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‘Anti-dam protests misplaced’

Dipankar Chakraborty |

With over three decades’ experience in dealing with India’s water resources sector, Central Water Commission (CWC) chairman S Masood Hussain can be called the ‘water-man of India’. He blames the country’s perennial water crisis on what he terms self-appointed champions of anti-dam activists.

Hussain, who also holds additional charge as Director General, National Water Development Agency, said much of the country’s water woes could have been addressed if a network of dams had come up across the country. In an interview to DIPANKAR CHAKRABORTY, he said that the CWC, for the first time, would not only predict floods but also the areas it would hit using state-of-the-art technology and space science data. Excerpts:

Q: What is the significance of the 9th International micro irrigation conference titled ‘Micro Irrigation in Modern Agriculture’ to be held in India?

A: We have to increase water use efficiency in agriculture. Use of micro-irrigation such as drip or sprinkler irrigation is one of the most effective ways of increasing water use efficiency. This will help save water and enhance productivity.

Since water use efficiency in India is low the conference will help the cause of micro-irrigation. Micro-irrigation is very effectively being used successfully in the use of Narmada water in Rajasthan. The Water Resource Ministry is engaged in promoting micro-irrigation across the country.

Q: What is reservoir storage monitoring system and how useful is it?

A: We carry out monitoring of 91 major reservoirs in the country comprising about 65 per cent of the total storage. We have over 5,000 small and big dams. The monitoring enables us and state governments to plan water releases. Every Thursday evening, we release the latest data.

Q: India is facing a severe water scarcity. Your data till April 2018 shows overall water storage has been less than the ‘average storage’ of the last decade. Is the situation really alarming?

A: There is definitely a shortage in the volume of water in reservoirs when we compare it to 10 years’ average. But it may not alone suffice to understand the water position.

Rainfall has been deficient, in summer, winter and monsoon, in the past 2 to 3 years. Factors like last year’s rainfall and water taken out of reservoirs have to be seen together. The storage is thus not absolute, it depends on how much water you are drawing.

Q: Is the rainfall shortage attributable to climate change and other environmental factors?

A: It has become fashionable these days to attribute all such rainfall shortage to climate change. First you have to see the natural phenomenon has an in-built variation in itself. It would thus be harsh to attribute it to any specific factor like climate change. Climate change is shifting the location, not availability, and here the availability of water is less.

Q: What is the role of dams in the management of water resources? You have been a strong votary of building dams.

A: Development of water resources and management are two important aspects of water resources. Development of water resources means creation of more water storage through creation of more dams. An overwhelming quantity of water comes during the monsoon season.

Unless we store this water, we cannot use it. There is a need to create more water storage. Over a period of time there has been a resistance to building dams to create water storage. Such protests are misplaced.

Q: These protests are over the likely seismic impact of building dams.

A: As water resources engineers, we feel these protests against the creation of larger reservoirs are all misplaced. Some of our environmentalists or so-called activists not only in India but other countries have misled the people. I don’t want to name anybody but there is an entire lobby of environmentalists.

Q: Why do we need only dams as means of water storage?

A: Without big dams or reservoirs whatever prosperity we have been observing around us would not have been possible. The green revolution would not have been possible without Bhakra or other dams.

We have already wasted too much water in the irrigation sector in the absence of proper water management. We need to know the use of other systems such as automation of canals. We have to adopt modern water usage practices which we have not been able to do so far.

Q: We need rain water to fill up water reservoirs or dams. But rainfall pattern has been very encouraging in this regard to ensure a regular flow of water…

A: These reservoirs or dams are site specific. Where there are suitable sites and valleys we can build dams. We have identified numerous such valleys in the country where we can build dams to store water, including the north-eastern states of the country. We have a lot of potential in the north-eastern region for building dams, which will be multipurpose projects.

There are potential sites. Because of resistance of the local people and some other reasons these dam projects could not be implemented. Flood control would be a major benefit that would come through these projects, especially ones earmarked on river Brahmaputra.

Q: Do you think interlinking of water has hit a major roadblock in the country?

A: No, this is not the case. The excess water in the dams once they are built needs to be shifted to other dry basins to replenish them, mostly in the western and southern regions of the country.

The 30 river-links being identified seek to take the excess water to dry areas. The studies on river linking projects started in 1982. These are time taking tasks. We should not lose hope.

Q: There has been an increase in water disputes between states. Do you see any prospects of these being ever resolved?

A: Because of the increase in population and requirements, water disputes have increased. There are many reasons for that. Cauvery is a water-short basin in the south.

If there is a cooperative approach, then we can resolve these issues. The CWC has resolved many issues in the past. But once the tribunal has awarded a verdict, then all parties much accept it.