NATIONAL

Set up task force on linking of rivers: SC

NEW DELHI OCT. 31. The Supreme Court today asked the Centre to set up a high-level task force to work out the modalities for inter-linking of rivers within 10 years and to bring consensus among the States for completion of the project.

Passing interim orders on a public interest litigation (PIL) petition, a three-Judge Bench, comprising the Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal, Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Justice Arijit Pasayat, brushed aside the Centre's argument that the project, estimated to cost Rs. 5,60,000 crores, could be completed only by 2043-45.

The Bench said it was difficult to appreciate that with the available resources there would be a further delay of 43 years for completion of the project to which there was no objection and whose necessity had been acknowledged.

The project would not only give relief to the drought-prone areas but also be an effective flood-control measure and help water harvesting. A more realistic view would have to be taken and "we do expect that the project taken up would be completed as expeditiously as possible but within a decade", it said.

Pointing out the success of the project on linking of national highways, the Bench said a similar thrust could be given to the river project, as the whole country would be benefited.

On the Attorney-General, Soli Sorabjee's submission on negotiations and signing of agreement for consent of the affected States, it said if a legislation under Entry 56 of List I of the Constitution was made, the need for consent would not arise and the Centre would be in a position to undertake and complete the project. The Centre could consider this aspect and, if so advised, could bring in legislation in Parliament.

(Entry 56 says: "Regulation and development of inter-State rivers and river valleys to the extent to which such regulation and development under the control of the Union is declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest".)

The Bench, while posting the matter to December 16 for further hearing, asked the Centre to complete the constitution of the task force by that date and inform the court about its composition as well.

The PIL petition, filed by amicus curiae Ranjit Kumar, was based on the speech of the President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, on the eve of Independence Day, suggesting inter-linking of rivers.

Tamil Nadu, the only State to file its reply to the notice sent to all the States on the PIL, recalled the various letters written by the Government since 1982 requesting the Centre to declare inter-State rivers as national and to bring in legislation to ensure their proper utilisation.

The affidavit said that in a letter written by the Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, in September last to the Prime Minister, she had pointed out that the National Water Policy had recognised the need for making available water from surplus basin to water-shortage areas taking into account the national perspective.

The State urged the court to issue a direction to the Centre to nationalise all the inter-State rivers by bringing forward a suitable legislation.

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