It’ll have guiding principles on laws States may adopt

In a move that will have far-reaching implications, the Centre has decided to frame a National Water Framework Act with guiding principles on water laws the States may adopt. States that adopt and reform will be incentivised for water projects.

That such a law would be made is buried in the pages of the draft new national water policy, which is yet to be considered by the National Water Council, the supreme policy body chaired by Prime Minister and with Chief Ministers as members.

Even as the contours of the policy are being finalised, the government has appointed the former Planning Commission member, Y.K. Alagh, head of a panel that will draft the national framework law meant to be a piece of overarching legislation.

Basin-wise development

The Water Resources Ministry has set up another panel under the retired judge, T.S. Doabia, to amend the Rivers Board Act to facilitate holistic development of water resources with a river basin as a unit. The Act, practically defunct, will be given teeth to ensure basin-wise development.

This will involve the setting up of River Boards, with the Chief Minister or Water Resources/Irrigation Minister as a member, of all basin States for spot resolution of disputes. So far some of the upper riparian States have resisted setting up river board organisations for basin development so that they do not have to share surplus waters with a lower riparian State.

The proposed framework law will set the bottom line on major issues such as amendments to the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956, the Rivers Board Act and the Easement Law to make groundwater a public property with government in the role of a trustee.

Fast disposal

Already there is a move to amend the Inter-State River Disputes Act to set up a single tribunal with several benches for faster disposal of disputes in a time-bound manner. This will help in speeding up resolution of the Ravi-Beas issue among Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, the Mandovi dispute among Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra, the Krishna river water sharing row among Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and the Mullaperiyar Dam dispute between Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The former Water Resources Secretary, Ramaswamy R. Iyer explains in a concept paper, he prepared for the planning commission, the rationale for a national framework law. Though water is a State subject, concerns about equity, climate change and international dimensions of this finite natural resource are growing on which the Constitution enables the Centre to act if Parliament legislates for the purpose, he says.

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