Thursday, August 5, 2021

Centre notifies purview of Krishna, Godavari Boards

  • Notification is welcomed by AP, rejected by TS
  • When two States quarrel, the Centre would step in
  • Irrigation is in the State List, but taken over by the Centre
  • All the 107 projects under Krishna, Godavari in AP, TS would be managed by Centre

When the central government thought it was time to implement the assurances given in AP Bifurcation Act 2014, Telangana State strongly felt that it is denied justice while AP government accepted the measures taken by the Centre. The BJP in TS has welcomed the notification by Ministry of Jal Shakti on the purview  of  the river boards.

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Midnight notifications

The Ministry of Jal Shakti had issued a notification late on Thursday night bringing 35 projects and their components such as head works in the Krishna basin and 71 projects  and head works in Godavari Basin in the two Telugu States under the purview of the respective boards. Thus the boards have been empowered to supervise the operation of head works of barrages, dams, reservoirs, regulating structures, canal networks, water transmission lines and the power houses at the projects.

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In the wake of escalation of the dispute by both the government of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana State regarding sharing of Krishna water and production of power in Srisailam, Nagarjuna Sagar and Pulichintala reservoirs, the central government was forced to take the initiative that it has been postponing for years. Telangana government has opposed the notification saying that there cannot be any regulation without finalizing the sharing of water between the two States.

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Retd. engineer says notification is injurious for TS

Maireddy Shyam Prasada Reddy, a retired engineer who played a vital role in Telangana separate statehood movement, said in an interview published in ‘Namaste Telangana’, that the attitude of the union government would harm  the interests of TS. He is also a general secretary of the association of retired engineers of Telangana. The notification is one-sided, he commented.

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The argument of the protagonists of Telangana is that while Krishna basin is 66 per cent in Telangana it is 34 per cent in Andhra Pradesh. All the projects in Telangana are inside the basin. Most of the projects that AP constructed are outside the basin. According to international water laws and natural justice,  water from one basin would go to another basin only after the needs of the basin are met. But the Centre is trying to distribute Krishna water according to the old formula. What is the State of Telangana meant for if the United AP formula is implemented, Reddy questioned. The old ratio between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh was 34:66. It was because the water was arguably shared on the basis of the projects that were already there.

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Jal Shakti ministry clarifies

The Jal Shakti ministry had said in the notification that river management boards have been formed on 2 June 2014 with the powers given by section 85 of the AP Bifurcation Act. As there were differences of opinion between the two States regarding issue of notification, it was delayed. But the differences were resolved in the second meeting of the apex council in last October which was presided over by Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. It was decided in that meeting that the centre could issue notification of purview of both the boards.

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The ministry of Jal Shakti clarified on Friday that it had elaborate discussions before finalizing the notification taking the arguments of both the States into consideration. Sanjay Avasthi, the Joint Secretary of Jal Shakti ministry said that the AP Bifurcation Act 2014 itself gives the powers to the boards to supervise sharing of river waters. He said the plea by TS government that a new tribunal on river water be constituted is under consideration of the ministry.

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As a result of the two different notifications on Krishna and Godavari released after midnight of Thursday, 107 projects would go under the supervision of the boards. While 79 projects are in TS, 15 in AP and 13 are joint projects. 36 projects will have to be supervised by Krishna board while 71 projects come under Godavari board. Even major irrigation project like Kaleswaram will be managed by Godavari board. This move is being resisted by Telangana. Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao has asked his MPs to raise the issue of river water sharing in the coming session of both the houses of Parliament.  He wanted his MPs to strongly oppose Centre taking over irrigation powers.

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Outsiders to call the shots

The AP and TS governments have been asked to pay deposit of Rs. 400 crore each in boards’ accounts towards management expenditure. All the executive posts have been given to non-Telugus thus leaving the  Telugu States at the mercy of non-Telugu officials. The Gezette on River Boards’ purview says:  1. Any question over the purview of boards over any project be referred to the Centre.  Decision of the Central government shall be final in that matter.  2.  The River Boards shall approve and put in place within 30 days appropriate organizational structure to perform functions mandated in the notification.3. The two States shall completely handover the projects on/from the date of commencement of the notification. 4. The two States shall stop all the ongoing works on unapproved projects as on July 15 until they are approved by the boards, Apex Council. 5. From the date of projects coming into boards’ purview, Central industrial Security Force shall assist them in the day-to-day management of projects.

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Existing awards, agreements to be implemented

The two river boards would implement the existing awards of tribunals on Krishna and Godavari rivers on water allocation and agreements entered into with co-basin States by Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The responsibility to manage  things in times of natural disasters would be with the State governments. However, the boards would advise the governments on the management of disaster/drought/flood in the river basins. It would advise on release of water and management during natural calamities.

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The Jal Shakti minister has made it clear that no person from the two States shall be appointed chairman, member-secretary, members and chief engineers of KRMB and GRMB. On the other employees required to run the show, they will be drawn from both the States on deputation in equal numbers.

Irrigation taken over by the Centre

According to the seventh Schedule of the Constitution, Irrigation is in the State list. Only States have the jurisdiction over river waters. Project head works, barrages, reservoirs, regulating mechanisms and canals would be constructed based on the needs. Centre has powers to make laws on the subjects in the State List under certain circumstances. Article 249 of the Constitution says the Rajya Sabha should  by 2/3 majority pass a resolution asking the Central government to make a law on the State subject in the interest of the nation. The law thus enacted will be in force only for one year. It has to be enacted again for the next year.  The union government is given powers to constitute tribunals to resolve disputes between States on river waters. Eight tribunals were constituted so far in the country to resolve river water disputes since the reorganisation of the States in 1956. In that year Inter-State water dispute Act was made. Bachawat Tribunal in 1969 and Brijesh Kumar tribunal in 2004 are part of this process. With the Thursday notification making the Centre the final arbitrator, the irrigation goes into the hands of the Centre in three months from now forcing the States to be willy-nilly  on the right side of the Union government in order to protect the interest of the States. The officers manning the boards will have opportunity to manipulate as well as regulate.

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Centre intervention to prevent civil war

There have been arguments in favour of moving water from State List to Concurrent List. Ashok Chawla Committee in 2011 recommended that water could be included in concurrent list. Water is there in all the Lists for practical purposes. It has Entry 56 to take it from State List to Concurrent List. Article 262 gives powers to Parliament to legislate on water issues. But it remains with the State List. The Union Government told Parliament in February 2020 that it has no plan to move water from State List to Concurrent or Union List. Where is the need when decisions could taken the way the Jal Shakti ministry had done on Thursday. Water is too important a subject to leave to the States which naturally have different and conflicting interests. The Union Government should involve itself when a dispute arises between two States. The same philosophy was adopted by UPA-II government when it prepared the AP Bifurcation Bill 2014 in which it said that purview of Krishna Water Board and Godavari Water Board shall be decided by the Centre. Though water remains in the State List along with land, education and agriculture, the Union Governments and courts would interfere when a dispute arises between two or more States. It would affect the federal character of the country but it cannot be helped at least in the case of water over which  two States like Telangana and Andhra Pradesh  quarrel.  Otherwise, there would be civil wars with governments in both the State deploying police forces and indulging in provocative statements.

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K. Ramachandra Murthy
Founder & Editor

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