Seminar On “Water Security In The Western Himalayas

Doon University, Dehradun (Uttrakhand), India

Organized by : Association of Asia Scholars In collaboration with Doon University, Dehradun (Uttrakhand), India

A two days national conference on “Water Security in the Western Himalayas” was held in Doon University, Dehradun, Uttarakhand between November 4-5 2011. The conference was organized by the Association of Asian Scholars (AAS) in collaboration with Doon University. The conference was attended by eminent academicians like Prof. Swaran Singh from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Prof. Sangeeta Thapliyal from Jawaharlal Nehru University and Prof. B.R.Deepak from Doon University. The conference also had some eminent environmental activists like Dr. Anil Joshi from Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization and Dr. R. Sreedhar from Environics Trust and Peace Institute sharing their views on the subject of the conference.

The inaugural session of the conference started with Prof. Sangeeta Thapliyal introducing the audience with AAS and the relevance of organizing the conference in Dehradun. An initiative of the recipients of the Asian Fellowship, AAS was set up in Delhi in 2005 with the aim of focusing on the issues of national and regional importance of Asian countries. With three regional bodies, AAS today has its presence in South Asia, South East Asia and China. The organization of the conference in Dehradun was the first step taken by AAS to start a discussion on the Himalayas. The unique biodiversity of Uttarakhand, environmental campaigns like “Chipko Andolan” and it being the place of origin of the Ganges made it an appropriate venue to kick start the discussion on the Himalayas and its rivers. She concluded her remarks with the hope that this endeavour will go on to include the central and eastern Himalayas.

The welcome remarks by Prof. Swaran Singh laid emphasis on the importance of water by pointing out the fact that almost 71% of the earth surface was covered with water bodies and the human body was no different. However, one should not assume that water is available in abundance, since, only 3.5% of the water on the earth is fresh water, of which less than 1 % is available for use. Himalayas on the other hand are the largest “water tank” on the earth. Since water is becoming scarce with every passing day and the Himalayas continue to face various environmental threats therefore it was necessary to start a discussion on the subject of water security in the western Himalayas. Prof. Singh invited everyone to enthusiastically participate in the conference and expressed happiness about the fact that a large number of students and faculty had come to attend the conference. He then requested Prof. G.B. Pant to give the introductory remarks.

Prof. G.B.Pant, an eminent environmental scientist and currently a professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources of Doon University, in his introductory remarks praised the Himalayas and the Ganges for their importance in the daily lives of Indians. He said that the Himalayas were the genesis of monsoon, and both the Himalayas and the Ganges have been the subjects of our prayers for thousands of years. However, in the recent years they have been neglected by us. He pointed out that India has plenty of water because of its gigantic river system, rain and glaciers, but, it is not being managed properly. We need to distribute water equally all over the country; water should be used properly when in short supply. He closed his remarks by stressing on the importance of water management and conservation.

Prof. Reena Marwah thanked Prof. Pant for his introductory remarks and subtle observation of the current water situation in India. Prof. Marwah said that water management and conservation should be given the attention they deserve since usable water is getting scarce with each passing day. Prof. Marwah felicitated Prof. Pant by presenting him the journal of AAS “Millennial Asia: An International Journal of Asian Studies”. The inaugural session was followed by paper presentations by the scholars participating in the conference.

Session I – Issues and Concerns of Water in Western Himalayas. The first Session started with the address of Prof. Girijesh Pant, Hon. Vice Chancellor, Doon University. By mentioning that globalization is nothing but deconstruction and reconstruction of market paradigm, he brought the whole issue of water security in the economic and commercial context. He quoted an article from the Indian daily, The Hindu, titled ‘Water security in the corporate world’ and brought our attention to how the whole community is returning to this debate. Taking example of Levi’s® Water

To this he added that synergy between consumer and producer is imperative for sustainable development. Hyper consumerism will not go hand in hand with natural resources and that antagonism between the two groups needs to be resolved or else there will remain conflicts.

With Prof. Swaran Singh, from the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, JNU, chairing the session, the first speaker Dr. Anil Joshi from Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization, started the session with the zeal and ardor that only an activist can bring to the issue. Choosing to speak in Hindi, he started by sharing his experiences, through a few photographs, of a cycle tour that he took to know what is the state of water in other parts of the country. Mentioning some shocking data of the unavailability of water in some otherwise ‘wet’ states, he drew everyone’s attention towards the plight of the villages adjoining the grand Tehri Dam of Uttarakhand. Ironically, water reaches these dam(n)ed villages through tanks.

He also shared how indispensable has science’s contribution been to the old traditional methods of water recharging. Methods like, ‘Isotope Application Technology’ and ‘Spring Water Harvesting’ when combined with the traditional methods have proved groundbreaking in recharging many dried springs and rivers in the northern states. Concluding his talk with ‘When disaster strikes, it doesn’t make a choice’ he appealed to the people present in the seminar, specially to the youth, for paying heed to this alarming situation that the world is facing today.

His talk was followed by that of another environmental activist, Shri Guman Singh from Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, Himachal Pradesh. Carrying forward the mood of the seminar, Shri Singh raised the problem of first clarifying what the conflict is. Land grab in the name of conservation, corruption in micro hydel and other local decentralization projects and inefficiency of the policymakers of the country were his prime concerns.

Dr. R. Sreedhar from Environics Trust and Peace Institute, New Delhi took charge of the dais next and pointed out similar concerns also adding to the list the problem of mismanagement of water in the country. The recurrent floods in the Gangetic plains epitomize this mismanagement. His major worriment was also that the management, whatsoever, was taking place like that of a ‘wounded tiger’. He suggested that the river basin welfare should be done as a whole and not fragmented in different areas and departments, calling it ‘Basin-Wide Manner Development’.

The fourth and the last presentation was by Dr. Manoj Bhatt from Jammu University. He started by defining ‘Public Good’ trying to contain it in the thought “If I consume, I cannot exclude anyone”. He mentioned the importance of technology in increasing the height of the upper tab on availability of natural resources. Elucidating the energy deficit in the country through the demand -supply theory, he went on to explaining what is called the DEFENDUS approach towards energy management. ‘Development Focused, END-Use oriented, Service directed’ approach, according to him, is only feasible in areas with no conflicts.

Despite being empathetic with the activists and their suggestions of pico and micro dams, his major concern was if India can actually change the path midway, since it is following a set developmental schedule since independence. He emphasized that for making a mark internationally and giving better life to our citizens we certainly need macro plants.

The first session of the seminar winded up in a question answer session with different queries from the audiences. “Why can’t the activist and the government find a convergence in the parallel path they are taking towards water security?” found Dr. Joshi’s rebuttal. Disappointment was expressed by a member of the audience towards Dr. Bhatt’s ‘bitter-medicine’ approach towards the issue to which he wittily replied “If I was proved wrong, I would be the happiest man”.

Another member made a well-timed observation of the need for action to be taken from the basic level – the seminar hall. Be it from drawing the curtains for replacing natural light with electricity or by avoiding the Bisleri bottles being used in the seminar, the observation was well received by the house.

Session II: Sharing with neighbouring countries- Water security and International Relations

The second session of the seminar “Water Security in the Western Himalayas” started after the lunch break. The session was chaired by Shri Prabhat Dabral, the present Information Commissioner of the State of Uttarakhand. Mr. Dabral, an enigmatic speaker introduced the theme of the session: the crucial role and position of water security in India’s relations with its neighboring countries.

He invited Mr. Bhanu Narania, an Assistant Professor in Jammu University to speak on the issues related to Water Management in Jammu and Kashmir. He explained how Jammu and Kashmir’s geographical location and political situation give rise to a lot of problems in the area. The wide range of climatic conditions found in the state makes its management quite difficult.

In spite of the fact that three out of the five rivers of the Indus basin originate in J&K, ground water is the main source of water for use and the water bed is dependent on a short monsoon season.

Due to this, he explained, Watershed Projects are very important but they are not being managed properly. There is a lack of people with the right technological knowledge and skills to carry out the projects.

Community-Government partnership to manage these projects are also failing due to a lengthy and complicated process (such as the requirement for societies to have no political affiliation and a complete background check by Information Bureau of societies involved in the partnership) of getting the projects legally sanctioned by the government. The bureaucratic procedure is delayed by the change in seat of administration twice a year.

Some of the suggestions proposed by Mr. Narania for improving such a situation were defining responsibilities and fix accountability of the agencies involved. He said that the projects that are being executed by the ERA (Economic Reconstruction Agency) should not only concentrate on the use of current available sources of water but also look towards the replenishment of these sources.

The next two speakers both brought up the issue of China and Water Security, however, with different perspectives on the issue. Prof. Swaran Singh, Professor and Chairperson of the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament (CIPOD), School of International Studies, spoke on how China uses water as a strategic tool. Prof. Singh traced back to how recently water security has come to be as important as food security and energy security. He quoted Ismail Serageldin, former vice president of the World Bank who said “The wars of the next century will be about water.” Prof. Singh pointed out how in Asia due to tremendous economic growth several changes are taking place that affect the way water is consumed and managed.

Traditional methods of water management had more sustainable results. However, the ever increasing industrialization, the shift from agriculture to manufacturing based economies, the rapid concretization of the landscape, corporatization and profit making motives behind most development activities are together contributing in creating several circumstances that are badly affecting the water situation.

Prof. Singh presented some facts about the water scarcity in North China, the most worrying among them being the ever falling water table, especially in Beijing. China is therefore trying to find ways to divert water by building channels to move water towards areas of scarcity. The South to North Water Transfer Project is a gigantic plan that the government of China has undertaken.

This unprecedented massive project is being represented as the next great thing to be achieved by the Chinese after the Olympics and the Three Gorges Dam. However such a project has great implications for most of the countries around China as 85% of Asia’s water requirement comes from water bodies that originate from land under Chinese control.

While it will be beneficial for the 200 million Chinese people who face water scarcity, the project is capable of producing immense water related crisis in several countries. In such a scenario India, being one of the most powerful nations in Asia, could play an important role in engaging with China.

China is using water as a strategic tool and water could well be the future currency of power. Prof. Singh concluded his paper reiterating the need to engage with China. The next paper was by Prof. B. R. Deepak, an eminent scholar of Chinese studies in India and the head of the School of Languages of Doon University. Prof. Deepak spoke on China’s Water policy in the Western Himalayas. Prof. Deepak provided an in depth explanation of the proposed South to North Water Transfer Project with maps of the channel routes and data on the amount of water to be channelized. He explained how in the western line the diversion of the Yarlung Zangbo River, known as Brahmaputra in India, can have a direct impact on India.

Prof. Deepak pointed out the many problems arising out of this grand project such as water pollution, power consumption, economic loss, receding and drying of rivers, rehabilitation of displaced people, environmental hazards and ecological imbalances. The scientific and academic community is therefore against many aspects of this project he said. Prof. Deepak pointed out, however, that the hype or panic regarding this project might not be necessary. Based on several facts and figures he explained that even if the diversion takes place it will not cause a huge water scarcity in North-East India.

The final paper of the session was presented by Prof. Sangeeta Thapliyal, professor in the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Prof. Thapliyal’s paper was on ‘Discourse in India and Pakistan on the Indus Water Treaty’. She explained how in 1947 along with the partition of India and Pakistan, rivers were also partitioned which has since then created issues that continue to be problematic. Pakistan falls in an arid and semi arid zone. Water scarcity has reached alarmingly high levels in Pakistan. Pakistan blames India for much of its scarcity. Another cause of tension between India and Pakistan has been Pakistan’s building of dams in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and getting China’s help for it while international organizations like UN or World Bank won’t support any project in a disputed area. The water between the two countries is governed by the Indus Water Treaty. Prof. Thapliyal expounded the different discourses surrounding it. There are two opposite views regarding the treaty on the two sides of the border.

Policy planners and academics in Pakistan view the treaty with suspicion and feel that they have been cheated by India. However in India this treaty is seen as a success story, as one of the few areas which is far less problematic compared to the generally strained relationship between the two countries. People in the Indian state of J&K feel cheated and disappointed as they cannot use the water available to meet their scarcity because they are treaty bound. Prof. Thapliyal concluded stating that discussions on Water Security takes water out of the community domain to the State domain, something perhaps necessary to resolve conflict situations. However the approach of the state should be focused on the community and must first respond to their needs. If this does not change problems will continue.

Mr. Dabral opened the session for questions. Questions and discussions took place over how India’s position in the upper riparian with Pakistan while in the lower riparian in case of China makes it privileged as well as vulnerable in matters of water security. And both the scenarios need to be addressed appropriately. The first day of the seminar concluded with the vote of thanks by Prof. B. R. Deepak in which he thanked the AAS for organizing the seminar in collaboration with Doon University. He also thanked his colleagues at the School of Languages, Doon University for helping in the organization and management of the seminar proceedings.

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