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The Forum (Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India) is an effort to bring together all those interested in working on issues related to water conflicts in India into a loose network for action and interaction.
Documentation of different types of water conflicts in India had been the primary focus of the first phase of Forum’s work (2004 to 2008).
Though there is a lot of talk about water conflicts, including the oft quoted remark that the Third World War would be fought over water, there is very little systematic work on documenting water conflicts. The Forum and its participants have already done some work in this direction and in fact the Forum owes its formation to the interaction initiated by this documentation effort. In 2004, some of them collected and put together the information on a few of the better known water conflicts in South India had been and published a summary of the cases published as a small booklet by Doraiswamy R. and Biksham Gujja, Understanding Water Conflicts: Case Studies from South India.
Later, with the participation of nearly 100 authors, the Forum documented 63 cases of water conflicts in India, concentrating on Peninsular India. These cases have now been published as a book, Water Conflicts in India: A Million Revolts in the Making by Routledge. The book was released at a function held at India International Center in Delhi on 13th December 2006. Prof. Saif-ud-Din-Soz, Minister, Water Resources, Government of India, released the book. The publication was followed by a panel discussion having senior scholar Dr. Kirit Parikh as the chairperson and some eminent experts in the water research arena like Professor Y. K. Alagh, Mr. Suresh Prabhu, and Dr. Mahesh Rangarajan as panelists.
The book is a modest, first attempt to capture in compendium form, a large number of cases representing a wide variety of water conflicts across India. It is largely a pre-analytical documentation that aims at building up an information base that can later make possible a deeper analysis. Its sixty-three case studies are classified into broad themes: according to the following themes a) Conflicts over contending water uses; b) Conflicts over equity, access and allocations; c) Conflicts over water quality; d) Conflicts over sand excavation and mining; e) Micro-level conflicts; f) Conflicts over dams and displacement; g) Transboundary conflicts and h) Conflicts over privatisation and supported by eight thematic reviews and one overarching introductory article.
brought out a special issue on water conflicts based on the Compendium featuring 17 of the case studies included and an overarching article.
However, the work is far from over. For example, the compendium concentrated mostly, though not wholly, on Peninsular India; it did not cover urban water conflicts or flood related conflicts. There are many such areas where work on documentation still needs to be done. The Forum encourages institutions and individuals to undertake this work. However, there is a need to have clear guidelines about the documentation so that the information is reliable, is not one-sided and will contribute to conflict resolution and prevention. There is a need for widest possible participation and access but also to maintain quality, reliability, authenticity and utility.
In the second phase, while the earlier core activity of documentation continued, activities aimed at conflict resolution and prevention were also taken up. Two state resource centres were set up in the two states of Kerala and Odisha. The second phase was initiated in May 2008 and continued till 30 September 2012 mainly with Arghyam support.
Understanding Conflicts: Documentation of Water Conflicts
While the Compendium, mentioned above, had managed to cover a lot of the conflicts in the country there were many areas which needed more attention (like the North East or the Himalayan region, urban and drinking water issues, etc.). It was therefore decided to extend documentation to such areas. The Odisha State Resource Centre has brought out a compendium on Water Conflicts in Odisha titled Water Conflicts in Odisha: A Compendium of Case Studies with an overarching article, and 19 case studies by 21 writers. A compendium of case studies on flood induced conflicts titled Agony of Floods: Flood Induced Water Conflicts in India with an introductory and two overarching/review articles and 11 case studies contributed by 18 authors has also been brought out. A compendium of water conflicts in the North East comprising of 19 case studies by 23 authors is being brought out. All the earlier case studies, documented so far by the Forum, have been put on a GIS map based on Google maps and links and brief annotations are available on clicking.
Towards Conflict Resolution: Action Research
Action research was taken up on two major issues in the two states by the two State Resource Centres. The objective was not the resolution of those conflicts per se but to gain insights into conflict resolution and to derive learnings that could be useful elsewhere.
The Kerala Centre took up the issue of the upstream-downstream conflict on the Chalakudy river around the reservoir operation in the upstream. The report entitled Linking Lives - Reviving Flows: Towards Resolving Upstream – Downstream Conflicts in Chalakudy River Basin describing the action research as well as the suggested model of reservoir operations management has been published.
The Odisha Centre decided to take up action research on conflict resolution issues around the Hirakud Dam where many more complex issues were intertwined with the agriculture-industry issue. The report entitled Floods, Fields and Factories: Towards Resolving Conflicts around the Hirakud Dam describing the action research and its findings has been recently published.
Apart from these two cases, the Forum also engaged itself with the Mullaperiyar conflict. The Forum organised a meeting in Delhi that attempted to bring together both sides, Kerala and Tamil Nadu on the Mullaperiyar issue. Forum also visited the conflict area and recently took the lead in writing to the PM to find a middle path solution (lowering the storage at Mullaperiyar, diverting water to Tamil Nadu and storing it within Tamil Nadu) and it has been widely welcomed.
Conflict Prevention: Allocations and Entitlements and Legal and Institutional Framework
The issue of water entitlements for livelihoods, issues of equity and access and also allocations for ecosystem needs and evolving a social consensus around them is critical in conflict prevention. Similarly, the other important issue was the institutional and legal framework available for conflict resolution. In this context Forum decided to set up two working groups to prepare position papers on these themes. The idea is to use these two reports for wider discussion and debate and also prepare certain common grounds on these critical issues.
Draft reports on both issues were presented at the National Workshop organised in March 2009 and were reworked on the basis of extensive comments received from the Steering Committee as well as another National Workshop in 2010. The report of the subgroup on water allocations and entitlements titled Life, Livelihoods, Ecosystems, Culture: Entitlements and Allocation of Water for Competing Uses was published and released in 2011 and the report of the second subgroup on legal and institutional framework titled Water Conflicts in India: Towards a New Legal and Institutional Framework was released in 2012. Policy briefs summarising the two reports have also been released.
Capacity Building and Outreach: Training, Media Outreach and National and Regional Meetings and Workshops
Three training programmes of about five days each have been organised during the second phase. The first one took place in Cochin in Kerala from 5 to 9 April 2010, the second one in Chilika in Odisha from 18 to 22 July 2011 and the third one in Guwahati in Assam from 23 to 26 January 2012. The participants were selected so as to have a balanced mix of persons, mainly the youth, from activist, academic as well as media backgrounds. About 20 to 25 participants attended each of these programmes. A reader comprising important readings and excerpts was provided to the participants at each of the programmes including some material directly relevant to the location where the programme took place.
In September 2012 the Forum has completed its second phase with the focus on activities mentioned above. Currently the Forum is preparing for its third phase. In the third phase the work of the Forum would have three major components: 1) core activities, 2) thematic activities and 3) opportunistic interventions.
Generating knowledge and developing perspectives
The aim is to develop a better understanding of water and better informed and inclusive public debates and discussions so as to develop common enabling perceptions and positions that would facilitate negotiated consensus.
For this purpose, the Forum would try to undertake the following activities:
1. documentation and analysis of water conflicts,
2. documentation and analysis of the norms of water allocation and use
3. documentation and analysis of the situation with respect to freshwater availability and use for different sectors, communities or uses,
4. documentation and analysis of the legal, policy and institutional frameworks around water conflicts and water at various levels,
5. documentation and analysis of the rapid deep seated changes taking place in the water sector and
6. documentation and analysis of the social ethnography of water use by different communities and societies.
Outreach, dissemination and policy advocacy
The Forum has already accumulated a store of data, information and resources in its work over the last seven years. It is the duty of the Forum to place this store in the public domain. The Forum shall continue to expand this store and turn it into an easily accessible repository. The Forum has so far been hosted on the Web as a portlet by the India Water Portal. The Forum would establish a website of its own and is committed to making it a channel of access to the store of information that it will put into the public domain. The Forum encourages its members to write on water conflict issues wherever possible and to utilise all platforms to spread awareness of water conflicts. It also organises national and regional workshops, conferences and public meetings on water conflict issues. The Forum would continue to bring out policy briefs and recommendations on the various studies it carries out. It encourages its members to interact with policy and opinion makers on policy issues related to water conflicts.
Capacity building of different stakeholders
The Forum has successfully developed and conducted training modules on understanding water and water conflicts. The course contents, proceedings and the source material provided at these trainings along with the set of resource persons the Forum has put together are valuable capacity building resources that have been developed. As a next step the Forum aims to develop and conduct training modules targeted at different stakeholders and adapted to their needs.
Backstopping of conflict resolution
Our experience so far shows us that the Forum can contribute best to conflict resolution is by focusing on the backstopping of conflict resolution which it is good at -- supporting the process of conflict resolution through studies, developing different inclusive options and bringing them to the conflicting parties, developing conditions for negotiation, bringing the experience and learnings from other similar situations or conflicts to the table, and helping work out a middle ground without compromising on the core values of equity, sustainability and democratization. The Forum will be alive to the conflicts developing on the ground and utilise whatever means it is capable of to intervene in specific conflicts to the best of its ability to backstop their resolution, and in some selected cases, even to actively engage in their resolution if feasible.
Forum has been receiving quite a few internship requests, from students in India and abroad and it did take a couple, like one Ph. D. student from Germany who worked on two important water conflicts for his dissertation and another student from the Wageningen University did a case study on an important conflict in Kerala. Internship is a window for young people with different disciplinary backgrounds and skills to be associated with the Forum and contribute to its various themes and activities, a mutually beneficial arrangement if institutionalised in a planned manner. In this phase the Forum would offer four internships per year of which two would be supported by the Forum and two by other collaborators. The supported internship would have a stipend/honorarium of Rs. 15,000 per month and Rs. 5000 grant to cover travel and other expenses. The interns could work on any one of the themes of the Forum or an area that would be of mutual interest.
The Forum itself is a network of individuals and organisations with diverse backgrounds, skills and capabilities working on water related issues and conflicts in the country. However, more and more networks and organisations are beginning to work on issues and conflicts surrounding water and rivers. The Forum believes that it seriously needs to network with these other groups, organisations and networks. In all such networking Forum would attempt to look at the outputs from the lens of water conflict and to see what can be adopted/adapted to suit the purposes of conflict resolution and avoidance.
The Kerala State resource Centre
The Kerala State resource Centre would continue with its work in this phase too. The main focus would be on
1) Taking forward the action research conducted in the previous phase towards a strategy level in the state,
2) Groundwater situation and groundwater laws in Kerala,
3) Socio-ecological aspects of small hydro projects,
4) Training and capacity building and
5) Documentation of selected active water conflicts in the state
The second part of the Forum’s programme is the thematic activity by taking up intensive work under certain relevant themes. These themes may change from time to time in response to the needs of the time. This can also broad base participation in Forum’s work as the thematic activity will be anchored by different individuals/organisations acting as theme leaders. At present, the Forum visualises five themes for its thematic activity in the third phase of its work, namely, 1) Right to water and sanitation (RTWS), 2) Conflicts and competition around groundwater resources, 3) Agricultural and industrial allocation and use, 4) Environmental flows within river basins and 5) Climate change and access to water - implications and potential of water laws.
Initiative on Right to Water and Sanitation in India
Forum has taken up a new initiative by participating in preparing for a campaign around the right to water and sanitation (RTWS) in India as part of its thematic work. Establishing RTWS as a legally enforceable and justiciable right requires it to be accepted as a right guaranteed by the Constitution. This is a long drawn out process and the campaign for such a right will need a change of mindsets, new understanding and a variety of skills and inputs from a variety of organisations. The Forum will mainly focus on knowledge generation, dissemination, capacity building and policy dialogue.
The third component of the programme is the opportunistic interventions. It was realised during the earlier phases that water conflicts come up suddenly and in an unforeseen manner. They become urgent issues that may need prompt intervention on various scales. Not all of this can be foreseen. Forum should also have an uncommitted flexible fund for such opportunistic interventions.
Till now the Forum used URL:http://conflicts.indiawatrportal.org, a portlet within the India Water Portal as its website. It has been a very active site and all the outputs of the Forum – water conflict case studies and compendiums, action research reports, working group reports, policy briefs, proceedings (of meetings, workshops and training programmes) — are on the website. Though Forum now has its own dedicated site, waterconflictforum.org, all outputs and resources generated by the Forum would continue to be available on the India Water Portal.
Documentation of Water Conflict Cases
Documentation of water conflict cases would continue to be an important activity of the Forum. We would like as many people to contribute case studies as they can. The format that we used in our earlier compendium is available and for the time being you may contribute a case study in this format and send it to us firstname.lastname@example.org. We will upload them on the website and/or publish them after they are reviewed and revised.
Forum in its first phase of work received financial support by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The activities of the second phase were mainly supported by Arghyam, Bangalore. The initiative on Right to Water and Sanitation is supported by WaterAid India, New Delhi. The Forum is looking for more resources to fully operationalise the activities planned for the third phase. So we appeal to donor agencies who find value in the work of the Forum to come forward and support this initiative.
Do stay connected with the work of the Forum
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