Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Water Woes

The Cauvery tribunal took 16 years to reach a verdict and as expected it hasn't satisfied all the parties concerned. Karnataka feels let down, so does Kerala. So far Tamil Nadu seems happy with the verdict but I expect in the coming days they too will feel cheated ( or at least pretend to feel cheated). The verdict is in, but the issue has not gone away and it would be a miracle if it goes away. At the root of the dispute, is the question of how the water in river should be shared.

My take on the issue is that there are two different questions in this issue and resolution is possible if they are separated. The first question is who owns the water ? The second question is who should be allowed to use it ?

The answer to the second question is simpler. People who are willing to pay get to use the water. There are broadly two types of users. Those that use the water for navigation, fishing, recreation etc and those that use for irrigation,industry and domestic purposes. The first set of users do not lessen the quantity of water by their usage. The second set do lessen the quantity of water by using it. The first set should probably be pay an annual fixed price and the second set should pay in proportion to the usage.

The first question is more complex. Going forward, we can expect water to become a sufficiently scarce commodity. The aim of defining the ownership of water, should be to encourage increasing the amount of water that is available in the river. The main contributors to increasing the amount of water in the river would be communities in the catchment area & communities in the flow area. These communities should own the water in the river. They should be allowed to manage the flow ( through Dams etc ), use the water & sell the water. Land ownership in these areas could be used as proxies for arriving at water ownership with higher weight given to lands in catchment areas.

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