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Rivers for sale: Common property in peril

A warning from Chhattisgarh

By Rifat Mumtaz, Manshi Asher and Amitabh Behar
Sun, 5 Feb 2006, 10:12:00

Three case studies from Chhattisgarh — the privatisation of the Sheonath river, the insatiable use of water from the Kelu river by an industry, and the construction of a private dam on the Kurkut river — clearly illustrate how the political economy is promoting the commodification of water, cornering water for the economic interests of the few at the cost of local communities

The Indian federal map was re-drawn along linguistic lines on the recommendations of the State Reorganisation Commission (SRC-1956) to address the diversity of linguistic identities in the country. ‘Linguistic homogeneity’ remained the guiding organising principle for Indian federal boundaries until the ’90s, when people’s struggles for a separate Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh challenged this argument on grounds of relative deprivation of underdeveloped regions within large states. In essence, these separate statehood movements were based on challenging and changing the unjust political-economic order, which had led to the marginalisation of these regions in spite of their rich natural resources. The Prathik (separate) Chhattisgarh movement was based on the marginalisation and exploitation of the Chhattisgarh area, particularly its natural resources (forests, minerals, land and water), by the dominant regions of Madhya Pradesh.

The movement argued that Chhattisgarh, in spite of providing a significant chunk of the state’s revenue and resources, was not adequately represented in the political matrix of Madhya Pradesh and remained economically exploited and underdeveloped. Chhattisgarh, India’s 26th state, was carved out of the erstwhile state of Madhya Pradesh on November 1, 2000, in the hope of creating a just and equitable political-economic order.

Unfortunately, the creation of a new state only shifted the locus of political-economic control from Bhopal to Raipur, and from the caste-class elite of Madhya Pradesh to the elite of the newly-created Chhattisgarh. The poor remain alienated and outside the new economic-political order which, in the past few years, has become even more oppressive and exploitative. It is paradoxical that the very same natural resources for which the separate statehood movement fought on behalf of the ordinary people of the region, are still being cornered and controlled by the elite.