The recent dispute over the Indus' waters stems from its faulty allocation
When all flows out
On July 12 this year, Punjab's legislators passed an act which annulled all previous water sharing agreements with neighbouring Haryana and Rajasthan. It sparked off a dispute whose roots actually go back to the 1960 Indo-Pak Indus Water Agreement. In its haste to exact much more than India's due share, the then Union government included non-riparian areas in our side of the Indus basin. India eventually got only 20 per cent of Indus waters -- that barely meet the needs of present day Punjab. But the government's foible meant that 70 per cent of it was transferred outside the Indus basin, much to the chagrin of people in Punjab.
As per last ten years data, the annual water release from the three rivers of the Indus basin -- Satluj, Ravi and Beas -- is about 28 million acre feet (maf). But water losses and fluctuating flows mean that only 21 maf water is actually available. However, our planners had not reckoned this in 1981. That year, a water sharing agreement was signed between Punjab and its neighbouring states and 17.17 maf water was allocated to all the parties from the Ravi-Beas -- in addition to 15.6 maf Satluj waters allocated by an earlier agreement. Punjab was initially allocated 3.5 maf (20 per cent) Ravi-Beas waters; that was increased to 5 maf (30 per cent) as per the Rajiv-Longowal accord. Today, the Ravi-Beas system releases about 14.1 maf but 12.1 maf of that flows down to non-riparian states.
Deprived of canal waters, Punjab's farmers now depend on increasingly scarce groundwater for irrigation; extracting it through tubewells means precious electricity or diesel consumed -- the former costs Rs 4 per unit, while the latter comes at Rs 25 per litre. It is estimated that Punjab loses more than Rs 6,000 crore every year because Indus' waters are diverted away from the state. Some might argue that this is a sacrifice that Punjab's people have been enjoined to, for a greater national good. Such people would have been on solid turf if canal networks had worked well. They haven't: recent figures show about 40 per cent of the Ravi Beas and Satluj waters are wasted in transmission.
Moreover, does damming rivers and channeling their water through canals actually increase agricultural productivity? Consider this: Maharashtra has 1651 dams and its per hectare (ha) agricultural productivity is 757 kg while Madhya Pradesh with 803 dams produces 907 kg per ha. Gujarat with even less dams -- 576 -- produces 1169 kg per ha. In comparison, Punjab has 12 large dams and shares water in three dams with two neighbouring states, but its production is 4032 kg per ha. Clearly, India's water allocation system requires a thorough overhaul.
Ravinder Singh is a scientist and inventor
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.