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Water woes

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The crisis in Tamil Nadu shows that we have a lot to learn about rainwater harvesting from our ancestors

In Delhi Water Supply & Sewage Disposal Undertaking v. State of Haryana (1996), the Supreme Court said, “Water is a gift of nature. Human hand cannot be permitted to convert this bounty into a curse, an oppression.”

But human beings have converted water into precisely that in Tamil Nadu, where there is now an acute shortage of water. Many people are struggling to find adequate water in Chennai and other parts of the State. There are pictures going around of rows of women holding plastic buckets and waiting for tankers. IT firms, restaurants and the construction industry have all admitted that they are struggling without water. Clashes over water have been reported in some parts. It is a bad situation.

Yes, there was no rainfall last year, which is why major reservoirs that supply water to the city are drying up. But could this situation not have been anticipated by the authorities? Could there not have been timely desilting of lakes?

Our ancestors knew that there would be drought in the future. That is why they built ponds in and near every village, and tanks in every temple. They knew how to harvest water. There were tanks even in the Harappa-Mohenjodaro civilisation. Have we learnt more water harvesting techniques or have we gone backwards in the past few millennia?

There was acute water shortage in Tamil Nadu when I was Chief Justice of the Madras High Court in 2004-2005. In L. Krishnan v. State of Tamil Nadu (2005), a Bench that I had presided over noted that most of the lands marked in the revenue records of the State as ponds or lakes had been encroached on. Illegal houses and shops had been constructed in those areas. The Bench directed removal of all these illegal encroachments. In M.K. Balakrishnan v. Union of India (2009), I presided over a Bench of the Supreme Court. We noted the acute water shortage in several States, and set up a committee chaired by Thirumalachari Ramasami, a former Secretary in the Union Ministry of Science and Technology, to work out scientific solutions to the problem.

In China, some parts experienced frequent floods, while others experienced drought. The Huang He was known as the ‘river of sorrow’. After the Chinese Revolution of 1949, the authorities constructed huge dams. Canals were built to carry excess water to areas with drought. Flood as well as drought problems were solved. Why could not this have been done in India?

I appeal to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to immediately set up a committee comprising scientists, administrators and other eminent people to consider the seriousness of the the problem and find solutions.

Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 5:58:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/water-woes/article28077495.ece

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