River Rows have left a blemish in our recent history for the past 5 decades. The most famous probably being the River Cauvery Row, between the people of the states of Karnataka and Tamilnadu. This single River Row has created enough news, headlines , burnt buses, stopped cinemas and created several irrelevant consequences. Interestingly though it is the entertainment industry (cable operators and Cinema theatre owners) that is the first to get affected whenever some dam is planned to get constructed over the Cauvery. There have been several , apparently irrational riots in the past over the Cauvery Row, and if we don’t think of a solution we might just be doomed to all such irrational violence again in the future.
Most cases the River Rows have been a result of one user of a river (may be a Dam constructor, or a Hydro Plant contractor- especially if funded by the other state government) decides to use the river and not compensate the other users (especially the weak farmers!).This way the question of “who the river belongs to?” starts arising. A question which we seem to have learnt to settle only by burning buses and beating people. Here I am suggesting a solution by introducing a concept of River stake ownership.
We could call a campaign for people, farmers, institutions and companies to register themselves as authorized River users. These entities would be awarded a River User Card if they register. They would have to pay to the Central Government a certain basic registration fee depending on the kind of usage they expect to use the river for. Most importantly depending on the length of a river and the number of tributaries feeding the river, a certain fixed number of River Users only will be allocated usership. The allocation will be on the basis of the highest bidder above basic registration fee.
For example an individual farmer expecting to use the river to feed his one acre farm could pay (maybe)Rs 20,000 to the government and buy his usership for the river. Similarly an Industry willing to start a Hydro Power Plant could pay an equivalent value (maybe) Rs 50,00,000. This way we would have created a value based set of stake holders who will want to use the river. The stake of any entity on the river will be proportional to the value he has invested. A small river stock exchange should be opened where people can trade their River User status , with other people who don’t currently own the status.
Let’s take a case where a farmer, in spite of all his efforts fails to make any headway and is unable to produce enough grain. The solution is simple; he will sell his River user Status for the highest bidder, and repay his debts. These way inefficient farmers need not commit suicide and can still make money. This will ensure that the usership remains with people who can efficiently use the river.
Let’s take the case of a state government willing to construct a dam across the river. It can do so if it wishes to, but before that it should own sufficient stake in the river. It should first buy out enough stake by paying a hefty sum to other River Users, so that it can then go on to have the construction done. The farmers in either state feeling that they don’t want the dam and that it will affect their livelihood can hike the price of their usership. To buy the farmer out the state government will have to automatically pay him enough to compensate the damage that the dam will incur on him. So, the farmer is happy that he made some money in the deal, the government is happy that it got o build the dam. We need not burn cinema houses to solve this issue!!
I am not suggesting that this solution is fool proof or that it has the best features. The idea can be improved upon. The only important thing to realize is that we should treat the River Rows in a more objective way, and allow market forces to do the talking and NOT cinema actors!