Our country has 20% of the world’s population but only 4% of the world’s fresh water. That too is rapidly depleting owing to fast urbanisation, increased use of water in post-green revolution agriculture and by reckless industrialists and sundry other factors. Meanwhile, urban areas are reeling under regular water shortages while inter-state conflicts over river water (e.g., between Karnataka and Tamilnadu over Kaveri water) has become a recurring phenomenon. Even as ground water is getting depleted from the aquifers, surface water is often highly polluted. The many rules and regulations on the books are regularly flouted by industry or remain on paper simply because there are no adequate sewage treatment facilities. Simultaneously with improving such facilities and other measures like regularly cleaning up the rivers, lakes, canals and other water resources, it is necessary to develop a new scientific approach to water conservation and utilisation.

Ever since independence, various Indian governments have unfortunately followed the colonial water management strategies heavily tilted on the construction of large dams. Despite the history of disastrous consequences of this water management strategy, and opposition from common affected people, environmental groups as well as some engineers and technocrats, this strategy has unfortunately continued over the years. From large-scale displacement to massive destruction of local eco-systems, the consequences of large-scale hydel power projects have been well-documented, and several struggles have been waged and continue to be waged across the country, The Narmada Bachao Andolan for instance remains one of the longest and best known struggles against the politics of large dams. In Uttarakhand, our comrades have led significant struggles against hydel power projects that jeopardise the environment, evict people, and increase the threat of natural disasters.

The desperate need of the hour is to shift the focus from massive projects to small and less dramatic attempts to recharge depleted aquifers and ensure adequate water for agricultural and home use in villages by (a) reconstructing traditional village tanks, (b) building a series of small check dams to collect rainwater during the monsoon season, (c) replant deforested areas to address the real water needs, and similar other measures have proved much more successful. In urban centres such rain water harvesting projects can and must be pressed into service.

28. Increasingly, there is a move towards privatizing water in India, as has happened in several other parts of the world. Such moves towards water privatization must be resisted resolutely, while also fighting for more egalitarian distribution of water resources.

Defending Coastal Ecology and Livelihood

29. India’s 5700 kms long coastline and its fishing population of 3.5 million are threatened by the ruling class development paradigm. Chemical complexes, thermal power stations, harbours and fishing harbours are swallowing up the coastline. Industrial fishing is being promoted in both in coastal and lake areas, pushing poor fishing communities out of their livelihood. Nearly 61 per cent fisher families live below poverty line. While more than 65 per cent of fisherpeople are engaged in small-scale or artisanal fishing, 70 per cent of the total fish catch is brought in by mechanised boats, which provide employment to only 34 per cent fisherpeople. The recent struggles against fishing mafias’ gherries in the Chilika Lake [led by CPI(ML)] and against the Jaitapur nuclear project are notable.

We must demand a policy to safeguard the coast and marine resources from corporate plunder, oppose all anti-people development projects, and defend the rights and livelihood of fishing communities.