Dam(n) the rivers

Interlink rivers and get delinked from true water management

Published: Sunday 15 December 2002

true, everybody loves a good drought. But the latest mantra is the interlinking of the country's rivers. Everybody loves it too. So much so, that it seems to be a favoured jingle with most political parties.

It is an old virus. The first sign of its new mutation showed up in our scientist President. Then a Chief Justice asked the government to complete in 10 years what a government pre-feasibility study said would take at least 43 years and Rs 5,60,000 crore. Now it is the Prime Minister talking about interlinking of rivers to deal with the crippling drought facing us today. When the head of the executive uses it to deal with the political challenge from the opposition (in the face of the Gujarat elections that are so crucial to his party bruised badly by recent electoral setbacks), you are talking real. Talking real in an unreal world.

Because if our politicians were in this world, they would understand that what they need is a plan to deal with today's drought. The inter-linking of rivers is a smoke-screen and a cruel one at that, when you begin to understand just how 'avoidable' the deprivation of drought is. We have food in our godowns, we have work to get done. What we need is a massive programme of productive work so that people can earn money near their homes and use it to buy foodgrain. The employment should be used to build productive assets -- a massive water conservation programme -- that will provide relief against the next drought. We know all this. In the 1970s, the Maharashtrian government had started the employment guarantee scheme, paid for by professionals in the state, to provide a right to employment, guaranteed by law.

The problem today is that in the 1970s we had less food, but better administrative systems. Today, we have food, but we do not have the ability to distribute the food to people who need it desperately. Our bureaucracy has truely become a killer. The is clearly a government-made drought. But what is appalling is the solution offered for its colossal failings. And also the bankruptcy of its ideas.

Let us even for a moment accept that inter-linking of rivers is the only 'permanent' way to solve our drought problems. But Prime Minister, please don't sell us a mirage. Tell us what you will do for the drought of 2002. There is a massive human tragedy at your doorstep. No illusions about this.

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