Water shortage crisis in Tamilnadu, India

Justice Markandey Katju-


“Water is a gift of nature. Human hand cannot be permitted to convert this bounty into a curse, oppression “– said the Supreme Court in Delhi Water Supply & Sewage Disposal Undertaking vs State of Haryana (1996).

Justice Markandey Katju

But human hands, by omission, if not by commission, have converted it into precisely that in the State of Tamil Nadu, where there is an acute shortage of water. In the capital city Chennai people are struggling and crying out for water, rows of women can be seen with pitchers in their hands to get water from tankers which are fleecing the public. IT firms, restaurants, etc. have cut down operations and violent clashes have taken place among people desperate to get some water.

No doubt there was a failure of rains, causing the lakes which are sources of water supply to the city (Puzhai, Red Hill, Sholavaram, Chemabaramakkam etc.) and groundwater for bore wells to dry up. But could this not have been anticipated by the authorities? Could there not have been timely desilting of these lakes?

Our ancestors were not fools, they knew that in some years there is a drought. So, they built ponds in and near every village, tanks in every temple, etc. These were water harvesting bodies meant to store rainwater to be used for water supply whenever the rains fail. Even in the Harappa Mohenjodaro civilization 5000 years ago there were tanks. So, have we progressed in this respect in 5000 years or gone backwards?

When I was Chief Justice of Madras High Court in 2004-2005 there was an acute water shortage in the state. In L.Krishnan vs State of Tamil Nadu a bench presided over by me noted that most of the lands marked in the revenue records as ponds or lakes in the state had been encroached upon by greedy people who had illegally constructed houses, shops thereon after filling them up. We directed the removal of all these illegal encroachments. In M.K.Balakrishnan vs Union of India, a bench of the Supreme Court presided over by me noted the acute water shortage in several states in India, and set up a committee chaired by Dr Ramaswamy, an eminent scientist, who was then Secretary, Science, Union of India to work out scientific solutions to the problem.

In China often they’re used to flood in one part of the country and drought in another. The Hwang Ho was known as the river of sorrow. After the Revolution of 1949, the Chinese authorities constructed huge dams on their rivers, and canals connected to them to take the excess water to areas having a drought. In this way, both the flood and drought problem was solved. Why could not this have been done in India by the authorities?

I appeal to the Chief Minister of the state to immediately set up a committee consisting of scientists, administrators and other eminent people to take up the problem on a war footing and find solutions so as to give relief to the suffering public. As the great Hindi poet Rahim said ” Rahiman paani raakhiye, bin paani sab soon ” (Keep water always, for without it there is nothing in life)


[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own]

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