A call for the constitutional declaration on water was made by former Union Water Resources Secretary Ramaswamy R. Iyer at a meeting here on Tuesday.

Contending that there was no entry in the Constitution dealing with water per se, Mr Iyer said that even the Entry 17 of the State List in the Constitution talked about embankments, rivers and canals, though it was formally about water. The framers of the Constitution were thinking of rivers but “water is larger than rivers,” he said, delivering the Adiseshiah Centenary Public Lecture at the Madras Institute of Development Studies here.

The references to water should be included in the Directive Principles and Fundamental Duties. Though not justiciable, the Directive Principles did influence government policies. To ensure that water was economically used, there should be a corresponding entry in the part of Fundamental Duties, casting responsibility on the citizens.

When there were references in the Directive Principles to forests, wildlife, biodiversity and nutrition, why was it that there was no entry regarding water, Mr Iyer asked.

Pointing out that he was not suggesting anything novel, he referred to the Constitutions of South Africa and Venezuela that had given importance to water. Citing the European Union Water Framework Directive, Mr Iyer said the document began with a statement that water was not a commercial product but a heritage to be protected and treated as such.

Calling upon the country’s policymakers to draw lessons from Europe, the former Water Resources Secretary, an author of books on water, said the National Water Act should also be formulated. The proposed law was not meant for the transfer of water management from States to the Centre but this would lay down a minimal set of principles.

Explaining further the need for the legislation, he said that there should be clarity among States whether water should be regarded as a tradable commodity or a basic right or a community property. While Andhra Pradesh’s law on water took an ecological view of water, Maharashtra’s legislation had an economic view.

Mr Iyer emphasised that water management should be given to panchayats and city corporations. Both State governments and local bodies should function under the broad framework of national consensus on water, which would be fulfilled through the proposed law.

S. Janakarajan, professor of the MIDS, and R. Maria Saleth, Director, spoke.

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