River Governance and Climate Change

This story was broadcast in the Konkani News Bulletin of DD News, Panaji on 6th March, 2013

Political boundaries are drawn without any consideration to river basin boundaries.  There are many interstate rivers in the country which are hotbeds of conflict due to increasing water demand on scarce water resources on account of growing populations, competition among different water uses, demand for hydropower,  and lack of cooperation across jurisdictional state boundaries.  With climate change, glacial retreats, rising sea-levels, salinity intrusion into water acquifiers, etc inter-state river conflicts will only increase in the future unless serious steps are taken for integrated water resources management taking the river-basin or sub-basin as a hydrological unit for planning and management of water resources.

Translation of the text:

Emotions are running high in Goa over the disputed sharing of Mhadei river waters with neighbouring Karnataka.  Around 7.5 TMC of Mhadei river waters are proposed to be diverted to the Malaprabha river basin in Karnataka by constructing the Kalasa-Bhanduri Nala project to meet the drinking water needs of Hubli-Dharwad and neighbouring areas.  Mhadei originates in Karnataka but more than 50% of its basin lies in Goa, where it is called Mandovi once it enters Satari taluka.  While it runs for around 29 kms in Karnataka, it flows for over 52 kms in Goa.  Considered as Goa’s lifeline, six talukas are totally dependent on it , besides the Opa water treatment plant, five wildlife sanctuaries, in addition to several economic interests like mining, tourism, etc.  Protests by Mhadei Bachao Andolan activists in Goa and Govt of Goa interventions led to the constitution of the Mhadei Water Dispute Tribunal by the Central Govt, which was however opposed by the Karnatak Govt.  Meanwhile  a Belgaum-based environmentalist had also filed a case in the Supreme Court alleging that the Kalasa canal is being constructed in forest areas without the mandated clearances from the Board for Protection of Wildlife.

Both Goa and Karnataka have their own claims, but much of the melodrama could have been avoided if river governance was institutionalised around the river-basin or sub-basin as the basic hydrological unit for planning and management of water, and a polycentric system of river governance was adopted,  with a co-ordinating mechanism at the basin or sub-basin level.

The most serious impact of climate change for India as a whole could be changes in river hydrology due to glacial melt and retreat of himalayan glaciers, resulting in changes in availability of water for irrigation and other purposes.  Given the limits for enhancing utilisation of available water resources, and the variability of supplies due to climate change, demand management is a must,  and should be based on recognition of water as a scarce resource as well as a sustainer of life, food security, livelihoods and ecosystems.  Conservation of river corridors and other water bodies needs to be done in a scientifically planned manner with active community participation.  A lot of data on rainfall, snowfall, glaciers, river flows, irrigated areas, needs to be collected and shared across borders.

Rivers are complex  social -ecological systems that need a governance approach different from the traditional natural resource management approach which involves a one-way management by the social system with ecological services in return.  In the face of climate change and deteriorating ecosystems, achieving sustainability of rivers requires that the resilience capacity of both the social system as well as the ecological system is augmented.


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