A majority of States on Friday opposed the Centre’s proposal of evolving an overarching national legal framework of general principles on water at the National Water Resources Council meeting here.
The framework proposes to “lead the way for essential legislation on water governance in every State and devolution of necessary authority to the lower tiers of government to deal with local water situation.”
Even before the Council’s approval, the Centre has set up the Y.K. Alagh Committee to evolve the framework, while several States participating in the meeting said such a move would impinge on their constitutional right and centralise the water resources sector. The meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, adopted the policy with the rider that it would consult the States before taking “further steps.”
Said Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, “Water is a State subject and the States have exclusive power of legislation on the subject. Distribution of powers under the federal structure should in no case be tinkered with by change in the framework of existing laws. Each State has its own consideration in planning, management and use of water resources which varies from State to State, region to region.”
Noting that the proposal could be “misconstrued” as an encroachment on States’ constitutional jurisdiction, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said “such a framework law could be in the form of general guiding principles.”
He, as also Mr. Badal, opposed the move to declare groundwater as a “community resource.”
Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda said the proposal was neither necessary nor constitutional. Karnataka Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar said that water being a State subject, “care” should be taken not to infringe on any of the States’ rights, as water problems were always local and dynamic in nature. “Therefore, the proposed framework law should be based on providing broad guidelines rather than specific directions.”
Tamil Nadu Minister for Public Works K.V. Ramalingam said there was “no need” for the proposal as it would “directly infringe on the rights of the State governments.”
Kerala Minister for Water Resources P.J. Joseph asserted, “Any move that encroaches on the State’s right to decide on water-related issues is not acceptable as there are several localised issues that cannot be visualised under a broad and uniform national framework.
Opposing the move for a legal framework, Uttar Pradesh Minister Shivpal Yadav said it was the right of the State government to frame such a law. “At best the Centre can suggest guidelines.”
Bihar Minister of Water Resources Vijay Kumar Choudhary said such a proposal was “totally unacceptable” and if the Centre wanted it could suggest measures that would in no way impinge on the rights of the States.
“In the garb of a unified national perspective, the policy proposes a framework for the creation of a system of laws which will violate the federal principles enshrined in the Constitution,” noted Madhya Pradesh representative. The policy referred to “demand side” management without addressing the “supply side.”
The Gujarat representative said the proposal was a clear attempt to tinker with the federal structure mandated in the Constitution. “While respecting the unambiguous constitutional provision, the national water policy cannot and should not have any provision enabling formulation of water framework law.”
Expressing concern at the plan for legal framework, Andhra Pradesh suggested that the matter be discussed at an “appropriate forum” and that there should be “clarity” on devolution of powers to the lower tiers of the government.
Chhattisgarh Minister for Water Resources Ramvichar Netam pointed out that all laws pertaining to water should be evolved keeping in mind the federal structure of governance.
Tripura Minister for Public Works Department wanted a re-look at the proposal so that “the rights of the States are not curbed."