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Govt considering proposal to bring water under concurrent list

Citing frequent water-related disputes among states, the issue of bringing water on the concurrent list is back on the discussion table, although there is no formal move yet.

india Updated: Oct 05, 2016 12:17 IST
Citing frequent water-related disputes among states, the issue of bringing water on the concurrent list is back on the discussion table, although there is no formal move yet.
Citing frequent water-related disputes among states, the issue of bringing water on the concurrent list is back on the discussion table, although there is no formal move yet.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Should water be transferred from state list to concurrent so as to enable the Centre to legislate on it? The question has come alive again due to the impasse over the sharing of Cauvery water, with Karnataka virtually showing defiance to the Supreme Court direction to release water to neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

Sources in union water resources ministry say the latest round of water dispute could set the ball rolling for the government to consider a long-pending proposal to bring water under the concurrent list of the Constitution. Both the Centre and the states can legislate on subjects under the concurrent list.

“As far as the issue of water sharing is concerned, the Centre has a neutral role to play. We do not have a locus standi in the matter as it is a state subject. We are involved only because the court has directed us to mediate between the two states,” said an official.

The court had on September 30 asked the Union water resources ministry to facilitate a meeting between representatives of the two states, after Karnataka refused to release 6000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu, as directed by the apex court.

Officials said the ministry’s role is limited to coming up with a mechanism to implement the Cauvery Water Tribunal order vis a vis the quantum of water that Karnataka has to release to the three states in the river basin – Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.

Citing frequent water-related disputes among states -- the ministry had last month tried to broker peace between Chattisgarh and Orissa over sharing of water from the Mahanadi river – sources say the issue of bringing water on the concurrent list is back on the discussion table, although there is no formal move yet.

Parliament can with two-thirds majority amend the law to bring a state subject on the concurrent list, which has to be ratified by at least half of the states.

It’s easier said than done though. States have been bitterly opposed to the idea of a more direct central role in resolving water sharing disputes. “For political reasons states will oppose such a move. Also, it will require a constitutional amendment and without political consensus it will be difficult to get the proposal passed,” an official admitted.

When the issue had come under discussion during the UPA government, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had shot off a letter to then prime minister Manmohan Singh to oppose it. Many experts believe that the Centre doesn’t have to bring water under the concurrent list to have a say in disputes. Entry 56 of the Union list- which enumerates subjects on which only the Centre can legislate- empowers the Centre to regulate “inter-state rivers” if Parliament so decides.

Ministry officials also blame the less effective role played by tribunals set up to resolve such disputes between states. “If a tribunal passes an order to award a certain quantum of water and the states do not adhere to it, the Centre can do nothing. The Cauvery Waters Tribunal had way back in 2007 ordered the quantum of water that Karnataka has to release to the three states in the river basin. But the state has time and again violated the order,” a government official said.

Even the Cauvery Supervisor Committee, constituted to ensure the implementation of the tribunal’s order, has failed to function as envisaged.

Bringing water under the concurrent list is not a new idea. Parliamentary panel and several committees have in the past recommended it.

Experts believe that the Centre doesn’t have to bring water on the concurrent list to have a say in disputes. Entry 56 of the Union list- which enumerates subjects on which only the Centre can legislate- empowers the Centre to regulate “inter-state rivers” if Parliament so decides.

Bringing water under the concurrent list is not a new idea. Parliamentary panel and several committees have in the past recommended it.

Last December, the Standing Committee on Water Resources in its report on “Review of ground water scenario, need for a comprehensive policy and measures to address problems in the country” had recommended that bringing the subject of water under the concurrent list will help evolve a comprehensive plan of action. “Consensus between the centre and states will result in better conservation, development and management of water, including ground water,” the panel had said.

In December 2014, the Public Accounts Committee chaired by senior Congress leader KV Tomas had also batted for bringing water in the concurrent list.