India lacks dispute-resolution mechanism over water: Experts

Kolkata, Sep 29: It is "crucial" for India to manage domestic water concerns for enhanced regional cooperation, opine experts, pointing to the urgent need of a "dispute-resolution mechanism" that engages multiple stakeholders and embraces an ecological view of the problem.

But given the scale and sensitivity of these discords -- India has seen a spate of such water conflicts this year -- experts lament the absence of a "proper environment" and a structured approach to ease the friction over water.


"Water issues are as much an inter-state (country to country) problem as much as they are inter-provincial (discord between Indian states) problems. In fact, the stress increasingly will be more on the inter-provincial sharing of waters, triggering friction between the Centre and the states," Uttam Sinha, an expert on climate change and water security, told IANS.

"For India, managing the domestic water concerns is crucial. It directly links to the regional water cooperation," said Sinha, a fellow at New Delhi's Defence Ministry-funded think-tank Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), stressing on a dispute-resolution mechanism.

In the aftermath of the Uri terrorist attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met key aides to review provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan and to increase India's use of the river waters. Down south, the Cauvery conflict between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu continues to fester. In the east, the Mahanadi river is a bone of contention between Odisha and Chhattisgarh while Bihar blames the Farakka Barrage in West Bengal for siltation.

Compounding the dilemma is the absence of a systematic response to emerging crises in the water sector, ecological economist Anamika Barua highlighted.

"The biggest challenge at the moment is lack of agency at the state, national as well as international levels to systematically respond to emerging crises and reinforce cooperation within the country and also

at the trans-boundary level," Barua, Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT-Guwahati, told IANS.

Advocating an "open, inclusive and scientific platform" where states can meet regularly, and not only during emergencies, Barua drew attention to the perils of excluding stakeholders like scientists and civil

society from closed-door political meetings on these matters.

"Many of these conflicts are politically motivated, so it is very difficult to say whether they are real or political parties take advantage of opportunities when they see such crises," said Barua, who is also associated with the SaciWATERs Brahmaputra Dialogue project.

Earlier this year, India's water woes pushed the country to the top among 11 nations in The Environmental Justice Atlas, an interactive portal that maps ecological conflicts, resistances and environmental injustices.

"It's not just in India that we see these problems. Water has been a source of contention in the US and throughout Europe. And they have always come to agreements about navigation, about environment, about fisheries. It's in India that it hasn't happened. This country doesn't seem to be involved in (the creation of) a proper environment to settle these problems," former Foreign Secretary Kris Srinivasan told IANS.

"In China there is a strong central government which can lay down the law but in India, which is a federal country, states have to be involved," Srinivasan emphasised.

Even the National Water Framework Bill (NWFB) drafted by the Union Ministry of Water Resources, fails to bring in an adequate framework for dispute resolution, noted environmental economist Nilanjan Ghosh, who recommended a river basin authority (RBA) approach for both international and inter-state water issues.

"There is need for a basin-level authority with greater autonomy, greater powers, and which can initiate actions to prevent degradation of freshwater ecosystems and can initiate actions against all kinds of

stakeholders, including state governments, for any form of violation," Ghosh, professor and head of economics, Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata Chapter, and Senior Economic Advisor, World

Wide Fund for Nature, said.

"We need to start at the bottom... go for a bottom-to-top approach in the river basins which we have not done at all... this means you start at the watershed level and involve the people at the grassroots," Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said.


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