“Rivers must have legal rights like human beings”
River diversion projects like Inter-linking of rivers, an outcome of anthropocentric approach
New Delhi: At the UN Information Centre (UNIC) in New Delhi during a program to mark World Water Day on March 22, 2013 there was a demand made for rivers to be granted legal rights like human beings to ensure that the rivers survives for coming centuries as living entities and not as pipelines. The program was on "Rivers of our land: messengers of water insecurity".
Speaking on the occasion, Gopal Krishna of ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) dwelt on how commercial benefits of damming rivers is talked about a lot, the in-stream and off stream monetary and non-monetary benefits and advantages of flowing rivers has not been assessed so far. He argued for a river basin approach which undertakes such assessment. He made an appeal to the organizers of the conference to send a petition to the Government of India seeking legal rights for rivers. This appeal was promptly endorsed.
Bolivia, Ecuador and Pittsburgh have given nature legal rights equal to those of human beings. Bolivian Law of Mother Earth decrees that nature has 11 rights including the right to biodiversity without genetic modification, the right to water in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain life, protected from pollution, the right to clean air, and the right to restoration of ecosystems damaged by human activity. Government of India should also ensure legal rights for nature. Ecuador Constitution includes rights for nature. It is learnt that besides Pittsburgh some two dozen municipalities in the US have passed similar ordinances. UN legal texts like UN Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) that became global on February 6, 2013 must incorporate the legal rights of nature. Government of India, State Governments, Municipalities and Panchayats must ensure that rivers in particular and nature in general gets legal right.
Krishna recalled the Tamil proverb that says “sea begins in the mountains” and criticized the proponents of interlinking of rivers who unscientifically argue that water which goes to sea is wasted. River diversion projects like Inter-linking of rivers an outcome of anthropocentric approach. He reminded the participants about the Morning Prayer that is sung in schools which underlines the water cycle wherein water moves from one reservoir to another, such as from river to ocean, or from the ocean to the atmosphere, by the physical processes of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, infiltration, runoff, and subsurface flow. In so doing, the water goes through different phases: liquid, solid (ice), and gas (vapor). He strongly disagreed with the former President A P J Abdul Kalam who has been advocating “smart water grid” to stop water from flowing into the sea because he has failed to appreciate that water cycle is the natural water grid.
Krishna disapproved of the act of declaring Ganga as a national river. It is a universal fact that Ganga is an international river. He stressed the need for looking at the river as an ecological entity and addressing issues of quantity in terms of water flows along with issues of quality. He demanded that the colonial legacy of treating water and land separately should be given up because they co-exist.
He underlined that the current official river basin approach applies to only 79% of Ganga basin, which is in India. It does not include 13 % of Ganga basin that is in Nepal, 4 % in Bangaldesh and 4 % in Tibet. He spoke about the relationship with the river systems and with the composite Ganga-Brahmputra-Meghna basin and its consequences.
He demanded that the central government, the governments of states and neighboring countries must make policies of Industry, Power, Agriculture, Urban Development, Health and Environment by factoring the health of river basins a priority whenever there is a conflict between rivers and development.
He underlined the biggest threats to river basins as interlinking of rivers, competition between Indian and China to exploit Brahmaputra, amputation of river channel from the flood plains and engineering interventions like the ones witnessed in Kosi basin. He held that rivers are more important than development and the ecological entity of the river basin is non-negotiable.
Kiran Mehra Kerpelman, Director, UNIC read out the UN message for World Water Day. The speakers at the program included Razia Ismail of Women’s Coalition Trust India Alliance for Child Rights, noted author Bharat Dogra, Vimal Bhai of Matu Jangathan affiliated with National Alliance for People’s Movement and Mangal Singh, rural innovator and inventor of the “Mangal Turbine”. Tribute was paid to Veer Bhardra Mishra, the former member of National Ganga River Basin Authority who passed away on March 13, 2013.