Inter-State River Linkages
Inter-State river linkages is a hot topic in India for several years, especially in the Southern States of the Indian Union. A large number of rivers in South India are non-perennial and water shortages are alarming offseason and in summer.
This topic is a hot topic across the world. The present situation in India is alarming as floods are wreaking havoc in the Northeast and Eastern India and drought is looming in large parts of the Indian Sub-Continent.
Also, many states in Indian Union oppose the inter-basin transfer of waters from the surplus to deficit basins.
The Indian State, Punjab gone one step further by passing a Bill terminating all the previous agreements and accords on river waters and thereby affecting water supply in the neighboring states.
The Punjab action has triggered protests and raised a core issue of national importance.
- Conflict of interest is the normal state of affairs in a reality where the river flows physically link upstream and downstream users and uses.
- The issues are complex and linkages are many. But instead of sorting out the differences, of late, water endowed States have been resorting to legal gimmickry while playing to the political galleries, in their bid to prevent the use of waters flowing through their territories by their water deficit neighbours.
- Kerala has passed a Bill in this regard recently and Karnataka had issued an ordinance on the Cauvery waters some time back. In all these cases, reference has been made to the sovereign rights of the States as enshrined in the Constitution.
- If other water surplus States take the cue from these instances and act arbitrarily, the consequences of such developments in terms of India’s unity and integrity would be disastrous.
- Hence the demand has been gaining momentum in the last few years for the Central government to transfer the subject of “Water” from the “State List” to the “Union List” or “Concurrent List” to arrest the further deterioration in water-related issues.
- In the Constitution, “Water, that is to say, water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power,” is a matter contained in Entry 17, List II (State List).
- Hence the State legislatures have full powers to legislate under this provision on all water-related matters including their regulation and development. However, this Entry is subject to the provision of Entry 56, List I (Union List) which authorises Parliament to enact laws for the regulation and development of interstate rivers and river valleys Entry 56 under Union List reads as under:
- Regulation and development of interstate rivers and river valleys to the extent to which such regulation and development under the control of the Union are declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest.
- In the past, the Centre had enacted overriding laws using constitutional powers on many subjects such as industry and business, which are included in the State List.
- However, at present any constitutional amendment particularly in the emotive issue of water does not seem possible. Another view that has gained currency is that without any constitutional amendment, the Centre can deal with interstate rivers by empowering itself under the available provisions (Entry 56, List I).
- Against the above background, any change in the scheme of the Constitution has to be ruled out and instead the Centre has to pass laws to deal with interstate rivers more effectively as they contribute more than 85 per cent of the water resources of the country.
- The National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development Plan had also recommended such an approach (September 1999).
- Consultative Mechanism: Apart from enacting laws to empower itself for the control and regulation of interstate rivers, there is also a need for the Centre to set up CentreState consultative mechanisms for effectively sorting out water-related concerns.
- The purpose is to secure a proper tie between problems and their main causes on the one hand and technology and governance perspectives of the problem- solving on the other.
- Further, a National Water Authority (NWA) as an apex body to concern itself with the development and management of interstate rivers supported by a River Basin Organisation for each interstate river needs to be set up on similar lines as in Australia and France.
- The River Boards Act (1956) has to be suitably amended to create these institutions.
- It must be remembered that the development of effective solutions to water problems depends more on governance.
- Hence it is essential for the Centre to empower itself to take over the interstate rivers for providing better regulation and management of the water resources available in the country and put a stop to the fissiparous tendencies recently demonstrated.