Rivers of peace – Krishna and Godavari

By: Dr. Biksham Gujja

Water has played a major role in the establishment of the state of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, and now in the creation of Telangana. Water wars may not flare up, as Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy is saying, but surely the division can spark new conflicts over water.

That does not mean keeping the state intact will solve water conflicts. Why are we fighting over water? India has not focused much on managing rivers. We have treated the rivers as pipelines for transporting water from one place to another.

Some of the reasons for water conflicts are:

Investing to create conflicts:

Water management has evolved in many countries in the past 40 years. But, India is stuck with old concepts like “water going to the sea is wasted, more water better for irrigation, more diversions will solve the problem, spending more money on building dams, diversions, canals are better, etc.” Such concepts were required in the 1950s, 60s and may be even the 70s. Those interventions by our engineers have done wonders.

They improved food security and proved that we can solve our problems. But that was then; continuing them today is the reason for conflict. For example, the government of AP, between 2004-2009, sanctioned Rs 186,000 crore ($40 billion) for Jalayagnam. It is actually money yagnam.

Most of it went to acquire lands, build structures, but very little has gone to increase productivity. That is what the CAG said. Today, India does not have any norms to find if investments in irrigation are benefiting farmers. We are fattening contractors in the name of helping farmers.

Allocating water, which does not exist:

Allocations are the source of conflict not solutions. There is a limit to the water we can take out of rivers as they are no longer rivers, but drains. The criteria has been reduced from 75% to 65% dependability, and this is the main source of conflict between states and within the state.

No framework to equitably distribute water within a state:

The state government is ready to fight any time with other states for its fair share, but it does not have any mechanism to allocate that water within the state. This is the second reason for conflicts which precipitated division of the state.

No incentive for water productivity: Water supplied by dams is free. Here comes a more complex aspect. If the government supplies water, and if that is free, naturally every farmer will want it. The more you supply, the more the demand. There is no incentive to use the water delivered at the farm for productive purposes.

So there is no framework on at what price water needs to be provided. As long as farmers are not paying costs, they want every inch to be irrigated, not once, but twice, may be even a third time. That is the third source of conflict. No price, no cost and no limit on who will get it.

Blaming other states but doing the same within the state:

States love to blame each other for not getting water. But when it comes to similar issues within the state, politicians will identify with the region they belong to. So if someone is CM, he or she has to take water to their district, legal or otherwise. That is the source of a major conflict in AP.

Finally, it appears now that bifurcation is imminent. In that case Telangana and Seemandhra should learn from the past and set up mechanisms to tackle water conflicts. Briefly, the water management framework between two states must include these aspects: a) Respecting the tribunal award’s letter and spirit. Water allocations have been made by default to states through projects. That should be respected both in Godavari and Krishna basins.

b) Water infrastructures which fall between the two states — Nagar-junasagar and Srisailam — should be managed through a statutory and independent authority.

c) Polavaram project needs to be re-examined in the light of R&R, and other options explored to meet the same goal. After that review, if constructing the project is the only option, GoI should take full responsibility for the implementation of its own R&R policy and guidelines.

d) Both the states should stop blaming each other. The political leadership should tell farmers that it is not possible to irrigate every hectare. Those who are getting irrigation water should pay at least operational costs and those farmers who are not getting water must get other incentives.

e) introduce water productivity incentives. For example, if farmers produce more with less water, they need to be rewarded. These are not vague ideas. They have been implemented in many countries.

f) In Telangana, expensive projects, which involve complicated, costly multi-stage lift irrigation projects must be reviewed. There are other ways to meet the same goal. Those projects might become a major burden on the state. The Soviet Union built projects like the Karaganda canal from the Itrush River. The project still exists, but the cost of operation is so prohibitive, that today it is a testimony to irrigation projects in which planners did not take real costs into consideration.

Even after bifurcation, the Krishna and the Godavari will continue to be our common source of livelihood. Let us not talk about water wars. Let us learn to manage our river waters better.

Dr. Biksham Gujja is a water expert and former water policy adviser at the WWF-International. He is the founder of AgSri which is trying to produce more food with less water. He can be contacted at

Source: Deccan Chronicle

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