Meeting of select States also looks at draft guidelines on sharing and distributing inter-State waters

The Centre on Wednesday unveiled the proposed National Water Framework Law, and National Guidelines for Inter-State Water Sharing and River Basin Authorities, but the agenda was so heavy and controversial that the meeting of National Forum of (select) State Water Resources Minsters decided to “study” the documents and “discuss” them at a meeting attended by all the States.

Almost all the participating States said the proposals should be discussed in a meeting attended by all the States instead of a forum of select ones. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab expressed strong reservations about central laws infringing upon the States’ powers through these laws and guidelines, sources said.

The former member of Planning Commission, Y.K. Alagh, who was entrusted with the task of framing a draft national water framework law, told The Hindu that the only prescriptive aspect at the Centre’s level was the proposed requirement of a minimum 25 litres of potable water per individual per day. “Apart from that, the States can set their own standards. The law provides for support mechanism for States and local bodies in state-of-the-art technologies,” he said.

The Framework provides for provision of a minimum requirement of water free of cost, but beyond that it should be increasingly priced on economic principles to avoid waste and ensure supplies. The law envisages a larger role for markets and places a crucial role for River Basin Development.

Secondly, the report by the T.S. Daobia Committee, which was asked to suggest a legal framework to constitute an Inter-State River Basin Organisation, has recommended that the defunct River Boards Act, 1956 be replaced with a River Basin Management Act under which River Basin Authorities for different inter-State river basins may be constituted. The earlier plan to have a National River Basin Authority was abandoned as it was apprehended that States will oppose it as an infringement upon their rights.

The Justice Daobia Committee has therefore proposed a two-tier structure for River Basin Authority for each basin, namely, an upper layer of Governing Council with membership of Chief Ministers of co-basin States, and an Executive Board under it. An authority will prepare a River Basin Master Plan and ensure compliance. In case of inter-State dispute the Council shall try for reconciliation, failing which, refer the dispute to a tribunal for adjudication under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956.

Thirdly, the meeting looked at the Draft National Policy Guidelines that are being evolved for sharing and distributing inter-State waters on the principle of “equity.” This will not cover sharing of waters of trans-boundary river basins.

Twelve States participated in the meeting with Rajasthan Minister Hema Ram Chaudhary nominated to head the forum, by rotation, for two years. He said the small panel was formed to create “consensus” on various issues in water resources sector. When asked by The Hindu for his own views on the proposed national framework and river basin laws, the Minister said: “We have to study them.”

Seeking the cooperation of State governments for undertaking reforms in the water sector, Water Resources Minister Harish Rawat gave an assurance that the Centre had no plan to encroach upon the power of State governments.

The States that participated in the meeting, besides Rajasthan, were Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

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