Staff Reporter

Legislation aimed at taxing use of underground water sources

  • Congress members led by Bhisham Sharma oppose the move
  • "Any such move would impose additional tax burden on Delhiites"

    NEW DELHI: Heated exchanges were witnessed at a meeting of the Delhi Jal Board chaired by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on Monday with Congress members led by Jal Board Vice-Chairman Bhisham Sharma strongly opposing the move to once again move the controversial Delhi Water (Amendment) Bill, 2006, aimed at taxing use of underground water sources.

    A similar legislation, the Delhi Water (Amendment) Bill, 2005, had been rejected by a select committee of the Delhi Vidhan Sabha on February 2 this year. That committee was headed by Mr. Sharma. Interestingly, while the meeting of the Jal Board on Monday was going on, thousands of employees of the Board sat on dharna outside the Delhi Secretariat bringing traffic in the vicinity to a halt.

    The amendment Bill had been listed for passage during the Jal Board meeting on Monday after the Delhi Government got a letter from the Prime Minister's Office pressing for speedy action to implement the legislation to prevent misuse of underground water sources. However, as soon as the Bill was put to discussion before the members during the meeting, an aggressive Mr. Sharma got up and said he along with other Congress members strongly opposed re-introduction of the legislation and asked the Chief Minister, who was chairing the meeting, to withdraw the Bill without any further discussions.

    At this, Ms. Dikshit reportedly asked Mr. Sharma and the other members to put forward their suggestions regarding the Bill so that they could be taken up for discussion after a few days. However, Mr. Sharma said nothing short of rejection of the Bill would do.

    At this, Ms. Dikshit explained that the Bill had been brought forward once again on the insistence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the members should favourably consider its passage. Mr. Sharma along with two other Congress members of the Board, Surgreev Singh and Brij Mohan, said they did not favour any discussion on the issue as any such move would impose additional taxation burden on the people of Delhi.

    Then another Jal Board member and senior Nationalist Congress Party MLA, Ramvir Singh Bidhuri, said such an important legislation that affected the common man required to be looked into in detail before it was cleared for introduction in the Delhi Assembly. He said another meeting should be called to debate the entire issue keeping in mind the interests of the people and then the Jal Board could arrive at a decision.

    However, Mr. Sharma said there was nothing to discuss and said he along with other Congress members would not allow passage of the Bill at any cost.

    The Bill had previously also come under fire from the ruling as well as the Opposition members for containing drastic provisions including giving powers to officials of the Delhi Jal Board to break open the premises of consumers without any intimation or notice if they suspected misuse of hand pumps, ground water or related issues. However, these portions are understood to have been toned down in the new legislation.