The Chennai water crisis calls for the establishment of a National Water Committee, consisting of scientists, administrators and domain experts
The country is witnessing acute water shortage in many areas either due to the failure of rains or inadequate rainfall. The crisis has been brewing in many States like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat and even the national capital of Delhi because of which people are suffering terribly.
In Chennai, women were seen lining up in queues, holding plastic buckets and waiting for tankers, some of which are reportedly fleecing the public. IT firms, restaurants and the construction industry have all admitted that they are struggling without water. Violent clashes between residents on the issue of water sharing, too, have been reported. Meanwhile, reservoirs supplying water to Chennai have all dried up.
A BBC report said, “India is facing its worst water crisis in its history.” India Today stated that “50 per cent” of the country is staring at “drought.” In this connection, this writer had written an article titled, ‘Water Woes’, which was published recently in The Hindu. I also issued an appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to immediately set up a ‘National Water Committee’ consisting of scientists, administrators and other eminent people to deal with the problem on a war footing.
This writer had set up a similar committee by a judicial order as a judge of the Supreme Court in MK Balakrishnan vs Union of India (2009) case under the chairmanship of former Secretary in the Union Ministry of Science and Technology, Thirumalachari Ramasami. In the case of Delhi Water Supply & Sewage Disposal Undertaking vs State of Haryana (1996), the Supreme Court observed, “Water is a gift of nature. Human hand cannot be permitted to convert this bounty into a curse, an oppression.” However, scant notice was given to this admonition and the natural resource has been converted into precisely that.
When this writer was the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court (2004-2005), a Bench, presided over by him in L Krishnan v. State of Tamil Nadu (2005), noticed that most of the lands marked in the revenue records of the State as ponds or lakes had been encroached upon. Many houses and illegal shops were built on them. The Bench directed the removal of all illegal encroachments. It is doubtful if the order was effectively implemented by the authorities. In Karnataka last year, a piquant situation cropped up. While in the coastal and Malnad region as also some districts of the State, the rain fury wreaked havoc, other regions, especially the northern part of the State, witnessed drought-like situation during the same time. This was unbelievable.
China, too, experienced a similar situation before the 1949 Revolution. Some areas (those next to Hwang He, also known as the ‘river of sorrow’) experienced frequent floods, while others experienced drought. After the Chinese Revolution of 1949, the authorities constructed huge dams on these rivers. Canals were built to carry excess water to drought-hit areas. This way, flood as well as the drought problem was solved. Why could this not have been done in India, too?
States along the coastal lines have access to unlimited sea water but it needs to be desalinated. Desalination methods like reverse osmosis are extremely expensive. But with the help of scientific research, inexpensive methods can be found out. The Himalayas, too, have almost unlimited water in the form of snow but it needs to be harnessed properly. Other techniques like rain water harvesting must be made mandatory in all human settlements. All such efforts call for a strong political will — on the part of the Central as well as State Governments — using scientists (both Indian and foreign). Unfortunately, this will was missing until now.
Now that his Government has a mandate, it is hoped that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not miss this opportunity. He should immediately set up the National Water Committee, giving it adequate funds and other support.
(The writer is a former Judge of the Supreme Court)