Unity in diverse waters
The quadrilateral road project is one of the more important things that has happened in independent India. Perhaps encouraged by that, it is now being conceived that rivers will be interlinked. The two are, of course, not the same, even though in some areas conveying water is more important than conveying goods and persons.
There is confusion in the public mind on the ‘‘interlinking of rivers’’. The idea has an obvious appeal — people starved of water think their problem will be solved. This is actually far more difficult than the roads project.
The grandiose concepts of a ‘Garland Canal’ or the Ganga-Cauvery link are not being talked about and have been given a decent burial.
The present proposals are a modified version of a Perspective Plan built up by the National Water Development Agency when A.D. Mohile was its chairman. It is basically a concept, rather than a project. Some parts are better worked out and are almost pre-feasability level; others not so. In planning jargon, it is the kind of exciting concept which is written up in short notes and needs brainstorming over what to accept, reject or modify. In the process, one learns a lot anyway.
Basically, the idea is to stay away from crazy concepts of lifting entire rivers and drawing lines on a map and calling it a project. The better worked out ideas are to link some adjoining rivers: some of which have already been projectised.
For example, the Narmada-Tapti link. Some of the links, for example, are within a state and should, therefore, be easy to get going on. As you go along, the linked network becomes larger and there is some transfer from the north and east to the west and south.
Even this is fairly ambitious. And its benefits are large. But it could be phased and anyway there is choice, because unless past practices developed with a lot of difficulty are given up, there is nothing at present which meets the project preparation norms of the Nitin Desai Committee of the Planning Commission, which had set the standards of project preparation for the irrigation sector as far as the Government of India was concerned. Alternatives can, therefore, be looked at.
Unfortunately, the idea excites a lot of emotion and reasoned discussion doesn’t seem very easy. One would have thought a sensible way of approaching the problem is to begin with what we are reasonably sure of in terms of what is possible and not possible and to develop the rest of the argument with an open mind and additional work.
But this doesn’t seem easy even though Suresh Prabhu who heads the official effort on it seems at this stage to be fairly accommodating, and in spite of the fact that the idea has already received powerful endorsement.
To some of the committed, there is no shortage of water anywhere and with better management at the local level and with local institutions, the water problem will be solved. Now this is something on which there is a tradition of work. Given the accepted global norms of per capita availability of water, in a business-as-usual scenario, expert studies show that India will be short by 10 per cent or more in a decade and a half and some regions will be in serious trouble. To this the reply is that whenever water harvesting has been done at the local level, there has been no shortage of drinking water — which is true and is a very powerful argument for water harvesting and management.
But even in such areas, there is a shortage of water for irrigation and even for animals in many areas. At this stage, facts give way to ‘‘fundamental beliefs’’. One is an argument that there are always activities which need little water. The other is that there was a time even these areas managed with little water.
This then leads to an intellectual cul de sac from which there is no escape. It is the kind of situation a brahmanical mind loves. Meanwhile, other more practical societies would have solved the problem and gone ahead.
To some, the project is ready and we can start constructing. To others, it is not the project we should discuss but the philosophy of life and state. The omens are not good, unless civil society forces a more open and practical debate and brings out that the fringes have either led us to costly mistakes or, at the other end, equally costly inaction.
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Yoginder K. Alagh / THE INDIAN EXPRESS, FEBRUARY 11, 2003
Water position in 70 reservoirs critical
NEW DELHI Feb. 10. The overall water position in 70 important reservoirs of the country continues to be critical.
After consideration of the latest position today by the Crop Weather Watch Group of the Ministry of Agriculture, which reviews the water level in reservoirs, the Centre will ask the State Governments and the Central Water Commission to undertake desilting of reservoirs in view of the low levels of storage.
The group was informed that the total live storage in reservoirs monitored by the CWC was only 29 per cent of the capacity during the last week. With only three reservoirs having more than 80 per cent storage, the overall position continued to be critical.
THE HINDU, FEBRUARY 11, 2003
Norms for bottled water made stringent
NEW DELHI FEB. 10. The Ministry of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs has written to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to update its Prevention of Food Adulteration Act to bring it in line with the new standards set for packaged/bottled drinking water.
This has come about after the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) revised its norms last Saturday for packaged drinking water and made them stringent to bring them at par with international standards. This was after the Centre of Science and Environment found out that the pesticide residual presence in bottled water of most brands was higher than accepted international standards.
The bureau has now decided to adopt European standards, which are more stringent. The individual pesticide residue should now not exceed 0.1 micron (i.e. one part in a billion) and the total pesticide residue should not be beyond 0.5 micron (i.e. 5 parts in a billion).
The standards being adopted so far by the BIS were considered "vague" as it failed to specify what it meant by "non-detectable" pesticide level. Under the new specifications, companies will have to use the sophisticated "capillary method" to do the pesticide tests. A notification to this effect will be issued soon.
Meanwhile, the committee set up by the Food Minister, Sharad Yadav, to probe the issue of poor specifications for bottled water will submit its report in three weeks.
On Saturday, the Science and Technology Minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, wrote to the Prime Minister seeking his intervention to ensure that the laws on testing packaged/bottled water were made stringent and in line with international standards "in the interest of public health".
Gargi Parsai / THE HINDU, FEBRUARY 11, 2003
Prabhu begins his river journey, not so smoothly
New Delhi, February 10: Former Power Minister Suresh Prabhu has been assigned the job of realising Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s dream of linking 37 rivers. It’s a huge, Rs 5,60,000-crore project but Prabhu has already hit the first hurdle.
The Finance Ministry has shot down his proposal to set up a secretariat with eight advisers and two full-time secretaries. The reason: There is a freeze on hiring and creation of new posts.
The standoff continued so Prabhu had to ask the Prime Minister to intervene.
The PMO has now asked the Finance Ministry to intervene and the Ministry of Personnel to sort out the problem even if it meant creation of posts on contract basis.
Prabhu, heading the task force on linking of rivers, had sought two full-time joint-secretary-level officials for his secretariat as his work involved liaising with states and interaction with bureaucrats.
He wanted independent experts on finance, ecology and environment, sociological issues, organisational skills, creation of awareness through maintaining websites, international cooperation with neighbouring countries like Bhutan and Nepal and on management.
Finance Ministry’s Expenditure section put its foot down as its budgetary position was tight. Their justification: There was already a Ministry for Water Resources and a National Water Development Agency from where resources could be drawn.
Prabhu, who has been given the rank of a Cabinet Minister, sought to underplay the problem: ‘‘It’s true that I had asked for a secretariat to support me and there was some problem initially, but the issue has now been resolved. I have no objection if posts are created on a contractual basis so that we have flexibility to employ people. After all such a huge project costing lakhs of crores of rupees cannot be stuck because some personnel will cost Rs 4 crore or 5 crore. It is only that the creation of posts is a time-consuming process but I hope everything will settle down in a month or two.’’
Prabhu’s task force is scheduled to submit the report by the end of this year. The project is expected to displace 4.5 lakh people.
Navika Kumar / THE INDIAN EXPRESS, FEBRUARY 11, 2003