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Indian elite diverting water to industry: Result of "flawed" notion that river waters shouldn't go waste into sea

By Rajiv Shah
A top water resources expert, Shripad Dharmadhikary, has said in a recent paper that, taking advantage of a “flawed” policy perspective, continuing since independence, that river waters should not be allowed to “go waste” into the sea, India's powerful elite has been seeking to increasingly divert waters for industrial purpose.
Giving the example of Maharashtra, Dharmadhikary says, in the last several years, the state has “witnessed the diversion of huge amounts of water from irrigation to industry”. He adds, “In the last ten years, the total water diverted annually from irrigation allocation for industry and urban areas is close to 1,900 million cubic meters.”
Formerly with the Narmada Bachao Andolan, and now heading Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Badwani, Madhya Pradesh, Dharmadhikary's paper, titled “Value as a Justification in Water Resources Development”, has been published in a new book, “Business Interests and the Environmental Crisis”, edited by two environmental experts Kanchi Kohli and Manju Menon (click HERE).
“According to the government itself, this water could irrigate 2.85 lakh hectates (ha) of land every year”, says the expert, adding, “A significant part of the diversion has been in the area of Vidarbha”, currently suffering one of the worst droughts, leading crop failures, high indebtedness and mass suicides.
“With many large industries lined up, with thermal power capacity of around 90,000 MW lined up, it is clear that that the thirst for water is going to grow”, predicts Dharmadhikary, adding, one should be prepared for such consequences like “concentration of water rights in the hand of the few, the marginalization of farmers, the loss of food security and so on.”
Suggesting that the flawed notion of waters not being allowed to go waste is likely to get a boost with the thinking that there is a need to provide “value” – as understood by a “select group of humans” – to water, the top experts says, the ultimate goal is to reallocate water for “high money producing activities” by bringing water “into the economic-financial set up.”
Giving details of the origin of the flawed concept that waters should not be allowed to go waste, Dharmadhikary says, way back in 1951 a Planning Commission note said that just 5.6 per cent of the country's water resources were being “used for purposes of irrigation”, while the “rest flow waste to the sea.”
The situation did not change in 1969, when Sardar Sarovar Project on river Narmada was floated – the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award repeated the same view, saying the lateral states, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, should be allowed to use water remaining unused after irrigating fields and generating power, lest it “would go waste”.
In the latest interlinking of rivers project, floated by the Government of India, things have not changed either, suggests Dharmadhikary. A National Water Development Agency (NWDA) document says that “flood waters which otherwise run waste into the sea” could be utilized “for transfer to water deficit areas” by interlinking rivers.
According to Dharmadhikary, “The use of water for irrigation is certainly an important and valued use. This is not being disputed. What is disputed is the notion that if the flowing water was not being used for irrigation (or some other specific use like hydropower), then it was being wastes.”
The expert says, “This notion ignored the many other uses of water – some, like fisheries which benefit humans, and others which served the purposes of other life forms maintaining ecology”. By way of example, he points out, how, as a result of the flawed concept,communities living in Narmada (in India) and Indus estuaries (in Pakistan) are becoming increasingly deprived of livelihood, especially fishing.

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