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Our hands are tied: Centre's water experts

By T. Ramakrishnan

CHENNAI OCT. 12. Water experts in the Central Government express their helplessness in coming to the rescue of States such as Tamil Nadu in inter-State river disputes and inter-basin transfer.

Water being a State subject, the space for the Centre is limited. With the latest amendment to the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, the Centre has to establish a disputes resolution tribunal within a year of receipt of such a request from any State. "Beyond this, we cannot do much," says a senior official, dealing with issues concerning an inter-State river.

Many water experts in Tamil Nadu are of the view that the Centre has not been pro-active in ensuring effective functioning of the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) or in answering objections regarding the Pamba-Achankovil-Vaippar link despite the link proposal being mooted by a Central body, the National Water Development Agency.

Acknowledging the Centre's position in such issues, C.D. Thatte, secretary-general of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage and member-secretary of the task force on interlinking of rivers, says the law group of the task force is seized of this matter and is looking at various options including making a new law or a Constitutional amendment to enable Central intervention.

Also, some experts say that even under Entry-56 of the Union List (which enables the Centre to regulate and develop inter-State rivers and river valleys to the extent allowed by Parliament), the Centre's role can be enlarged for control of the rivers.

On the issue of making the CRA more functional, the experts say it will be worth drawing lessons from the example of the Upper Yamuna River Board, established as a sequel to an agreement signed among the States concerned. It has been provided in the constitution of the Board that in case of any dispute over regulation of flows at any structure such as storage points/barrages, the Board can take over the operation and control of such a structure until the dispute is resolved.

This has to be approved by the Upper Yamuna Review Committee.Even in the Cauvery case, the original draft scheme prepared by the Centre for implementation of the interim award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal had more or less a similar provision, empowering the Authority. But this was dropped following opposition from Karnataka and Kerala. Notwithstanding the Centre's position, the experts of the Central Government say the River Basin Organisations, if set up, will provide solutions to disputes such as the Cauvery row.

Under this concept, any river, inter-State or intra-State, is considered one unit and accordingly, its development and management is planned.

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