Resources policy ‘adopted’ with modifications; Centre to hold further consultations

Despite opposition from the States to several contentious clauses in the draft National Water Resources Policy, 2012, the National Water Resources Council meeting on Friday — chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — “adopted” the policy “with modifications” and decided to hold wider consultations with them in a “follow-up action.”

Seeking to allay apprehensions, Dr. Singh, in his inaugural address, said: “The Central government does not wish to encroach, in any manner, upon the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the States or to centralise water management.” But the assurance did not seem to work as State after the State opposed the move.

The States, including those ruled by the Congress, opposed the proposal to set up an overarching national legal framework for water governance are Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, and Tripura. They said this would impinge on their rights, water being a State subject.

As in FDI in multibrand retail, the official line is that the States are free to take a call on adopting the revised policy. However, there is a catch: reforms will be linked to Central funding for water projects.

Reading between the lines, Tamil Nadu Public Works Minister K.V. Ramalingam pointed out in his address: “Incentivising States to undertake water reforms may mean tying up Central funding to so-called reforms measures like imposing water tariff on agriculture use or creating a water regulatory authority to fix tariff.”

The council has Chief Ministers as members. Nine Chief Ministers attended the meeting. Others sent their representatives.

No consensus

Some of the Ministers said there was no consensus on several clauses and another meeting might be called. However, at the end of the meeting, the Centre declared that the policy was “adopted.”

“There was no political divide as States expressed their concerns,” said Minister for Water Resources Harish Rawat after the meeting, “but the policy has been adopted.”

He said the policy, which called for setting up a national legal framework, a regulatory authority to fix water tariffs and laws on groundwater, laws on water allocation and privatisation of services, would not be re-drafted. Only slight modifications would be made based on suggestions from the States. “Their concerns will be addressed when the government takes further steps.”

Earlier, appealing to the States to look at the proposed legal framework in the “proper perspective,” the Prime Minister said it would be an umbrella statement of general principles governing the exercise of legislative, executive or devolved powers by the Centre, States and local governing bodies.

“The current institutional and legal structures dealing with water are inadequate, fragmented and need urgent reform. It is in this context that the suggestion has been made for a national legal framework of general principles on water, which, in turn, would pave the way for essential legislation on water governance in every State.”

Referring to water pricing and groundwater extraction, Dr. Singh stressed a participatory mechanism of pricing by the stakeholders themselves and treating groundwater as a “common property resource” in a manner that protected the basic needs for drinking water as well as farmers’ livelihood. “We need to initiate steps to minimise misuse of groundwater by regulating use of electricity for its extraction.”

He underscored the need for urgent and pragmatic decisions in the water sector. For, “water security is an issue on which we have to swim or sink together.”