ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Rebirth of a River

Two almost simultaneous yet dissimilar decisions on the fate of rivers - Australia's decision to release waters to 'restore' the Snowy river and the Indian Supreme Court's judgment on the Sardar Sarovar Project - raises questions once more about notions of 'river planning' and 'harnessing of rivers'. Following environmental concerns about the Snowy's declining flow, a popular agitation that saw a broad-based participation of experts, politicians and even the layman, finally restored to the Snowy much of its previous flow. The judgment will hopefully set a precedent for similar cases, not merely for Australia, but across the world.

An historical event pertaining to rivers took place in Australia around the time the Narmada judgment was passed by the Supreme Court of India. On October 6 the Australian government came to the decision that the dammed Snowy river be given back its life again, whereas the Indian judgment gave a go ahead to the Sardar Sarovar Project ignoring popular sentiments. Both the decisions by the two countries were on rivers, but their natures are so dissimilar that their coincidence in time brought home the fact of multiple differences in ‘our environment’ and ‘their environment’. The Australian decision, again, is not unique by itself; it is no longer a novelty in the developed world to reconsider the pros and cons of large river control trough dams constructed 40-50 years ago. But the temporal coincidence indeed made it worthwhile to note. Also, the fact that the Indian government, besides passing such an insensitive judgment, later openly began to criticise the report by the World Commission on Dams that expressed doubts about the feasibility of large dams in the present-day. The Australian decision to give back life to the Snowy river struck a chord in my heart also because of its striking similarities with the Damodar river project in India. The Snowy river is one of the icons of wild and uncontrollable Australian nature. This image has been reinforced in many ways, but the most significant of them is the famous poem ‘The Man from Snowy River’ written by Australian ballad poet A Banjo Pattison. The poem, a compulsory read in school texts all over the country, speaks of a small, but tough, man who recalled a wild horse that fled the stable:

 

He hails from Snowy river, up by Kosciusko’s side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where the horses hooves strike firelight from the flintstones every stride...
The man that holds his own is good enough.

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