D Murali

Munificent allocation

D. Murali | Updated on October 17, 2011 Published on October 16, 2011

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A section titled ‘The costs of a fragmented approach' in ‘ Water: Asia's new battleground' by Brahma Chellaney (Harper) frets that the absence of institutionalised, integrated policymaking in India has blighted water resources management for long. A dire warning in the book, quoting the 2030 Water Resources Group, a consortium of private social-sector organisations formed in 2008 to provide insights into worldwide water issues, is that the country is likely to face a 50 per cent deficit between the demand for and supply of water by 2030.

Turning the pages of history, the author finds that when the Indian Republic was established after World War II, the framers of the Constitution did not visualise water scarcity in the decades ahead, given the relative abundance of water resources then.

“Therefore, they left water as a State-level subject, rather than making it a federal issue warranting integrated resource management and holistic policymaking.”

Bighearted 80-20

A more disturbing narrative in the book is about the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, under which India bigheartedly agreed to the exclusive reservation of the largest three of the six Indus system rivers for Pakistan, offering indefinitely four-fifths of the total waters of the Indus system.

One learns that the treaty, which had the World Bank as the agent, did not necessitate the redrawing of the British-set political frontiers, but split the Indus River basin into northern and southern parts by tracing a ‘fictitious line' from east to west that severely limited the sovereign rights of India on three key upper rivers.

The average replenishable flows of the three western rivers (viz. the Chenab, the Jhelum, and the main Indus stream) were computed to total 167.2 billion cubic m a year, while India settled for a mere 40.4 billion cubic m, or the total yearly flows of the three small, so-called eastern rivers, the Sutlej, the Beas, and the Ravi, informs the author.

He adds that no other water-sharing treaty in modern world history matches this level of generosity on the part of the upper-riparian state for the lower-riparian one. “In fact, the volume of waters earmarked for Pakistan from India under the Indus Treaty is more than ninety times greater than what the US is required to release for Mexico under the 1944 US-Mexico Water Treaty, which stipulates a guaranteed minimum transboundary delivery of 1.85 billion cubic m of the Colorado River waters yearly.”

The author cites from ‘Indus Waters Treaty,' a book by Niranjan Gulhati, the chief Indian negotiator, that the agreement had been concluded with ‘no study' having been undertaken in India on the irrigation, energy and other benefits that could be secured for local communities from the western rivers.

Chellaney rues that, in a fundamentally competitive world marked by aggressive pursuit of relative gains, Indian diplomacy during Nehru's seventeen years in office stood out for not learning from mistakes and continuing to operate on ingenuous premises.

“Despite Pakistan's continuing hostilities against India after its 1947-48 invasion and occupation of more than one-third of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, Nehru personally signed the Indus Treaty that apportioned 80.52 per cent of the Indus system waters to Pakistan – a munificent allocation by an upstream country unsurpassed in scale in the annals of international water pacts.”

Alarming treatment of the dynamics relating to a critical fluid.

Published on October 16, 2011
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