River Cauvery dispute: By putting government in charge of a river, we get shortages of water

Jairaj Devadiga at FEE has an age old solution for the ongoing water dispute between states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu – private property rights:

The root of this conflict is the absence of private ownership of the river water. Governments give out water to farmers in order to secure votes. Why do farmers require so much water? Because the same governments are giving incentives for overproduction of water intensive crops like rice. Much of that rice goes, not to a table but rather, to a warehouse where it rots. 

Milton Friedman once said “If you put government in charge of the Sahara desert, in five years there would be a shortage of sand.” Similarly, putting government in charge of a river gave us a shortage of water.

Private ownership would mean that the dam on the river would be demolished. Why? Because although it is politically profitable, it would be economically unprofitable to maintain.

If water had a market price, people would be more careful to not waste it. The price on water would counter the harmful farm price supports. Farmers would switch from growing rice to pulses and onions which, apart from using less water, are in short supply

With private ownership water would be used most efficiently; instead of being used as a political tool in so irresponsible a manner.

What government has done, by not allowing private ownership and free markets, is to pit man against fellow man. For short term electoral gains, politicians have compromised the peace and harmony in Indian society.

This quote from Friedman is so true most of the time..

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