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Editorial

India’s hidden groundwater crisis

India is facing a perfect storm in managing water. Centuries of mismanagement, political and institutional incompetence, indifference at central, state and municipal levels, a steadily increasing population to at least 2050 (estimated at 1.7 billion) which will require more and more water for domestic, industrial, agricultural, energy and environmental needs, a rapidly mushrooming middle class demanding an increasingly more protein-rich diet requiring significantly more water to produce, absence of any serious and sustained attempts at central or state levels to manage water quantity and quality, lack of implementation of existing laws and regulations, pervasive corruption and poor adoption rates of new and cost-effective technologies, are only some of the causes why water situations in all the Indian states are likely to continue to become progressively worse.

In spite of this sad state of affairs, there are no real signs that politicians are waking up to the rapidly deteriorating water situation all over the country, or are willing to take hard but essential political decisions. Actions are mostly cosmetic. Policies are primarily ad-hoc, incorrect, incoherent and rarely properly implemented. Politicians are looking for visible but mostly quick and temporary results from one election cycle to another. It does not matter which party had been in power, results have been steadily deterioration in the country’s water situations.  

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The foul odor of failed air pollution policy

Delhi is enduring one of the worst air pollution crises in recent memory. While such events are increasingly common in India, the rare few that are severe enough to capture international headlinesshould provide an urgent wake-up call to policymakers.

By late morning on November 7, PM2.5 levels – a measure of the size of airborne particulate matter – reached an appalling 769, quadruple the level in the next most polluted city, Chennai.

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Water Scarcity and Regional Security in India

Water planning in India has been on an unsustainable path for centuries. In the 16th century, Mughal Emperor Akbar decided to build a new capital in Fatehpur Sikri (City of Victory). In 1589, Robert Fitch, one of the earliest English travellers to India, noted that Agra and Fatehpur Sikri were “two great cities, either of them much greater than London and more populous.” 

The history of the new capital was not so auspicious. Emperor Akbar used it only for 13 years and then abandoned it to return to his old capital permanently. The main reason was very severe water scarcity.

Fatehpur Sikri is a magnificent monument to India’s poor water planning. Over the centuries India’s water planning has improved incrementally whereas its drivers of water use have increased exponentially, making its water situation worsen steadily with time.

Take population, only one driver of increasing water use. In 1947, the total population of undivided India was 390 million. By, 2050, total population of the three countries of undivided India will be 2,206 billion, a 5.66-fold increase in little over a century. India is expected to overtake China around 2022 as the most populous country in the world.

Population growth, rapid urbanization and industrialization and exponential growth in human activities over the past century, have resulted in higher water requirements for all types of water uses: human, thermo-industrial and agricultural.

Furthermore, for centuries domestic and industrial wastewaters have been indiscriminately discharged to water bodies without any, or partial treatment. Consequently, all water bodies within and near population centres have already been contaminated seriously with domestic and industrial pollutants. This has posed serious health and environmental problems.

In addition, with steady economic growth, higher literacy and increasing skill levels, the number of Indian middle class families has gone up exponentially. The median income of Indian households is expected to reach over $10,000, by 2030, in 2014 prices. Direct results of this affluence have been rapid changes in dietary patterns and energy consumption levels. As the country has prospered, people have moved to a higher protein-based diet like milk products, fish and meat, all of which need significantly more water to produce than cereal-based diets. Their energy consumption has gone up because of increasing use of refrigerators, washing machines and cars. All these need extra energy and no energy can be generated without significant amount of water.

In terms of water, the country now is facing a perfect storm. This means water management practices in India need to change dramatically in the coming years. However, we do not see any sustained political will which will be essential to take some hard decisions in the future.

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that all important rivers in India are interstate, and water management is basically a state subject on which the Centre has very limited control.

Because of poor water management in all the Indian states and steadily increasing water demands, India is now witnessing increasing conflicts on water allocations in interstate rivers. This has become a serious challenge to the regional stability of the country.

Interstate water allocation conflicts have triggered numerous protests, violence and property destruction. If these conflicts continue and grow, they may prove to be one of the biggest political constraints to India’s future economic growth and social cohesion.

A major challenge now is the absence of permanent and efficient dispute resolution mechanisms for water allocation in interstate rivers. Under the Interstate Water Disputes Act of 1956, ad-hoc tribunals can be established on a case by case basis whenever conflicts between two states cannot be resolved by mutual discussion. The objective of this Act was to allow the states to discuss and resolve the conflicts before engaging in adjudication.

Our research indicates that tribunals have often contributed to long-drawn negotiation processes which have led to hardening of the positions of the individual states, instead of promoting compromises. It has accentuated the rivalries between the states so that each can receive higher allocation of waters which is physically impossible.

There are several problems with the existing tribunal system. First, there are no uniform, logical and common processes. They have considerable discretions in terms of processes to arrive at settlements also underlying concepts under which settlements are made. Fundamental assumptions have often varied from one tribunal to other significantly.

Second, tribunal results are non-binding to the states.

Third, Central Government has been reluctant to establish institutions for implementing the awards.

Forth, there is no fixed stipulated timeframe for negotiations and adjudications. The Cauvery Tribunal took 17 years. Karnataka then promptly decided to file a Special Leave Petition to the Supreme Court to thwart the final award, further delaying the settlement.

An important factor linking water disputes to its state politics is the power of the state campaigns in distracting voters from real issues of poor governance and lack of administrative skills and actions. Water has now assumed the role of a political weapon.

With a number of states defying orders of tribunals and Supreme Court, water is becoming an important threat to Indian’s federalism and future social and economic development. 

In the absence of functioning water institutions at central and state levels and lack of political wills to take hard decisions of all political levels, interstate water allocation problems will become increasingly more difficult to resolve. This does not even include future complexities and uncertainties that will be imposed by climate change or creation of additional new states.

This proves Marks Twain’s adage “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over.”

Asit K. Biswas is Distinguished Visiting Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS, Singapore. Cecilia Tortajada is a Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Water Policy, in the same School. Udisha Saklani is an independent researcher working with Institute of Water Policy.

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Pakistani Hindus in the Quagmire of Identity

On one hand “Tryst with Destiny” was being delivered by Jawahar Lal Nehru, on the other hand malignant “imminent will” (a blind and indifferent force that determines the fate) was waiting to be bestowed to one of the most persecuted communities- the Hindus in Pakistan.

The hope of the relative safety of religious majority as well as the fear of maiming and mutilation followed by the partition of dominion of Pakistan and union of India forced mass scale exodus from either sides of the new born boarder.

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Irony of Educational Infrastructure in Bihar

Now this vividly affluent historical and cultural land of Bihar is today facing a serious identity crisis in the field of higher level of education. Bihar is that very state which gave the world it's most renowned ancient university, the famous Nalanda University. The count does not end here well it has just begun now, also it was none other than this land of Bihar which gave the world its First Yoga University. 

The brilliance and the adroitness of this soil lie in the fact that Bihar gave birth to some of the most decorated personalities in the history of the ancient India, Chanakya the all-time greatest philosopher and political mentor who is also regarded as the Father of Economics wrote the famous book Arthashastra was born on this soil. Valmiki who wrote the great epic of Ramayana, Aryabhatt the great mathematician who invented Zero to the numeral system, Vatsayana who wrote Kamasutra, Ashoka the greatest ruler of India whose famous emblem of Ashoka Chakra is adorned in the National Flag of India, Dinkar who is considered be the National Poet of India, Rishi Shushrat who was the Father of Surgery, Dr Rajendra Prasad who became the First President of Independent India were all born and lived on this very soil. While Lord Buddha got enlightenment and Lord Mahavira found Jainism on this very ancient land of Bihar. Bihar truly marked the history of the country. 

But ironically the glorious past of the land had faded away now. The state today stands much behind in the count of the universities and colleges in the count of the universities and colleges in the country that too with respect to her ever increasing number of students with the passage of every successive year. Bihar even after the division of her southern portion of land as Jharkhand in the year 2000 is still India’s 3rd most populated state. While this densely populated state accounts for only 30 Universities in present and in general comparison with Gujarat the real miserable picture of Bihar clearly comes into the light, Gujarat which stands much behind in terms of population and is the 9th most populated state of the nation accounts for a total of 49 Universities in present. 

And the sad story of the state starts from here, the students from this state who holds tremendous amount of potential are left with no other choice other than to migrate to other parts of the nation and mostly to the metro cities of the country. These students of Bihar who are facing the lack of quality and desirable universities in their home state migrates to the big cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Pune, Hydrabad mostly. While in this duration of pursuing their graduation, post-graduation and other higher studies in different parts of the country these students from Bihar faces tremendous amount of challenges as since adjusting and settling in some other land is never an easy job. 

The even sadder part of this picture is the fact that these students from Bihar who once leaves their state for the higher educational purposes very rarely returns to their home state as they finds themselves placed in some of the very respectable and desirable positions in the various multinational corporations existing and operating in the big cities. Bihar where the count of students cracking the Civil Examinations is highest in the Country and the state which produces the highest count of IAS & IPS Officers in whole of the country cannot stand to restrain her potential holding student force to stay in their home state. Is this not a shame for Bihar that the state cannot provide satisfaction and better opportunities to her fellow students? 

This frightening truth of the state raises up the major question that when would the state government wake up and work in reality to develop the educational infrastructure of the state and provide the students of the state what they deserve? Will the state government ever stop to play the vote bank politics in the region and work for the development of the human resource sector in the state? Now this whole case migration of the students has got to be taken care of soon since this big disorder is creating a serious damage in the structure the Human Development Index of the state.

 

Neel Preet (Author - Voice from the East)

Member of Indian Authors Association

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