The Water Crisis in India

Justice Markandey Katju-


The country is facing acute water shortage in many areas due to failure of rains or inadequate rainfall e.g. in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat, etc. and even in the national capital Delhi, because of which people are suffering terribly.

Justice Markandey Katju

In Chennai there are queues of women holding plastic buckets waiting for tankers, some of which are reportedly fleecing the public. IT industries, hotels, restaurants, etc. have been adversely affected and there are reports of violent clashes between people struggling for water. The reservoirs supplying water to Chennai have all dried up.

A BBC report says, “India is facing its worst water crisis in its history.”

“India Today reported: “50% of India states at drought.”

In this connection I had written an article titled ‘Water Woes’ which was recently published in The Hindu ( see on Google ). I have also issued an appeal to the Hon’ble Prime Minister to immediately set up a National Water Committee consisting of scientists, administrators and other eminent people to deal with the problem on a war footing.

I had set up a similar committee by a judicial order when I was a Judge of the Supreme Court in M.K.Balakrishnan vs Union of India ( 2009 ) under the chairmanship of the then Union Secretary, Science and Technology Dr.T.Ramasami.

In Delhi Water Supply and Sewage Disposal Undertaking vs State of Haryana ( 1996 ) the Supreme Court observed “Water is a gift of nature. Human hand cannot be permitted to convert this bounty into a curse, an oppression “. However, scant notice was taken of this admonition, and it has been converted into precisely that.

When I was Chief Justice of Madras High Court a bench presided over by me in L.Krishnan vs State of Tamil Nadu ( 2005 ) noticed that most of the lands earmarked in the revenue records in the state as ponds and lakes had been filled in and houses and shops illegally built thereon. We directed removal of all these illegal encroachments, but I doubt our order was effectively implemented by the authorities.

Last year in Karnataka a piquant situation arose. While in coastal and Malnad areas and some districts in the state there were floods, in many districts in Northern Karnataka there was drought at the same time. This was ridiculous.

The same thing used to often happen in China before the 1949 Revolution, some areas (like those next to the Hwang He, which was known as the river of sorrow) having floods, while other areas having drought at the same time. After the Revolution the Chinese authorities built huge dams on these rivers, with canals connected to them which would carry away the excess water to drought hit areas. That way both the flood and drought problem were solved. Why could this not have been done in India too?

Coastal Indian states have unlimited sea water, but this requires desalination. Presently the desalination methods like reverse osmosis are extremely expensive, but with scientific research inexpensive methods could be found out.  The Himalayas too have almost unlimited water in the form of snow, but this has to be properly harnessed. Other techniques like rain water harvesting could also be used.

All this requires a strong will on the part of the Central and State Governments, using scientists (both Indian and foreign). Unfortunately, till now this was missing.

Now with a strong Prime Minister with a massive electoral mandate the will is available. It can only be hoped that this opportunity will not now be missed. I therefore once again appeal to the Hon’ble Prime Minister to immediately set up the National Water Committee which I suggested, giving it adequate funds and other support.


[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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