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   Fair deals for watershed services
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
23 Jul 2010

Champagne for a pittance

News reports indicate that farmers in Parkejuli village in Assam pay Rs 21,000 to their counterparts across the border in Bhutan for using water from rivers flowing from the Himalayan Kingdom. The practice reportedly dates back to 1956 when the annual tax was just Rs 100. The rate of payment has since been revised several times. It seems there is an unwritten obligation on the part of the downstream users to pay their upstream counterparts for sustained supplies.

Unlike most city dwellers, Parkejuli inhabitants do not take the water that flows downstream for granted. In most cities across India water is ferried from distant watersheds to meet the growing demand. Quite often, neither is consent sought from local inhabitants for such transaction nor is payments made for the services they render. The crucial question is whether robbing Peter to pay Paul is justified in a market-driven economy?

Based on multi-location studies in eight countries the book has attempted to examine the issue of payment for watershed services from social, economic, legal and institutional perspectives. There are mixed evidences though. Payment for hitherto unrealized ecosystem services brings into the open the potential winners and the likely losers, setting the stage for a negotiated settlement to create a win-win situation. Without doubt, the payment schemes seem difficult to set up.

However, the Catskills-Delware watershed has sustained a large chunk of the 4.5 billion litres of daily supply of water to 9 billion people in the New York City on 'payment for ecosystem services' principle. Considered 'champagne' of drinking waters, the quality started deteriorating in the early 1980's due to intensification of farm activities in the watershed. It was estimated that to maintain water quality, the city would need to invest $ 6 billion in setting up a treatment plant.

The New York city instead struck a deal with the farmers, paying for pollution control investments on each farm. Between 1990 and 1993, 93 per cent of landholders in the Cat-Del watershed had signed up the program at a cost equivalent of about 11 per cent of the proposed treatment plant. New Yorkers have retained their champagne drinking water at a fraction of the cost of treatment. Curiously, exceptional cases like these have yet to inspire replication.

The case of New York city indicates that ensuring buyers alone may not be sufficient to set the system rolling. What the buyer pays for and what the seller gets may not be enough, the challenge is to ensure that watersheds get a fair deal.

Fair deals for watershed services
by Ivan Bond & James Mayers, IIED, London, 112 pages, $ 18


 
 Other books reviewed by Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Features > Book Shelf
 
Spoiling Tibet
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

A Journey in the Future of Water
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Yamuna Manifesto
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

 
Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

Lead View
People, Partition and the Pain
By Rina Mukherji
15 Aug 2013

Dr Jayanti Basu's book analyzes the complex feelings of hatred and longing for the homeland that have contributed to shaping the personalities of a generation of people who were forced to ..
Book Shelf

Yamuna Manifesto

A Journey in the Future of Water

Spoiling Tibet

On Western Terrorism
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Carmen Miranda
Pandurang Hegde
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