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To pee or not to pee
By Sudhirendar Sharma



Sustained pollution of major rivers; continuous decline in groundwater reserves; priority allocation to non-consumptive sectors; and, growing disparity in water distribution only indicates that the worst is still to come!

Two contrasting political statements have been aired in Maharashtra recently. While the leader of opposition has raised serious concerns on hosting of water-guzzling format of limited over cricket in drought-hit state, the deputy chief minister has expressed servility at the empty reservoir in his most outrageous remarks: 'If there is no water in the dam... should we urinate into it.' By saying what he said, the minister has assigned value to an act that in public is considered 'absurd'.

Vinod Tawde, leader of the BJP, has sought that no cricket matches be held in drought-stricken Maharashtra because as much as 60,000 litres of water is required for keeping the green turf ready for a match. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who held irrigation portfolio till recently, has referred to his kidney while mocking at dam failure in meeting water crisis. While the former reflects gross urban insensitivity towards a largely rural crises, latter symbolizes crass political insanity making light of the growing misery of people.

Far from getting to the depth of the issue, Tawde's concern over water wastage has been snubbed as a publicity gimmick by the Indian Premier League Commissioner Rajiv Shukla. The media and the cricket-crazy elite have seemingly tugged along, ignoring sensitivity over self-interest in the game. Not long ago, the same public had reacted angrily to Asaram Bapu's profligacy during the recent Holi celebrations. Urban elite are ideologically clear on what constitutes water wastage - is it in an ashram or on the cricket field?

It is no breaking news that the water resources ministry and its affiliate organizations like the Central Water Commission and the National Water Development Agency, not only promote large dams but have increasingly started promoting private businesses in the water sector, at the cost of engaging communities in water conservation measures.

Pawar's apology, on the other hand, may save him from political ignominy for now but his apparent admission that dams are no safeguard against drought deserves attention. Having been in the midst of the biggest irrigation scam and witness to the worst drought in recent times, the minister's inadvertent admission lends credence to the widely held belief that the dams have largely failed to deliver at the time of crisis. More importantly, this experience comes from the state that has one-third of all large dams built in the country since independence.

Will it be read differently by the dam building lobby? The 'bladder humor' is unlikely to go the distance in affecting any fundamental change in entrenched obsession with dam building in the country. The political turmoil throws into jeopardy whatever little chance there may have been in discussing the core issue. In reality, the brief for the water ministry has been in favour of dam performance and rehabilitation. No wonder, the recent India Water Week devoted an in-depth session on rehabilitating some 243 dams that are over 50 years old.

It is no breaking news that the water resources ministry and its affiliate organizations like the Central Water Commission and the National Water Development Agency, lead agency working for interlinking of rivers, not only promote large dams but have increasingly started promoting private businesses in the water sector, at the cost of engaging communities in water conservation measures. No surprise, therefore, that the Ministry of Water Resources’ India Water Week gets sponsorship from dam builders, equipment suppliers and irrigation companies.

Given such a situation, does it make a difference if water is in the 'state' or the 'concurrent' list? The questions worth asking are: how are water resources protected and managed; how are competing demands actually met; and, how are promises politically honored? On all three accounts, the score card reflects poor to average ranking. Each of the three National Water Policies, including its 2012 version, and the respective State Water Policies has failed to restore peoples’ faith in the system to improve the situation.

Per capita annual availability of water has continuously shrunk in the country. It has already touched the critical limit of 1,500 cubic meters, only a decade ago the per capita annual availability of water was 1,816 cubic meters.

And there are reasons for such a loss of faith. Per capita annual availability of water has continuously shrunk in the country. It has already touched the critical limit of 1,500 cubic meters, only a decade ago the per capita annual availability of water was 1,816 cubic meters. Sustained pollution of major rivers; continuous decline in groundwater reserves; growing inadequacy in water supplies; priority allocation to non-consumptive sectors; and, growing disparity in water distribution only indicates that the worst is still to come!

The challenges confronting the water sector are enormous and therein exists an opportunity that the country’s water bureaucracy is willfully exploiting - engaging with the emerging consortium of business and international finance institutions which not only influence policies but suggest quick-fix economic solutions too. Annual jamboree like the India Water Week suit these companies as they works directly with governments, or its office-holders, and its initiatives are often kept away from the public awareness or attention.

For a country that not only hosts the world’s biggest river festival, the Maha Kumbh, and a score of regional water festivals like Kerala's Boat Race, Bihar's Chhat Puja and Karnataka’s Buffalo Race, there lie potential opportunities for the water resources ministry to engage with diverse communities in evolving location-specific solutions to emerging water crises. Unless there is a mass movement to bring country’s annual per person water availability close to the world average of 7,000 cubic meters, more ministers will need to empty their bladders in future!

 
Disclaimer:
The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.
 

Sudhirendar Sharma  |  sudhirendarsharma@gmail.com

Dr Sudhirendar Sharma is an environmentalist and development analyst based in New Delhi. Formerly with the World Bank, Dr Sharma is an expert on water, a keen observer on climate change dynamics, and a critic of the contemporary development processes.

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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.

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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!!   

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