Saturday, September 18, 2021

River Management Boards

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Krishna waters – III

One of the main reasons for agitation for Telangana as a separate state is denial of proportionate share under the Andhra rulers.  Because of this Mahabubnagar, border district of Telangana, became most backward and it supplies migrant labour to the whole nation – widely known as Palamurlabour. 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.

Also read: The Constitutional Necessity of Separation

Arbitrary notification

It sounds like merger or acquisition or take over in commercial corporate world. The Centre issued notification on July 15 in the name of prescribing jurisdiction of the Krishna and Godavari River Management Boards (KRMB and GRMB). In fact, it has relieved these two states from all their powers and jurisdiction and handed over them to the Boards. It attracted the criticism that the Centre has usurped all the powers of the State Governments over all the irrigation projects (35 on Krishna basin and 71 on Godavari) with reference to all functions.  Strangely, the centre has imposed all liabilities arising out of functions on the States. The notification disqualifies the engineers and personnel of two states from becoming chairman or any functionary in the Boards, and empowers the Centre, to appoint its officers only. The Babus of the centre and its engineers will really own Krishna and Godavari and act according to whims of their political bosses. Thus, it amounts to taking over of the two major rivers depriving the states totally.

The states are directed to deposit funds Rs 400 crore each to Boards as seed money to enable them to discharge functions effectively, and the states were told to deposit required funds additionally within 15 days of the demand by the boards. States have to give their money, staff, assets, projects, operational powers and control over all the projects in which they invested lakhs of crores of rupees since long time. All powers to Centre and all responsibilities or liabilities are thrust on the heads of the states.

Boards all powerful, Centre’s decision final

Two boards will have power to give any directions to two states for maintenance of projects and states are supposed to obey. The boards were given full authority to get their orders implemented. The notification further mandates: Everything in Plant, machinery equipment and stores, besides vehicles with all assets will go to KRMB and GRMB. If any question arises as to whether the KRMB or GRMB has jurisdiction, the decision of the Centre shall be final (Paragraph (o)); The states should try to get approvals for unapproved projects within six months. Both the state governments shall stop all the ongoing works on unapproved projects as on the date of publication. If approvals are not secured within six months, the projects shall cease to operate. 

Power without responsibility

All the unapproved projects will have to come to a grinding halt, even if it causes economic disaster to the state. But the centre will not take any responsibility. Paragraph (g) says financial liability of any contract before the date of commencement of this notification, liability arising out of any of the present and future cases filed in the Supreme Court, High Court, any other Court or Tribunal in regard to the projects or components specified in Schedule-2 shall be the responsibility of the respective State Governments.

The Act enables the Union to constitute two River Management Boards and decide its jurisdiction. The Boards were constituted in 2014 but their jurisdiction was thought about in 2020 and taking over notifications were given on 15th July 2021. The states should understand that they are surrendering their sovereignty at the feet of the emperor in Delhi.

Also read: CJI’s worthy solution to Water Dispute

(The writer is Dean & Professor, School of Law, Mahindra University, Hyderabad, and former Central Information Commissioner.)

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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