The Making of a River Linking Plan in India: Suppressed Science and Spheres of Expert Debate

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India Review, vol. 3, no. 3, July 2004, pp Copyright 2004 Taylor & Francis Inc. ISSN print DOI: / Taylor FIND / July 121 India
India Review, vol. 3, no. 3, July 2004, pp Copyright 2004 Taylor & Francis Inc. ISSN print DOI: / Taylor FIND / July 121 India Making Review & & FrancisTaylor of a River Inc. Linking and Francis Plan 325 India Chestnut StreetPhiladelphiaPA The Making of a River Linking Plan in India: Suppressed Science and Spheres of Expert Debate KELLY D. ALLEY The plan to interlink the rivers of India and create a new national water grid comes at a time when water scarcity discourses assume a nervous tone that is at once local and global, triggering fears of drought, lowering ground water tables, and the further contamination of surface waters. This initiative to link many of India s domestic and transnational rivers follows from the official interest in pursuing big projects for big solutions, a continuation of the canal dam/food power paradigm that began in colonial irrigation schemes and continued through twentieth century development projects. Today, the river linking plan responds directly to opportunities available through global financing to design large-scale projects that address large-scale problems. The national water grid project seeks to provide increased amounts of surface water water available on the surface of the land to growing, consuming human populations spread across rural and urban areas. Specifically, the new Task Force on River Linking aims to augment irrigation potential by 35 million hectares, fulfill the growing need of water for the people (the domestic and industrial needs of water is [sic] expected to grow steeply by 300% to 400% in the coming decades), generate about MW of additional power through hydro-electricity, and facilitate transportation in the country through inland water ways. 1 The unstated vision behind the current push for this project is to gather up every bit of surface water before it reaches the sea, to fully appropriate it and then divide it up according to competing interests when pooling in a reservoir or coursing in a canal. But as this river linking plan is made, non-official (nongovernmental) experts are critiquing it in well-informed ways through non-official discourse, policy analysis, and grassroots activism. Kelly D. Alley, Professor and Director, Anthropology Program, Auburn University, Alabama. The Making of a River Linking Plan in India 211 This essay explores the creation of a large-scale resource use plan in India, and traces how specialist groups and concerned citizens outside government critique and debate the plan. The making of a plan is a process that involves, in India, interchanges between government policymakers and officers, scientists, policy analysts, and the judiciary, and to some extent involves the larger resident and non-resident public. In what follows I explore the particular history of the making (and, unofficially, the unmaking) of the river linking plan through official and unofficial water use discourses, government, judicial, and NGO documents, decision-making events, and my own participant observation conducted during the summer of I begin with a short history of the plan and then discuss, in this context, the relation between science and policymaking, and the paths of communication and knowledge exchange between officials and experts in and outside government offices. The nongovernmental experts I will introduce in this paper are looking for ways to expand what Peter Haas and others have called the epistemic community, the community responsible for policymaking in a particular field. According to Haas, an epistemic community is a network of professionals with recognized expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge within that domain or issue-area. 2 Haas has argued that epistemic communities (usually experts with scientific and professional credentials) have varying relations with formal decision-makers, political groups, and institutions. Over time, epistemic communities may gain the power to introduce new concepts and policy innovations, as they variously affect the political agendas of national and international governing bodies. Haas used the notion of epistemic community to explain how transnational communities of scientists and professionals, holding similar premises and basic truths, worked to analyze and solve the problem of pollution in the Mediterranean Sea. 3 Since then, many have used this concept to outline the ways scientists, experts, and policymakers use their authoritative claim to knowledge to gain consensus and forward particular goals across agencies and nation-states. The work on epistemic communities in environmental policymaking raises important questions about how basic values, assumptions, and knowledge sources are formed for policy purposes. 4 This work also investigates how groups of scientists, policymakers, and experts coalesce, what their bases of legitimacy are, and how they operate vis-à-vis each other and the state to solve environmental problems. The notion of epistemic communities 212 India Review has been a helpful tool for understanding expert exchange and policymaking across the boundaries of disciplines, agencies, and nations. I use epistemic community here to suggest a way to look closely at channels of communication and scientific exchange between groups of experts and policymakers. This emphasis on expertise and the policy process can be better captured with the notion of epistemic community, over, for instance, the notions of discourse and the public sphere or a sociology of science approach. I have used the notion of multiple, intersecting discourses in my other work on scientific, activist, and religious debates centering on the river Ganga. 5 The notion of discourse gives a sense of the historical and cultural integrity of the different values and meanings people use to debate resource issues. 6 Here, however, I find that the substantive focus of a discourse approach would overshadow the political economy of science and the contingencies of form the pathways and obstacles to communication that appear to be at the center of the reasons why oppositional debates are occurring over water policy in India today. I also move away from using the term public sphere in the senses developed by Habermas and his poststructuralist and feminist critics. Here, I want to talk about broken spheres of debate among experts, while still following from critics of Habermas who have shifted the terrain on which to talk about the subject from an historico-transcendental idealization of the Enlightenment to a plurality of spheres and a heterotopia of discourses. 7 I will show why expert groups are broken into multiple spheres of debate and why a unified epistemic community does not exist in this field. Specifically, I want to account for the openings and closures in the structure of communication and exchange, which ultimately affect access to scientific reasoning, subject referencing, and public debate on that knowledge. I will also suggest how suppressing the dissemination of scientific studies helps to keep spheres of debate among groups of experts and policymakers apart and unmediated. The history of the plan As many have noted, the interlinking of India s rivers is not a new idea. It is rooted in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century canal projects to irrigate land in the Indus, Ganga, and Yamuna river valleys, projects which produced wide-ranging effects in river basin ecosystems, agricultural production, rural power, and relations between farmers and the state. 8 The colonial projects to canal and distribute water from The Making of a River Linking Plan in India 213 these river systems developed the state s hydraulic modeling of the environment, as Gilmartin has put it. 9 It also laid the foundation for state control over water and the centralization of decision making on water resources that continued into the post-independence period. More recent dam projects have continued to push state control and centralized decision making by broadening sponsorship from international banks and engineering firms. 10 In the midst of the post-independence dam building era, the idea of designing a river linking scheme for the whole country carried this aim further into national water policy through the National Perspective Plan for Water Resources Development. The National Perspective Plan, prepared by the Ministry of Irrigation (now the Ministry of Water Resources) and the Central Water Commission, was published in In 1982 the National Water Development Agency (hereafter NWDA) was established as a society under the Ministry of Irrigation to implement the Plan. The Agency was charged with developing scientific studies for the optimum use of water resources in the country and with carrying out surveys and investigations of ways to transfer water from surplus to deficit basins. It was also charged with identifying possible reservoir sites and conducting feasibility studies of the canal links needed to transfer water within and between two groups of river basins, the Himalayan and peninsular groups (see maps). Over the following two decades, the NWDA carried out many studies (or claimed to carry them out) and produced reports in which they were named. For example, in their annual report, the NWDA announced that it had conducted water balance or water quantity studies of 137 basins or sub-basins in the peninsular region and at 52 diversion points, toposheet or topography studies and storage capacity studies of 58 reservoirs, toposheet or topography studies of 18 link alignments, pre-feasibility reports of 17 links and surveys, and investigations and preparation of feasibility reports of 16 water transfer links. 11 All these studies were intended to start mapping out how water could be transferred from one river to another, first by storing water behind new and existing dams and then moving it via canals to other rivers and storage reservoirs. The proposed canal systems are referred to as links. By 2002, it had completed feasibility reports for six links in the peninsular group and during 2003 had underway field surveys and investigations for feasibility reports for eight other links. 12 214 India Review MAP 1 PROPOSED PENINSULAR LINKS Key International Boundary River Links 1 Luni Yamuna Chambal Sarda Ganga Karrfall Gomti Gandak Ghagra Kosi Ganga Mechi Tista Sankosh Manas Brahmaputra Sabarmati 12 Par 13 Kall Sindh Tapi Parbati Godavari Krishna Maner Ken Betwa Narmada Penganga Walnganga Sone Mahanadi Subamarekha Barak Godavari 1 ARABIAN SEA Pennar 15 8 BAY OF BENGAL Lakshadweep (INDIA) Cauvery Palar 9 16 Vaippar Gai Andaman & Nicobar Islands (INDIA) INDIAN OCEAN NAME OF THE LINKS 1. Mahanadi (Manibhadra) Godavari (Dowlaiswaram) 2. Godavari (Inchampalli) Krishna (Nagarjunasagar) 3. Godavari (Inchampalli Low Dam) Krishna (Nagarjunasagar Tail Pond) 4. Godavari (Polavaram) Krishna (Vijayawada) 5. Krishna (Almatti) Pennar 6. Krishna (Srisailam) Pennar 7. Krishna (Nagarjunasagar) Pennar (Somasila) 8. Pennar (Somasila) Cauvery (Grand Anicut) 9. Cauvery (Kattalai) Vaigai Gundar 10. Ken Betwa 11. Parbati Kalisindh Chambal 12. Par Tapi Narmada 13. Damanganga Pinjal 14. Bcdti Varda 15. Netravati Hemavati 16. Pamba Achankovil Vaippar Source: National Commission on Integrated Water Resources Development Plan (New Delhi: September 1999), reproduced in Linking Rivers, De-Linking India: Two Day National Workshop. The Making of a River Linking Plan in India 215 MAP 2 PROPOSED HIMALAYAN LINKS 6 Luni 7 Sabarmati Par Chambal Kall Sindh Tapi Parbati Godavari Yamuna Ken Betwa 4 Penganga Sarda Ganga Narmada 5 Walnganga Karrfall Sone Gandak 3 Ghagra Gomti Mahanadi Key International Boundary River Links 1 Ganga 8 9 Mechi Kosi Tista Subamarekha Sankosh 11 Barak Manas Brahmaputra Maner Godavari Krishna ARABIAN SEA Cauvery Pennar Palar BAY OF BENGAL Lakshadweep (INDIA) Gai Vaippar INDIAN OCEAN Andaman & Nicobar Islands (INDIA) 1. Kosi Mechi 2. Kosi Ghagra 3. Gandak Ganga 4. Ghagra Yamuna 5. Sarda Yamuna 6. Yamuna Rajasthan 7. Rajasthan Sabarmati NAME OF THE LINKS 8. Chunai Sone Barrage 9. Sone Dam Southern Tributaries of Ganga 10. Brahmaputra Ganga (MSTG) 11. Brahmaputra Ganga (JTF) (ALT) 12. Farakka Sunderbans 13. Ganga Damodar Subamarekha 14. Subamarekha Mahanadi Source: National Commission on Integrated Water Resources Development Plan (New Delhi: September 1999), reproduced in Linking Rivers, De-Linking India: Two Day National Workshop. 216 India Review In , the NWDA began studies of the Himalayan group, and by 2002 reported that it had completed water balance studies of 19 diversion points, toposheet studies of 16 reservoirs and 19 link alignments, and pre-feasibility reports of 14 links. By 2002, it reported that field surveys and investigations for feasibility reports for nine links under the Himalayan group were in progress. 13 To date, all these studies are classified and off-limits to all citizens except the highest ministry and government personnel. I will have more to say about this later. In March 2002, the governing body for the NWDA, chaired by the secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources (which manages, administers, directs, and controls the affairs and funds of the Society), met for its semi-annual meeting. In that meeting, the chairman stressed that institutional mechanisms were required to speed up the process of getting the concerned states of the union to reach a consensus regarding sharing of surplus water. 14 To look into this, the governing body created a committee headed by the chairman of the Central Water Commission (also the chairman of the technical advisory committee under the NWDA). It was to include the deputy general of NWDA as member-secretary, members from the Central Water Commission, the chief engineer of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and secretaries of the Water Resources/Irrigation departments from the concerned states. The group was to discuss preparing the detailed project reports (DPRs) for each link, but at that point an interested lawyer intervened to encourage the court to speed up this bureaucratic process. Just before the Supreme Court s intervention, the president of India made reference to the river linking scheme in his address on the eve of India s Independence Day, August 15, He said: Let us now look at a long term problem. It is paradoxical to see floods in one part of country while some other parts face drought. This drought flood phenomenon is a recurring feature. The need of the hour is to have a water mission which will enable availability of water to the fields, villages, towns and industries throughout the year, even while maintaining environmental purity. One major part of the water mission would be networking of our rivers. Technological and project management capabilities of our country can rise to the occasion and make this river networking a reality with long term planning and proper investment. 15 The Making of a River Linking Plan in India 217 The president s message inspired some and worried others. Among the inspired was Supreme Court lawyer Ranjit Kumar, who used his legal knowledge to respond to the issue in the court. At the time, Kumar was amicus curaie in a river case titled, News Item Published in Hindustan Times titled And Quiet Flows the Maili Yamuna v. Central Pollution Control Board and others (No. 725 of 1994), one of several cases in the Supreme Court addressing river flow and pollution. 16 In 1994, a Supreme Court justice used his constitutional suo motu power the power to intervene in the absence of a plea from a petitioner to file this case in response to statements published in an article in the Hindustan Times. 17 The article reported that the river was besieged by wastewater and solid wastes from industries and cities in the basin. The leading justice, Justice Kuldip Singh, appointed two amicus curaie Ranjit Kumar and M. C. Mehta to gather data and respond to the news report and the court s concerns. Ranjit Kumar appeared in many of the subsequent hearings and worked with Justice Singh to craft several broad directives. While the orders proved to be too diffuse for implementation, they did give legal legitimacy to the new large-scale wastewater management and treatment plans proposed by the Delhi Jal Board (Delhi Water Board) to prevent urban and industrial discharge from further polluting the Yamuna. 18 Over several years, this case and others focusing on pollution began to shape a bureaucratic consciousness on waste management, urban planning, and water resources. The media, covering the issue quite closely from 1994 through 2002, helped to create greater public consciousness. After Justice Singh retired in 1996, this case and other environmental cases were heard by a bench led by the new Chief Justice, Justice Kirpal. In 2002, with little knowledge of the NWDA s earlier reports, Kumar introduced an intervention application in the Hindustan Times case (now heard by Justice Kirpal s bench) to plead for consideration of the river linking scheme hailed by the president. In his petition, he made references to population growth, flooding, erosion, and drought to support his plea for immediate attention to the river linking plan hailed by the president. He wrote: The aforesaid itself is enough reason for the Central Government as well as for the State Governments to get together to work out a solution which is not only ever lasting but also takes care of future 218 India Review so that neither any part of the country suffers from drought nor any part of the country suffers from floods year after year. The same story need not be repeated and ought not to be repeated with [sic] going down the drain, which is to solve these problems year after year. There has to be a long lasting solution and that long lasting solution is in the form of networking of the rivers throughout the country, as has been spoken of by His Excellency the President of India. 19 Continuing on, he cited current disputes between states over the sharing of river water and added that the networking of rivers would solve these. 20 In his concluding prayers, Kumar asked the court to issue appropriate directions, in the first instance, to form a High Powered Committee to look into the suggestion of networking rivers and issue further directions in consonance with this objective. 21 Upon hearing the intervention application, the Supreme Court converted it into a writ petition, giving it a separate case name and number. 22 Then a day before his retirement, Chief Justice B. N. Kirpal proposed a new time frame for the envisioned scheme, relying in only a cursory way on the comments and reports on the subject made by various governmental and nongovernmental agencies. On that day, the court made a suggestion in the form of an order before response to the plan could be registered by citizens and officials in the respective states. (The court said later that it had made only a suggestion, but its articulation as an order meant that it was taken by government authorities as a legitimating order). A portion of this order read: The State of TN [Tamil Nadu] is the only State which has responded to the notice issued by this court and filed an affidavit. The said State also supports interlinking of the rivers and in its affidavit has prayed that a direction be issued on the Union of India for constituting a High Powered Committee in order to see that the project has been completed in time schedule. Along with this affidavit the prospective plan for implementation of interbasin water transfer proposals prepared by the National Water Development Agency in May 2000 has been placed on record. We are distressed to note that milestone for the perspective plan indicated in the report of the Agency shows that even though the pre-feasibility reports regarding the peninsular and Himalayan The Making of a River Linking Plan in India 219 projects are already com
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