Saturday, October 23, 2021

Trampling the rights of states on Rivers

Part-2

India has number of rivers that can turn the lands into fertile fields. Politically India is a federation and states have more rights over the rivers that flow in their territory. But whenever any inter-state river dispute arises, the Constitution has provided for a mechanism of tribunals to resolve.

The states have a locus standi to seek remedies from over-exploitation of rivers by upper riparian states. The tribunal excludes the jurisdiction of regular courts. But higher constitutional courts have power of review. This is called ‘water federation’. Telangana region has had a peculiar problem. The rivers flow through it but it could not be used to quench thirst of throats and fields in this region due to selfish rulers from non-Telangana regions. It was sheer exploitation and total lack of fraternity. Even now after separation of Telangana, the Andhra people look Telangana people down as second-rate citizens. The hatred against their language and accent is yet to be reduced. They joined Telanagana into state only for the sake of capital located on Deccan plateau and to divert rivers with political power. They used Telangana for the employment of Andhra persons, without caring for the duty to create employment opportunities for Telangana people. They lived here for decades with courteous cooperation and coexistence of Telangana, but rarely owned the local culture, language and customs. Always shifted the wealth to Andhra and made Telangana as their colony. This led to serious agitation and formation of Telangana. Now the exploitation of rivers took a new shape with the aid of corruption and unethical politics.

Also read: Two Telugu states should challenge Centre’s dictatorial Gazette

Jala Yagnam as Dhana Yagnam

The major irrigation projects have become sources of big lots of money from contractors for the politicians in power. Jala Yajnam was in fact criticized as Dhana Yagnam. But almost all political parties look at major irrigation projects as resource to finance the next elections. The center it seems is attracted to this proposition, and attempting to take over the ‘rivers’ and projects over them using the political power in spite of federal principles of the Constitution. Big corporate entities started illegally financing the political parties to come to power and squeezing public funds to benefit their corporate interests through puppet governments.  

Rivers should be revered as Gods and should be handed over to the people with a strict duty of its conservation and to prevent it from regular and heavy dumping of pollutants into it.

Also read: River as Legal person & Rights of Rivers

A draught land near great rivers

The Union Ministry of Jal Shakti (department of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation) issued a notification from July 15, 2021 that had serious implications for the two Telugu states — Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. This is nothing but watering down the ‘water federation’ by taking over the Krishna and Godavari rivers from the riparian states.

Two magnificent rivers flow through Telangana and end in Andhra Pradesh. One of the main reasons for agitation for Telangana as a separate state is denial of proportionate share of rivers waters under the Andhra rulers.  Because of this Mahabubnagar, a Telangana district bordering AP, became most backward and it supplies migrant labour to whole nation – widely known as Palamur labour. The exploitation of water from these two mega Rivers continued even after Telangana was formed. While carving out Telangana in 2014, the Reorganization Act provided for two River Management Boards. Though the Boards were formally constituted in 2014 itself, for more than seven years their jurisdiction was not decided.  The disputes and mutual allegations of extra exploitation continued. But the centre, in the name of deciding jurisdiction of Boards, has stolen two rivers from these two states. Interestingly, the upper portions of these rivers are managed by different riparian states above Telangana while, lower part is now owned by the Centre. It took over Godavari & Krishna.  Depriving the Constitutional sovereign right of the State of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, the Delhi Sultans will decide how the river water has to be used for drinking and irrigation in these two states etc. 

Seven years after their constitution of the state and boards, the Centre decided their ‘jurisdiction’, which according to them, means transferring of the operation of all projects, including hydel power generation. It is not just transferring the controls but divesting all the assets from the two states lock, stock and barrel, and vesting them in the Union through the nomenclature of river management boards.

Also read: The Centre Robs Rivers of States

Equality breached

First of all, it violates the Article 14 as two states are treated differently from other states where interstate rivers are flowing. Secondly, it violates the federal nature of the distribution of powers between the Centre and States. The water is the state’s subject. But Centre misinterpreted its common jurisdiction in Concurrent List and provisions of AP Reorganization Act 2014, which nowhere stated that Centre could take away the rivers. Even under general principles of sharing sovereignty between States and the Centre, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are entitled to autonomy in managing the water.  This federal principle is watered down as the Centre took over the Krishna and Godavari rivers from the Telugu riparian states.  It is arbitrary and atrocious to steal the rivers like this, to say the least. 

Also read: The law for River Water Disputes

Injustice

This situation caused by gazette notification is challenging the very purpose of bifurcation of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh. Water, funds and employment were the three issues, where Telangana was deprived of its due share that formed the reason for decades of agitation.  Though separate State of Telangana could not address the issue of earlier jobs and diverted funds, it was hoped that at least it would gain a due share in Krishna and Godavari Rivers besides using hundred per cent revenue for the development of Telangana, which did not happen earlier. Jobs position was also not substantially improved, despite some good initiatives to fill up the thousands of vacancies. What left is the due share in Krishna and Godavari based on the length and breadth of flowing of river in Telangana. The disputes over the water sharing were subdued but not resolved.  As the two states were issuing hostile statements without any effective increase in the share for Telangana, and the people getting agitated, the center has, instead of offering management or taking initiative to resolve the dispute, preferred to take over the two interstate rivers under its control.

Also read: s it constitutional to take away the Rivers?

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is Dean, Professor of law at Mahindra University at Hyderabad and former Central Information Commissioner. He published a number books in English and Telugu.

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