Notes on Ambedkar's Water Resources Policies

While Ambedkar's contributions as the chief architect of the Constitution has been long remembered, his visionary approach to the development of irrigation and power and water resource planning has not been well acknowledged. In the context of the Cauvery imbroglio, policies and plans initiated under Ambedkar when he was member, labour, irrigation and power in the executive council of the viceroy may offer workable solutions to inter-state river water disputes.

he Cauvery water-sharing impasse continues unabated, in the midst of slanging match of accusations and counter-accusations, padayatras, bandhs, contempt of court cases, etc, vitiating otherwise peaceful atmosphere in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, threatening the unity and integrity of the country. Regional passions are being raised acting as a sad reminder to the wave of anti-Tamil and anti-Kannadiga violence in 1991 on the same dispute. The dispute has put extreme pressure on the federal structure and its dispute resolution mechanisms. No easy solution appears to be in sight to end this vexed problem, through amicable settlement, in spite of the existence of plethora of institutionalised arrangements including the Central Water Commission, the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal constituted in 1990, which had given an interim award in June 1991 (final award is yet to be submitted), the Cauvery Monitoring Committee and the Cauvery River Authority under the chairmanship of the prime minister.

Even the Supreme Court’s directions of September 3, 2002 to release 1.25 tmcft of water per day and the decision taken by the Cauvery River Authority, to release 0.80 tmcft of water per day and the subsequent reiteration of this direction by the Supreme Court are being defied. The spirit of sharing in times of distress, fostering goodwill and good neighbourliness are totally lacking. During this period, various suggestions have emanated to find a permanent solution to the Cauvery water dispute which inter alia, include declaration of all the rivers as national rivers and revival of long forgotten proposal to link-up Ganga-Cauvery rivers. One may wonder in this context, what has Ambedkar got to do with Cauvery river water dispute? While Ambedkar’s services were recognised and remembered for being the chief architect of the Constitution and the crusader for equality and social justice, unfortunately his contribution and visionary approach in several other fields including his contribution for economic planning and development of the country especially in the fields of irrigation and power were not recognised adequately. It is true that the Cauvery water dispute is not the only river water dispute faced by the country. We had disputes about the sharing of water of Godavari, Krishna, Narmada, etc, in the past. However, no other river water dispute has reached a stage leading to major law and order problems, threatening the very federal structure of the country. It is in this context the policy initiatives and decisions taken by Ambedkar while he was member (cabinet minister) labour, irrigation and power in the executive council of the viceroy, during the period 1942 to 1946 need to be analysed in the right perspective.

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