‘Water conflicts: Quest for creative solutions’ : Video of the conversation between Anupam Mishra, Ramaswamy Iyer, Vivek Bharti and Rohini Nilekani

This event was organised by PeaceTalks, a part of Citizens For Peace's (CfP) Secular Rethink project - a dialogue-based process of asking how we as Indians can live our lives peacefully alongside others who eat, speak, think or pray differently from us.

Rohini set in motion the talk by introducing how water has become a polarised space in India with people holding radically diverse views on the perceived value and functions of water, and how it is important to hold meaningful dialogues and build bridges over differences in the field of water.

Ramaswamy Iyer dealt with water related conflict issues, both at micro or local levels and macro albeit international levels, that eventually lead to disputes at multifarious planes. He stated that most issues arise due to intervention on rivers, which alter the already fragile environment, geography and power relations. This further leads to unlimited claims on the limited resource.

What is needed, he reasons, is the capacity to look at the larger picture. If today we face water crisis it is not because of natural shortage, but due to gross water mismanagement.

Vivek Bharti spoke on the spiralling water conflicts, the plunder of water resources in absence of clear policies, and how our old traditional water systems have been sidelined, unable to keep pace with the economic growth. Today we are deficit in water quality, water infrastructure and policies relating to water. He strongly feels that too many separate entities manage water in the country without any cohesiveness amongst them.

He states that the way out is through policy change, collaboration and changing the way we look at this precious resource. As water requirement for agricultural is highest, if we want to achieve water sustainability, this aspect of water needs to be re examined. Also as industry grows and urbanisation spreads, the problem of sustainability will exacerbate.

He then goes on to talk about the water initiatives taken up by his company, how little it takes to turn around a community and how these kind of sustainable models can be taken up .He reasons that traditional paddy crop, a highly water intensive crop, can be replaced by direct seeding, saving huge amounts of water. He cites the example of the beverage industry which has brought down its water consumption, per litre of beverage, from 7 litres to about 2.3 litres.

Anupam Mishra ji spoke on how it is our duty and responsibility, and not our right, to think as a part of a larger community who share water. Citing an example, he illustrates how with just 3 inches of annual rainfall, wheat is grown in rain parched Rajasthan, a result of collective farming followed there.

He recounts a well known story of Lord Buddha on how he encountered disease, old age and death when he left his sumptuous palace for the first time and was a changed man henceforth. Anupamji however, would like to believe, that it is the untold story of a constant war between his people for water, which was the real change harbinger in Buddha’s heart.

He elaborates how Buddha too pioneered a scheme that stored the flood waters for usage during rain deficit future. This was only possible due to discussion and dialogues between all concerned people.

He put forward the plea that water abundance or scarcity by itself is not the reason for peace or war; it is the attitude of the society that governs it. If society is willing to follow its dharma, willing to develop a conscious, only then conflict for water will cease.

Can such future conflicts be reduced? What are the principles to be followed for a fair allocation of this resource? How regulation enforcement could be carried out? These queries were raised and discussed by the panelists.

In conclusion, Rohini reflected on how the whole nation needs to be sensitized on the values of this renewable but limited resource. She asserted that the water question needs to seep into our consciousness, else it may end up limiting the economic growth in the country.