It wants members of the mammoth committee pruned

Grappling with the Supreme Court order to set up a special committee for implementation of the rivers inter-linking project, the Water Resources Ministry is consulting the Law Ministry on seeking a review of the order.

The Ministry, it is reliably learnt, is seeking opinion for review of the mammoth committee that has to be set up under the directions of the court. Not only does it want the numbers pruned but also keep non-official members out so that the secrecy of the decisions can be maintained.

Brooking no explanations about lack of consensus with State governments on the project, the court, on February 27, directed the Centre to implement the programme and even spelt out details on composition of the special committee to monitor the implementation.

The Supreme Court said the committee should submit a bi-annual status report to the Union Cabinet “which will take final and appropriate decisions as expeditiously as possible and preferably within 30 days from the date the matters are first placed before it for consideration.”

The committee should have on board secretaries of each of the ministries concerned, four experts to be nominated by each Ministry, one from the Planning Commission, Irrigation Ministers of each of the concurring States, the Chief Secretary or nominee of each of the State involved directly or indirectly, two social activists to be nominated by each of the ministries concerned and an amicus curiae.

By that count, the panel, to be headed by the Union Water Resources Minister, will comprise 70 to 80 members.

The Ministry is particularly uncomfortable with taking on board non-official members, especially social workers. Their major worry is about violation of the Minister's “oath of secrecy” about “secret” decisions that require Cabinet approval. Also, it is sceptical about forward movement with such an unwieldy panel.

This line is in complete contradiction with the proposal in the new National Water Policy about “people's participation,” to limit displacement and to go in for rehabilitation and resettlement of project-affected families.

The rivers inter-linking programme that envisages 16 links in the Peninsular component and 14 in the Himalayan component is embroiled in controversies with several riparian States objecting to the project and civil society groups warning against large-scale uprooting of people and destruction of flora, fauna and biodiversity.

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