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Interstate water conflicts creating problems in resource sharing
Interstate river disputes directly affect the livelihood of people. For irrigation, the dearth of surface water has enhanced the competitions in water usage. The dependency on major rivers and their tributaries has increased over the years.
THE ECONOMIC advantage that a state seeks to gain by using natural resources brings in political moves which provide little room for the rights of commons. This statement comes true in case of interstate river disputes of Orissa. Recently Chhattisgarh has started a construction near the place of intersection of Indravati and Bhaskel Rivers posing a threat of submergence to 22 villages of Nawrangpur district in Orissa. This has been resulted in a massive social unrest in the area. Such water conflicts are not fresh for the state.

And not only Chhattisgarh, Orissa have experienced similar disputes with all its neighbouring states which arise either for sharing of water and irrigational benefits, construction of projects in the upstream or downstream of interstate rivers, sharing of hydropower or water logging due to such projects. What is important is that the locals who are grossly affected by such conflicts are grossly neglected in political decisions concerning interstate rivers.

The legal and constitutional provisions have clearly indicated that the Centre has a right to take decisions in the matters of interstate rivers (7th schedule), even if water is a state chapter. The Interstate River Water Disputes Act of 1956 has empowered the state to go for a tribunal in case such conflict arises.

All these provisions are incorporated to protect the riparian rights of states and have their own blurred interpretations. There is no time limit prescribed for consensus of the states which brings in chaos for the locals for a prolonged period. Polavaram conflict is lingering since 1980, when an agreement between Orissa and Andhra Pradesh was entered upon. The people of 13 settlements in eight revenue villages and five hamlets in Podia Block of Malkangiri district of Orissa still await their unforeseen fate. It has also been seen that the decision of a tribunal is not practically final and binding.

Adding to this, there is no mechanism to follow the award of the tribunal. Another grey area in the legal/ constitutional provisions is that, the Central government can’t act in Suo Motu, if the state doesn’t communicate its grievances over the matter, or in other words, if the state doesn’t feel so. However, from the legal/ constitutional provisions, it is much implied that the rights of an individual is undermined in a gross interpretation of rights of the state. The whole set up shows that the project benefits are looked upon as indicators for economic progress (of the state) and the sacrifices are valued in compensations.

For interstate rivers, Orissa has agreements with all its neighbouring states viz West Bengal, Jharkhand (then Bihar), Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (then Madhya Pradesh). Among the interstate rivers flowing in Orissa, the state has agreements for Mahanadi, Ib, Subarnarekha, Bahuda, Vamsadhara, Nagavali Indravati and Kolab Rivers. Erratic rainfalls induced by climate change and silt deposition have rendered the flow of many of these rivers shrink over the years, making the performance of the agreements difficult. The reduced flow and competitive water use has also created a social unrest in the area.

The conflict on Jaunra River is a burning example of this, whereby the reduced flows in Indravati made Chhattisgarh allege that most of the water of Indravati is diverted through Jaunra. According to Jaunra Bachao Sangharsh Samiti of Kotpad, the Chhattisgarh Police harassed the people of Orissa living at the border and the government offered various incentives to the people of Orissa. The locals call for a tripartite talk between both of the governments and the local leaders.

On many instances, the neighbouring states have taken steps for which they didn’t consult with the Central Water Commission or the Orissa government, forget the people. There are several instances like the illegal construction of canal near Katragadda by Andhra Pradesh government to divert the water of Vamsadhara River, sand bags in the mouth of Jaunra River, construction of an off take sluice in Srikakulam district by Andhra Pradesh to divert the water of Mahendratanaya etc.

As the flow of downstream depends upon the upstream releases, the flood control mechanism, irrigation plans etc are designed accordingly. In such a case any new project in the upstream make the earlier set up futile and gives way to conflict. In contrast to this, newer constructions are entered upon by states to avail the benefits of water economics. Through projects on interstate rivers, the people living at downstream are affected in terms of water scarcity and the chain of water use is negatively influenced. Due to such projects, people living at upstream experience submergence of land and water logging. Orissa has experienced the burnt of both. The multiple constructions in Chhattisgarh on Mahanadi have put a negative impact on irrigation in Orissa. Projects like Polavaram and Neredi barrage on Vamsadhara brought threats of submergence to Orissa.

Interstate river disputes directly affect the livelihood of people. For irrigation, the dearth of surface water has enhanced the competitions in water usage. The dependency on major rivers and their tributaries has increased over the years. In such a case, interstate river disputes need to be resolved with utmost justice to the commons and should not be dealt as a mere political hype. There is a need to look upon the socioeconomic side of the interstate river disputes. A central advisory committee should be constituted to take decisions over the matters Suo Motu, whose decisions shall be final and binding as that of the Supreme Court. Above all, the most important thing is to include the common people in the process of decision making to protect their rights.

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