If there is one promise that Indian politicians use effectively to ensure votes, it is development. While it is a praiseworthy objective, they often fail to reveal to their voters the long-term environment costs of development projects.
Environment protection rules are often flouted by project proponents in connivance with local authorities. Unsurprisingly, many projects end up in litigation. Such experiences, however, don’t deter states from competing with each other for investments and natural resources, which they think can make their states an attractive destination for investors.
The competition has reached such proportions that state governments are now busy rolling out water projects without getting them appraised by central authorities. This, the Central Water Commission (CWC) has warned, is increasing the risk of inter-state wars over water, as is happening now between Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Both states have approached the CWC and the ministry of water resources to intervene in the matter.
As India industrialises and climate change is kicking in with full force, shortage of water is certain to ignite water wars. Such wars are not unknown in India: In Madhya Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region, water tankers are accompanied by security personnel. In Rajasthan, communities undertake night vigils to ensure that canal water is not diverted. In Odisha, people have been giving a hard time to industrialists over diversion of drinking water.
Warning bells have been ringing for a while: Earlier this year, the World Resources Institute report said that groundwater levels in India are falling as farmers, city residents and industries drain wells and aquifers. The available water is often polluted. More than 100 million people live in areas with poor water quality, which has huge health consequences. And the future may only be worse, with the national supply predicted to fall 50% below demand by 2030.
While there is no doubt that industrialisation is the need of the hour to generate employment, the CWC’s warning is also critical and should be given due attention. Modalities must be worked out to ensure that efforts to minimise such resource wars don’t go down the drain as has happened in the past.