, when the famous barrage on river Yamuna at Tajewala with a supply of 16000 cusecs was built. It is only after the river’s five riparian states in the upper reaches (Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan) signed the Upper Yamuna water sharing agreement during the 1990s, after which the Hathnikund barrage was planned with World Bank assistance, to replace the aging Tajewala barrage.

The Hathnikund barrage is located after the river traverses about 200 km through the hills. The barrage constructed just 3 kms upstream of Tajewala with a supply of 20000 cusecs became operational by end 2002. Thus Haryana, through the dam at Hathnikund and the extensive canal system is in a position to control how much water will flow downstream through the Western Yamuna Canal.

Haryana is especially at loggerheads with Delhi over water sharing and resents that Delhi is coercing it to part with its share. Haryana has for long argued that being the upper riparian state it has primacy of rights over Yamuna waters or canal waters flowing through its territory, even when the state does not have a single perennial river.

The residuary flows are left to Delhi, a lower riparian state, along the lines of the 1994 MoU between the Upper Yamuna Basin states. Delhi believes that even though it is downstream it has as much right to the river as Haryana, which in any case is dependent on rainwater and groundwater, and receives water from upper riparian States. Delhi disputes that Haryana does not supply enough water to Delhi’s Haiderpur and Wazirabad water treatment plants, even when the latter is bound to do so per a 1996 Supreme Court order.

The other point of contention is the Munak canal, also known as ‘augmentation canal’ or carrier-lined channel (CLC), which stands out from the rest of the canals of the Western Yamuna Canal. The 69 km long canal was constructed to check seepage losses along the Western Yamuna Canal and to augment its supply. Delhi which draws most of its water through the canal had paid for its lining and had saved some 80 MGD of water. Delhi disputes that this saved water, now available to Haryana, rightfully belongs to it.

Water share propped up as the cause of agrarian distress

The real cause of the distress in agriculture was never taken up by the political parties or even civil society. That a canal, the Munak canal, was a source of their misery was drummed into the minds of the masses, as a part of a divisive propaganda. The matter of interstate share of waters was shored up as the most important cause of agrarian distress. As in the case of most river water disputes, here too, from regional chauvinist outfits to peasant organizations -- all chose to highlight the “issue of the inter-state distribution of river waters as the most important problem of the peasantry” (3). Here the interest of the caste and the region was asserted against another in a hostile way through the rampage on the canal and wide scale violence destroying infrastructure amounting to over 20000 crores.

There was a false counterposing of the interests of the large masses of people settled in Delhi, many of them migrants from the neighbouring States like Haryana struggling to eke out a living, often managing with meager access of ‘Haryana waters’ with the vast masses of agriculturists in Haryana struggling to deal with the present agricultural crisis. Stealing a plank of the agitationer’s platform, the harebrained response of the State Government in this case was one of competitive chauvinism. It decided to satisfy the demand of the protestors disregarding the fact that it went against a recent legal precedent.

In both Haryana and Delhi, a confrontationist posture on water distribution among States is immediately taken up while a stoic silence maintained as to which interest groups have how much access to waters within the State.

Further, in this case, the riverside villages have been ignored and run dry, as the river waters have been diverted through canals. One such village is Kanalsi, along the river. Only a few decades back the Yamuna flowed rapid and burly, sustaining the lives of millions of people. “But the river has now been reduced to a trickle in its stretches with all the water diverted through the canal”, point affected villagers. “Nothing is left of the mighty river as it was four decades ago and many riverside villages got excluded from the command”, says Anil Sharma of Kanalsi village, who heads a local river protection group in the area.

Haryana’s need for more and more water for agriculture and other sectors

Biases against demand management continue and per a study by Manoj Mishra et al “Water situation in the Yamuna river basin in the state of Haryana, currently threatened from poor management of surface water, over draft of ground water, water misuse, waste and pollution, can be improved through better understanding, appropriate policy, regulatory measures and necessary attitudinal change in the users” (4). Better irrigation practices that yield ‘more crop per drop’ can free water for uses like drinking and domestic use. Per an article in RUPE “in India, yields per unit of water consumed are 10 to 30 per cent lower in irrigated areas than in unirrigated areas”. (5)

Haryana in particular suffers from widespread waterlogging and salinity issues as it fights for its water share. Can the water supply in Haryana be maintained or even increased by improving its irrigation canals and water delivery systems below the outlet level, without reducing Delhi’s water share? While Haryana blames Delhi for the wastage and mismanagement of water resources, what about its own practices especially in agriculture, a major water user that utilizes about 94 percent of the state’s water supply?

While measures need to be taken up at the municipal level to conserve water – like rainwater harvesting or groundwater recharge, the issue of inefficient water use in agriculture gets neglected. It is high time that the point of an appropriate shift of cropping pattern suited to the region is taken up and steps put in place to ensure that irrigation water, be it canal or groundwater is not monopolized by a few.

The capital’s need for more and more water and the Munak canal

Per Sohail Hashmi’s impressive documentation, the city with its ingenious water management system did not depend upon the Yamuna waters just 100-years back. But today, Delhi with a population of 167 lakhs and a water need of around 1050 million gallons per day (MGD) depends on its upper riparian States from where it gets about 750 MGD of water. The main sources of water are Yamuna, Ganga and Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB), while the Upper Yamuna River Board makes the seasonal allocations (6). Apart from this, the city’s water utility – Delhi Jal Board draws around 100 MGD of groundwater through Ranney wells and tubewells. Some water is stealthily drawn by individuals, industry and water mafia. The city continues to have high transmission losses in its water distribution amounting to almost 42 % per a CAG report (2013) (7).

Delhi is rightly painted as a water guzzler and its per capita availability (8) of water at over 220 litres per capita per day (lpcd) highlighted. What is hidden is the variation across the posh and humbler parts of the city - - 29 lpcd in Mehrauli, 509 lpcd in Delhi Cantonment Board areas and 462 lpcd in NDMC area (CSE, 2012) (9). Per most reports the entire city is blamed for water ‘mismanagement’. The prejudice in distribution between various sections within the city went unquestioned for long and became a live political concern only during the last elections.

Water share

The 1994 MoU on the water agreement between States in Upper Yamuna Basin provides for creation of the Upper Yamuna River Board, primarily to regulate the allocation of available flows amongst the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi and also for monitoring the return flows. Per this MoU, if the available quantity of water is less than the assessed quantity, drinking water will be first allocated to Delhi and the balance will then be distributed proportionally to sharing states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. Agreement was also reached on maximizing the utilization of surface flow of Yamuna.

The share of Yamuna water for Delhi per 1994 MoU is 0.724 billion cubic metres (BCM), subject to construction of storage dams in the upper reaches. The share is received at two points – Hathnikund, carried through Western Yamuna Canal and Delhi sub-branch (381 cusec) and Wazirabad in Delhi (369 cusec). The losses from Hathnikund to Munak are 13 percent and from Munak to Haiderpur are 30 percent amounting to 80 MGD or 148 cusecs. The Delhi Government paid for concrete lining of the parallel lined canal (Carrier Lined Channel) at Munak to avail benefit of this water saving.

The canal is operational since 2012. “But Haryana has diverted water from the CLC to a regular canal, downstream of Munak, a little before Delhi-Haryana border. This is already in use by Haryana to carry its share of water to parts of its state beyond Delhi… Delhi government claims banking on this additional 80 MGD as its natural right as and when the Munak CLC is fully operational, and the DJB has already built WTP at Dwarka (40 MGD capacity) in west Delhi, Bawana (20 MGD capacity) in northwest Delhi and Okhla (20 MGD) in south Delhi. However, Haryana has refuted the claims.” (10) It also is objecting to Delhi’s unauthorized Munak cut that takes waters for Delhi’s Dwarka Water Treatment Plant. The matter was taken to the Upper Yamuna River Board by Haryana in 2011, which directed Delhi to close the gap till the time Munak CLC is completed., Delhi meanwhile claims that it receives 30 MGD less than its share.

Is there a way out of this?

A water dispute like this is not intractable, especially when there is an official mechanism in place to settle the dispute on Munak water share. But this is likely to take an inordinately long period before it is settled, and during this period the issue will continue to be whipped up by various interest groups.

Endnotes and references

(1) What Keeps Disputes on River Waters Alive?, Aspects of India's Economy, No. 43, 2007

(2) “Emperor Firoz Shah Tughlaq constructed the Western Yamuna Canal in 1355 AD by converting one creek of the river into a canal to direct water to his hunting grounds in Hansi-Safidon area in what is now the state of Haryana… After his death the canal fell into disuse to be revived again in 1568 by Emperor Akbar. Emperor Shahjahan further improved the canal in 1628 as a ‘Shahi’ (royal) canal.”(Mishra et al)

(3) What Keeps Disputes on River Waters Alive?, Aspects of India's Economy, No. 43, 2007

(4) On the brink: Water governance in Yamuna river basin, Haryana, SPWD and PEACE, 2010 

(5) What Keeps Disputes on River Waters Alive?, Aspects of India's Economy, No. 43, 2007

(6) Allocations: March to June - 0.076 BCM, July-October - 0.580 BCM, November-February - 0.068BCM

(7) Thematic audit of water management in Delhi, CAG, 2013

(8) The break-up of consumers per Government of Delhi, 2009 is: domestic (75%), commercial and institutional (10.5%) and industrial (4%). 

(9) Delhi: Thw water-waste portrait, Centre for Science and Environment, 2012

(10) Conflicts around domestic water and sanitation in India: Cases, Issues and Prospects



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