Who's ready to share?
The protracted and raucous Karnataka - Tamil Nadu dispute over the Kaveri waters has highlighted the state of inter state water disputes as little else. States of the Indian federation dispute various issues - borders, language, trade etc but few things as bitterly as water, especially river water.
Recognition of the fact that there is unequal distribution of water has been there for centuries. So it is not surprise that the interlinking of rivers in not a new idea. Especially since the British laid railway lines across the subcontinent, there have been proposals for similar waterways as well. Admittedly the driving argument then was faster transportation rather than meeting water shortages.
Sir Arthur Cotton, former first chief engineer of Madras Presidency and the person responsible for Dawaleswaram anicut on River Godavari and Buckingham Canal, was the one who perhaps first formalized a proposal.
Various ideas were mooted during this period to link 'water surplus' areas to those which were not so favoured. Among those who propounded plans were Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer, Sri Visvesvarayya, Dr. KL Rao and Captain Dastur. However it was only after independence that these ideas gained momentum. And with them came the disputes.
Here we look at some of the major disputes in the last five-odd decades of independent India and the reasons they have festered for so long.
As most of the country is fairly arid, and the land-man ration has worsened at a fairly rapid rate, the conflicts have got more acrimonious over the years - and of late literally a question of life and death as farmers commit suicide over crop failure or even the release of water from a dam to another state.
Part of the reason why each of these problems have acerbated is the multiplicity of authorities involved in trying to solve these issues. While at a basic level there are usually two (or more) states involved, in practise the number of participants has seen not just the central government being involved but also each of them breaking up into various ministries, departments, water tribunals, courts, political parties and ad hoc committees. And despite these, or perhaps due to them, the issues have either do not get resolved or are put off for another day with short term water sharing arrangements which cause fresh disputes each year.
Despite these, the constitution clearly put the onus on the state governments even while leaving considerable leverage. However in practise the disputes, which began emerging soon after independence, have followed different patterns. While some of the disputes, which involved issues like cost-sharing were comparatively easily settled, there are disputes that continues to fester to date.
A problem perhaps has been the conflicting interests of the state and the treatment of a river basin as a single unit. As the basins of most of the larger and many of the medium rivers is shared, the conflicts over this increasingly valuable and scarce resource has kept getting shriller as the stakes rise.
Major disputes over river water sharing in India
Krishna - Godavari basins
Affected states: Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, Orissa
Affected states: Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Pondicherry
Affected states: Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat
Affected states: Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan
Major international disputes over river sharing that India has been part of:
Affected countries: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan
Affected countries: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan
Affected countries: India and Nepal