Originally Published 2011-07-25 00:00:00 Published on Jul 25, 2011
In a recent interview, former Punjab chief minister and current Tamil Nadu Governor Surjit Singh Barnala said India's move to export wheat seeds to Pakistan in 1978 played a considerable role in thawing the relations between the two countries.
Water will unite us again
In a recent interview, former Punjab chief minister and current Tamil Nadu Governor Surjit Singh Barnala said India's move to export wheat seeds to Pakistan in 1978 played a considerable role in thawing the relations between the two countries. Barnala, who was then agriculture minister, was approached by Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, who told him that Pakistan was facing an acute shortage of wheat and India, which had a bumper crop that year, could help Pakistan deal with this shortage. Barnala was enthusiastic about Borlaug's proposal but obviously needed a go ahead from the then prime minister, Morarji Desai. According to Barnala, Borlaug then approached Desai who in turn enquired from Barnala whether India had a surplus of wheat. Barnala said it did and India actually exported double the amount required by Pakistan, on the sole condition that the wheat would go through the Attari-Wagah border. The food minister of Pakistan, in a conversation with Barnala, had stated that Pakistan requires 1,000 metric tonne . This incident provides both countries many lessons for the present moment. The first is, of course, that surplus quantities of wheat should be exported to Pakistan as it is a win-win scenario for both sides. Pakistan pays a fortune to get wheat from West Asia. The economy of the Indian side of Punjab in general and the agrarian sector in particular is in doldrums, but the productivity of wheat is still high. Recently, along with Uttar Pradesh, Punjab received an award for highest productivity from icar. Rather than banking on the msp, selling the wheat at a reasonable profit may give the Punjabi farmer the necessary room to experiment with newer crops. Former chief minister Amarinder Singh had argued for this, but his proposal was vetoed by the union ministry of agriculture on grounds of national security. The next important thing to keep in mind is that both sides are facing an acute water crisis and it is important not to get swayed by western discourse, which is quick to list water as the next catalyst of tension between the two nuclear states. American think tanks and government departments dish out myriad figures to bolster their argument that water could be the next trigger for conflict in South Asia. A new report by the US Senate, Avoiding Water wars: Water scarcity and Central Asia's Growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, states that 'experts question the treaty`s (Indus Water) long-term effectiveness in light of chronic tensions between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region, where a significant portion of the Indus River`s headwaters originate'. It is important for both countries to learn the lessons from each other's policy failures and explore avenues of cooperation in the realm of water as many of the problems afflicting both countries are a natural consequence of populist policies, population growth and profligate use of water. Interestingly, in 1928, an ics officer by the name of Calvert had predicted water shortage due to over-dependence of the Punjabi farmer on tubewells, dams, rivers and rainfall. Former minister for statistics in the union government, MS Gill, has been warning about the perilous consequences of water usage in both the Punjabs. In an article titled Water crisis of east and west Punjab in June 2010, Gill bolstered his argument with the following figures: "However, the nine lakh shallow tubewells now dangle dry. The rich have started digging deep to 300 feet or more with submersible pumps to grab water. Small farmers who predominate cannot afford the cost and their wells are drying up. One deep tubewell will dry up 100 (tubewells) around it. The water table has gone far down, and this situation will lead to social tension. West Punjab too faces these grave questions." With reference to West Punjab too, Gill said India does not steal 34 million acre feet. He was responding to former Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi's statement that the total average canal supplies of Pakistan are 104 million acre feet while the water available at the four gates is about 70 million acre feet. The Indian minister, like all sane individuals and those genuinely concerned about the water shortage in the Punjab province of both India and Pakistan, recommended greater cooperation between the governments of the two Punjabs and the agricultural universities of both sides. It may be mentioned here that in 2006 when Punjab-Punjab interaction was at its peak, the proposal for closer interaction between agricultural scientists from the Punjab Agricultural University and Faisalabad was turned down by the government of India. In such a scenario, where there is virtually no interaction between dispassionate sections of the populace who have no vested interested in conflict and acrimony, it is not tough to up the ante and exacerbate tensions on an issue that should actually encourage cooperation. With this in mind, lums and the Observer Research Foundation are collaborating on a project titled Reimagining the Indus. As a result of this endeavour, experts from both sides got an opportunity to present their findings on the water shortage in India and Pakistan in an international conference titled Blue revolution: Charting South Asia's Water Future, organised by the PHDCCI in April. Delegates from the Indian Punjab illustrated how poor water practices have damaged both the environment and the social fabric of the state, which was once called the bread-basket of India. Suresh Prabhu, a former minister, spoke about the potential of issues like water being a tool for cooperation rather than a catalyst for conflict. One of the significant takeaways, expectedly, was the similar problems both countries faced due to redundant agricultural practices and political populism. It would be disingenuous to state that the Pakistani presenters went back totally convinced about India's stand on water, or vice-versa, but the exchange of views certainly convinced both sides that cooperation between the two provinces and countries is imperative to prevent further damage to the Indus basin and this would not do damage to either country's cause. The visa regime hampers such exchanges, but more dialogue is an imperative in order to water down the conflict between India and Pakistan. Just as trade between the two countries needs to be direct rather than through Dubai and other foreign destinations, it is imperative that on issues such as water, both countries develop their own roadmap for cooperation rather than falling for western discourse on such vexed issues. (Tridivesh Singh Maini is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. New Delhi) Courtesy: The Financial World
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