Up in arms over water

Published: Friday 28 February 1997

Up in arms over water

It is not everyday that approximately 30,000 people from far-flung corners of India, as well as representatives from nearby countries like Nepal and Thailand, gather to discuss a not so juicy issue like people's water policy. That is precisely what happened at Kasravad (Madhya Pradesh*) on the banks of the Narmada river on December 21, 1996. People gathered to resolve to fight against large dam-centered water policy of the country. Veteran social worker Baba Amte was one of the prominent people at the massive rally, which was called by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA).

The rally was followed by a two- day consultation on 'Towards A New Water Policy: Framework and Strategies'. In one of the papers presented at the consultation, Medha Patkar of the NBA said that conflicts for control over water resources were increasing at every level -- from the individual to the state but most importantly, between the people and the state. In the process, the traditional water harvesting and management systems of the nation are getting destroyed.

Ravi Chopra of the Dehradun-based People's Science Institute pointed out that India's post-independence water policy had failed to fulfill targets with regard to irrigation, power and flood control. In fact, in some regions, the area under irrigation had decreased considerably since independence. The consultation ended with the formation of a working group to draft a new water policy with the help of people from all over India.

In an important follow-up to the convention, a meeting of activists fighting against large dams was organised in Delhi on January 27-28, 1997. A memorandum, calling for a moratorium on the construction of all large dams, was submitted to the planning commission and the water resources ministry, as well as the World Bank and the embassy of Japan, who provide a large part of the funds for such projects.

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