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India to face severe water crisis by '45

india Updated: Mar 29, 2007 04:46 IST
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In another 40 years, India's population will outstrip the availability of water, leading to a major crisis, warns an international expert.

This is bound to lead to more conflicts over water sharing in the country unless "political skills" are developed, said John R. Wood, professor emeritus at University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

"Even if every available river and stream is harnessed to the full potential, by 2045 (India's) population will exceed the availability of water needed to support it," Wood told IANS in an interview here.

"I am sure there will be technological feats... but this is not just a technological problem, not just an economic problem, not even a social problem - it is a political problem.

"And until the political skills are developed or recognized to deal with this kind of problems, there will be more and more conflicts," said Wood, a political scientist of repute whose book "The Politics of Water Resource Development in India - The Narmada Dam Controversy" (Sage) has just been released.

As an example of political tools, he pointed to the institution of water tribunals in India.

"I admire the Indian institution of water river dispute tribunals. In India's young democracy, this is really a remarkable institution which thus far has been very strong while other institutions have weakened," he said.

Illustrating the argument, Wood talked about the dispute over the dam on the Narmada in central and western India - the focus of his latest book.

"The Narmada case is important as the tribunal's verdict (of 1978) was respected despite all controversy and pressures. That award stood up," he said, referring to the row between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh over water sharing as well as the agitation against the dam launched by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA).

"In 2000, the Supreme Court backed up the award. This tells us a lot about Indian federalism. I think it is very strong despite all talk that is weakening or decentralizing."

Wood has taught South Asian government and politics in his 36-year-long academic career. His primary research interests include Indian politics, focusing on center-state relations.

He was founding director of the Centre for India and South Asia Research at his university and served as resident director/vice-president of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute here.

It is the Narmada dam issue that has fascinated him since 1962, when he worked as a teacher in a Gujarat village school, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's ideals.

It was Bhaikaka Patel, technocrat and a founding father of the mega dam project aimed at alleviating the accuse water crisis in Gujarat, who suggested him to study the Narmada issue "because Gujarat's future depends on it".

"That was in 1968, soon after the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) was established."

While the Gujarat government maintains that the project to build a 136-foot dam - one of the 30-odd dams on the river - in the state will help farmers in Suarashtra and Kutch regions that face drought seven out of 10 years, NBA and other groups argue that it has ignored the rights of tens of thousands of tribal people in the Narmada Valley who will be displaced.

"The NBA was far too idealistic. It did not have any political sense of what could and could not happen in India. I have great admiration for (NBA convenor) Medha Patkar, she is one of the most courageous and dedicated people I have come across. But I think she did not realise that the essence of the problem was to find a compromise," said Wood.

"But I think NBA played an important role in changing everybody's thinking - in India, North America and Europe - about mega projects, that before any mega project the people who are going to be most adversely affected by it have to be heard."

Wood's latest book, sensitive to both sides of the Narmada story, makes a case for "an effective and peaceful resolution of this kind of disputes - not only in India but around the world".