Waterkeeper suggests solutions to Mahanadi issue

Water activist Ranjan Panda in his study report, “Mahanadi: Coal Rich, Water Stressed,” avers that without having a comprehensive assessment of the basin’s water holding scenario and the rights of people, any strong monitoring on the share of water of both the warring states can hardly be guaranteed

While Odisha and Chhattisgarh have locked horns over distribution of Mahanadi river water, known water activist Ranjan Panda has come up with a few solutions. Lately, Panda released a study report titled “Mahanadi: Coal Rich, Water Stressed,” to convey his viewpoint. It is a study on the need of building inter-state cooperation in managing Mahanadi. Panda is popularly known as ‘Waterman of Odisha’ and also as ‘Mahanadi River Waterkeeper’. We talked to him to know more: Excerpts:

Ranjan Panda
Water activist Ranjan Panda

“Odisha has been complaining about reduced flow of water at the Hirakud reservoir because of the dams and barrages constructed upstream by Chhattisgarh. However, the impact of coal mines and thermal power plants and other industries did not come up for discussion. This is because both the states have committed themselves to mining and industrialisation in the name of ‘development’ and have been promoting the Mahanadi as a ‘water surplus’ river for inviting more investment into mining and industrial sector,” the water expert said.

The research highlighted some such real issues being faced by people affected by mining and thermal power plants.

“The research suggests two ways — the legal recourse and the peace and cooperation building. The legal recourse path has been approached under the Inter-State River Water Dispute Act (ISRWDA) and a tribunal has already been formed. Yet, problem with the tribunals is that they have accepted the term ‘river development’ in a way that means building more dams and projects that alter the flow and impact the ecology of rivers,” Panda adds.

The second approach – peace and cooperation building – suggests the need of the hour for Mahanadi is a joint strategic action between the two major riparian states to help the river survive the stress and get rejuvenated, the activist pointed out.

As large dams and interlinking of rivers (ILR) project will further aggravate the conflict and marginalise the local communities as has been the case almost everywhere, both the governments should say no to this, he added.

The report also highlighted that without having a comprehensive assessment of the basin’s water holding scenario and the rights of people over these, any strong monitoring on the share of water of both the warring states can hardly be guaranteed.

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“It is time to recognise the ‘rivers’ right to life’ in line with the right enjoyed by Indian citizens, and help them flow freely in healthy conditions. The governments should help cater to the needs of riparian communities maintain biodiversity and other priorities in a sustainable manner,” said Panda.

Mahanadi basin is perfect example of how coal-fired power plants have put the resources and people to severe stress. The governments should immediately work out a green energy plan for the basin and phase out coal-fired power plant by a fixed target year, may be by 2030.

Besides, there is a need for both the states to work together on climate change mitigation and suitable resilience building programmes that enhance the coping capacity of communities towards drought. The report also suggested the need to recognise community rights over resources and ensuring their participation in river management.

Marion Regina Mueller, country director, Heinrich Boell Stiftung, the foundation that supported the study, said, “To ensure sustainable water governance, all policy frameworks and related strategies should focus on the diverse eco-system of rivers rather than their commodification for development and industrial usage. Community rights and interests should be respected and ascertained on all levels of decision making. Scientific evidence on the impact of climate change on local eco-systems should be recognised and be addressed for better management of riverine resources. The related policies need to ensure generational equity while securing ecological, social, cultural and economic survival.”

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