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Tuesday Jul 11 2000
Involve the people


THE INABILITY of the Centre and the states to agree on the setting up of river basin organisations is indeed unfortunate. It does not require extensive research to recognise that the current method of managing river waters is far from efficient.

Inter-state river water disputes have proved next to impossible to resolve. And when state governments link these disputes to other issues like language, they are also a major source of social tension. To make matters worse, state governments have not always been up to the task of managing water resources efficiently.

As a distant authority, they have found it difficult to enforce cropping patterns as well as to charge economically viable water rates. An effective river basin organisation, on the other hand, would involve the farmers who earn their livelihood from the basin.

They would have a direct interest in more efficient water management. As they would be the direct beneficiaries of this efficiency, they may be more willing to meet the costs involved. Any deals made among themselves for, say, an exchange of water for power, would also be easier to implement. And an efficient river basin organisation would not like to disrupt its functioning by raising divisive linguistic issues.

The major resistance to the creation of river basin organisations undoubtedly comes from the states. State governments would lose much of the political mileage that they currently generate from inter-state river water disputes.

To be fair to the states, there may also be genuine doubts about whether the river basin organisations are not just a device of the Centre to take over the powers of the states.

This would certainly be the case if the river basin organisations are no more than centrally appointed bodies. In order to remove the genuine concerns that the state governments may have, it is important that the river basin organisations include elected representatives from the entire basin.

Once the politicians belonging to each river basin have a stake in the creation of these organisations, they will also exert the required pressure from below to break the intransigence of the state governments.
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