Sunday, May 19, 2024

Water: Common Good vs Individual Interest


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By HH Mohrmen

The Shillong Times, May 3rd edition, should be a wake-up call for the current government and future administrations. It is a sign of things to come and what the future holds for Shillong and the entire state concerning the most vital needs of life. Earlier, it was reported that based on testing conducted at various locations, the water supply to the city was found to be unfit for human consumption. The crucial question is: what does the future hold for the capital city when water supply is a challenge? Equally important is the question: what about the water security in the entire state?
A frightening situation
The two reports published in the May 2nd edition of this paper depict a situation that merits immediate attention from everyone. The first lead report indicated that despite the sanctioning of Rs 344 crores for the protection of the catchment areas of two rivers, Umiew in East Khasi Hills, and Ganol in Garo Hills, the water sources and catchments providing water to Shillong residents are rapidly drying up. This is a major cause for concern, especially for the city residents, as river Umiew serves as the main source of the Greater Shillong Water Supply Scheme (GSWSS).
It was reported that the situation has reached such a critical point that the water stock at Mawphlang is expected to last only for 3 or 4 months, as the water level at the dam, the main source of drinking water supply to the residents of Shillong City, has drastically decreased. Perhaps for the first time in the city’s history, a public notice has been issued, requesting the public to use water judiciously and adopt water-saving practices wherever possible.
Jowai issue is of the Government’s own making
Myntdu, which still supplies the maximum volume of water for the town’s residents, is on the verge of facing a fate similar to Wah Umkhrah, and the credit for this goes to the MDA government. Myntdu is poised to meet the same fate as Wah Umkhrah because the government has allowed the construction of a road along the river to connect the Jowai- Amlarem- Dawki road with the Jowai-Shillong road, which runs along the banks of the Myntdu river. This road, constructed to bypass Jowai, will be the final nail in the coffin for the Wah Myntdu, as construction of houses along the river will commence after the road is completed.
One wonders what happened to the High Court order, which bans construction along the river when the construction of a road along the river is permitted? Has special leave been granted by the Court to allow the PWD to construct the road, which is against the court order? If not, then it is clearly a violation of the court order. How can the Government allow this construction to even begin? In West Jaintia Hills, construction on the riverbank has occurred in other places too, but the Government is turning a blind eye to it.
The sad part in the case of Jowai’s water supply is that the river Myntdu, considered a deity, is not being respected even by the town’s residents, as pollution continues from residential areas. The residents of the town, who depend on the river for water supply and to irrigate the paddy fields that provide them rice, do not care about the river. If the District Administration does not enforce the court order, a new township will develop along the newly constructed road, spelling doom for the river Myntdu.
Helpless Minister!
In the May 5 issue of the same paper, the PHE Minister, Marcuise N Marak, admitted that the state was staring at an impending water crisis, a situation the state has never experienced before. Ironically, the minister stated that even the sources of the Jal Jeevan Mission have also dried up, proving that the money sanctioned for the JJM is going down the drain.
The state’s rivers have been affected by pollution from mining, including coal and limestone mining, as well as from stone quarrying and sand mining. These activities have led to silting and a decrease in the water level of the rivers. The question arises: how has this happened despite the Government already having a Water Policy in place and even a court order?
In his statement, the Minister sounded helpless when he said that laws enacted to protect the catchment areas have not been helpful because traditional institutions and landowners are not implementing the law in letter and spirit. He also mentions encroachment onto the river, as if he is not aware of the court order. If the Minister is helpless, then who will save the State from the impending danger of insufficient water supply to every household?
Pray to the Rain Gods and Monsoon
Another news report on the same May 3rd issue informed that localities in the capital city are facing an impending crisis with water supply down to the bare minimum. It was reported that water sources supplying potable water to various localities are slowly drying up. The general consensus is that only the monsoon can save the towns and cities from facing an acute water problem. The monsoon can save the State for the coming year only, but what about the next lean season? Do we still have to wait and pray to the rain gods again to save us? The question is: does the Government have a plan to stop surface runoff of rainwater? Does the Government have plans to harvest rainwater to save for the lean season?
The cause is obvious, but what about the solution?
It was pointed out that the factors contributing to the crisis include deforestation and stone quarrying in the catchment areas. It was also reported that these activities not only degrade the environment but also pose health risks and threaten biodiversity in the areas. The adverse impacts of stone and sand quarrying include depletion of groundwater, loss of fertile topsoil, degradation of forests, deterioration in aquatic biodiversity, and public health. The pertinent question that the Government needs to answer is: how have so many quarries supplying boulders to Bangladesh been allowed to operate with impunity?
Individual rights override common good
The Chief Minister may have convened a series of meetings to address the issues, but solutions are not forthcoming. In the past, there have been discussions to declare catchment areas as protected under the National Wetlands policy, but what is stopping the Government from doing so? The State Government also introduced a State Water Policy in 2019, which outlined issues such as the protection of catchment areas and prevention of river pollution, but there is a huge gap between policy and implementation.
Our rivers are dying because of pollution, silting, and loss of forest cover in the catchment areas. Due to the lack of forest cover, rainwater runoff flows to the plains and does not percolate into the ground. In other words, the main culprits are mining activities, sand and stone quarrying, and deforestation along the catchment areas. The blame also lies with the land tenure system, which gives individual landowners the right to do anything and everything with their land. But in tribal culture, can an individual’s rights override the common good?
Care for oneself and care for others
Caring and giving communities are where people care for each other, and this tradition should prevail in all the societies of the indigenous people of Meghalaya. The ultimate goal of the tribal community is to strive for the happiness of the masses. The general tenet of the indigenous way of life shared by all is, ‘ka bhalang uba bun balang,’ or ‘ka bhalang ka imlang,’ which translates to ‘common good or well-being of all.’ Now the question arises: in this case, why does the interest of an individual, which is detrimental to the community, take precedence? Despite the fact that activities were driven by selfish interests and harmful to the environment, they are still being allowed to continue by the Government.
The spirit of valuing the common good should not only manifest itself in times of societal bereavement but should prevail when common interests are at stake. Common interest is more important than individual interest. The pursuit of the common good or the welfare of all is the community’s ultimate goal, and it should take precedence over anything else.


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