Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Two Telugu states should challenge Centre’s dictatorial Gazette

  • It is centralisation depriving the states of their rights
  • Centre takes all the assets, liabilities thrust on States
  • Union government behaves in a dictatorial manner

Telangana and Andhra Pradesh Governments took a right step in the last minute to raise questions about loans and detailed explanation for demanding Rs. 200 crore for managing the water projects on Godavari and Krishna rivers in Telangana. Two Telugu states should challenge this dictatorial, unconstitutional taking over of rivers and power over them. The assets were mortgaged to banks that advanced financial support for completion of projects. How can states retain liability and transfer assets to the Centre?

Also read: River as Legal person & Rights of Rivers

It expressed inability to hand over water projects to GRMB as ordained by the gazette notification issued by the Union Government on July 15 to take over the jurisdiction of rivers and projects by GRMB (Godavari River Management Board) till the issues raised by it were resolved.

Why should TS government release the seed money of Rs. 200 crore to the GRMB when the huge loans on projects are yet to be paid back? Who will be liable to repay the loans? Besides being unconstitutional, the Gazette tramples upon the constitutional rights of two states, and gives power to spend the tax money of Telugu states by the Centre who had no understanding of local needs and problems.

Officials were right in questioning

The irrigation officials rightly questioned the GRMB officials for seeking huge money to run the board. As asked by them the board has a duty to answer and be accountable to furnish the details of the expenditure on the paper. The state has to ascertain its sovereign power over the people’s money.

According to Gazette notification, the States have to hand over the projects to the Centre monitored, bureaucrat managed Boards, where the states have no role at all, within two days, i.e., by 14th October.

The two States should join together to file a suit before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Gazette and its so called source- Sections 85 to 89 of Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Act, 2014, which takes away the Constitutionally guaranteed powers of the two states and makes people of these two states differently treated compared to people of other states, violating Article 14 of equality.

Media reported that the GRMB held a meeting with the top irrigation officials of the two States and sought their views on handing over the projects to the board. As many as 71 projects were constructed on River Godavari. The board has asked the two States to hand over the joint project – Peddavagu project constructed at Aswaraopet in Bhadradri- Kothagudem district. The project provides irrigation facilities to 13,000 acres in AP and 3,000 acres in Telangana.

Also read: Whether Act 2014 authorised Centre to takeover rivers?

No clarity in notification

A superior officer of irrigation department has reportedly told the Board: “The Telangana officials informed the board that the government was studying legal and political issues if the project was handed over to the GRMB. The officials pointed out that there is no clarity on the maintenance of the project once the board takes over. The notification did not mention specific responsibilities of the board in the management of the project.”

The reorganization of AP happened after the people of Telangana agitated for more than half century against inequitable distribution of Krishna and Godavari river waters between the sub-regions of Andhra and Telangana. As the then 10 Telangana districts of undivided AP were not having legal capacity to raise a complaint against injustice in water allocation, the demand for separate State gained the strength.

Also read: The Centre Robs Rivers of States

Constitutional Need for Separation

This author has represented before Justice Srikrishna Committee, which was enquiring into the affairs of Andhra Pradesh in the wake of the strong demand for division of state, pointing out a constitutional necessity behind the demand for Telangana State. The former Supreme Court Judge (Srikrishna) and Vice Chancellor of Law University (NALSAR VC Prof. Ranbir Singh) asked several questions on that point. Only a State Government can raise an inter-state river water dispute as per the Constitution. It is the state alone that can invoke original jurisdiction of Supreme Court. Being a sub-region, not a state, the region is technically incapacitated from even knocking the doors of Krishna or Godavari Water Dispute Tribunal. Telangana could not even have a right to question when other states were atrociously depriving these areas of their legitimate share in rivers and the leadership of AP government was deceptively silent facilitating the deprivation of Telangana.

Also read: The law for River Water Disputes

Deliberate silence by AP government

The Andhra Pradesh Government was deliberately silent and did not take up the cause of deprivation of Telangana by upper riparian states at inter-state forum or Supreme Court. They abandoned the interests of Telangana and worked like selfish leaders to divert the rivers to their Andhra region. Even when the cases came up, the Andhra rulers did not instruct engineers or experts or lawyers to defend the interests of Telangana. Internally, within united AP the rivers were taken away from Telangana without catering to that region’s irrigation or even drinking needs, which went unchallengeable since the subregion of Telangana has no constitutional power to question it.  The hostility against Telangana was aggravated because engineers and Media persons were predominantly belonging to Andhra region who, except a few, were not raising these issues. This was the Constitutional need for separation. Those who settled in Telangana were deliberately silent allowing the hijacking of rivers to their ancestral villages. There was no fraternity or equity or justice, which resulted in rising of emotional anger and intensified the desire to divide. Depicting the language and slant of Telangana in insulting manner in print, TV and film media added fuel to the fire. Deprivation of Telangana of equitable share in waters, jobs and funds was the sole, if not substantial, cause of the agitation which took many human-lives either in police firing or suicides.

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

Contextual background

Though, Telangana being a state since 2014, and it has the legitimate right to challenge the Gazette, to fulfil the legitimate expectation of people and the Telangana should raise a demand for its due share in proportion to the geographical area of river flowing in this state. When more than sixty per cent of a river flows in Telangana, why should it get less than fifty per cent of share? It is a common-sense question of equity and the issue of equality as per the Constitution under Articles 14. There is no right to life without water, and article 21 cannot be breached. The argument that you have a right to life and water is essential, and water dispute can be settled by Tribunal. It is a major lacuna in law that even if equality or living rights of millions of people are affected by biased and treacherous policies of a Government, the SC cannot look into. It is an absurd contention and absolutely against the rule of law. This is the contextual background for the demand for reallocation of the shares between all the riparian states of these two rivers. To say no to it is an arbitrary conclusion without any rationale.

Instead of facilitating resolution, the Delhi rulers orders the states to give total control of rivers to Delhi and wait with a begging bowl for water. Andhra Pradesh happily agreed to it, while Telangana formally opposed.

Ministry of Jal Shakti (Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation) has issued a NOTIFICATION from New Delhi, on the 15th July, 2021 with number: S.O. 2842 (E) has serious implications for two Telugu states- Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

Also read: River Management Boards

Union govt. takes 7 years to decide jurisdiction

Seven years of their constitution, the Centre decided their ‘jurisdiction’, which, according to them, means transferring of the operation of all projects including hydel generation. It is not just transferring the controls but entire asset- lock stock and barrel – being divested from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and vesting them in Union, through the nomenclature of River Management Boards.

The notification in the name of prescribing jurisdiction of the Krishna and Godavari River Management Boards (KRMB and GRMB), relieved the 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.

Why the state has to pay?

When the centre takes over the projects, as per Gazette, it should be the duty of completing the projects construction and see the water reaches the people and the fields. Why should they direct states to deposit funds Rs 400 crore each to Boards as seed money? Even if money is paid how can Boards discharge functions effectively? It is atrocious to ask the states 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 besides having the burden of loans. All powers to Centre and all responsibilities or liabilities are thrust on the heads of the states without any legal basis.

Gazette says that 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.  These are absolutely dictatorial orders on two democratic states totally against the constitution.

Also read: The Constitutional Necessity of Separation

Halting the projects at any cost

The gazette also says that 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 to complete them in a time frame and bring equity among people of two states with reference to water share in proportion to area of flowing of rivers. 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. It is common law and knowledge that when assets are transferred along with that the liabilities also get transferred. The liability attaches to the asset is norm world over.

Not only approved projects, either completed or ongoing- the Boards also taking over all other projects and bringing under the ‘jurisdiction’ of relative River Management Boards to be controlled by the officers of Ministry of Jalasakti of the union government. On October 14, all the projects, assets and other properties are threatened to be taken over by the Centre through the Boards. It is not nationalization of projects, but centralization of waters of Godavari and Krishna, and depriving the two Telugu states of their rights, autonomy, authority and sovereignty over the natural rivers that flow in their states. This should not be accepted by the people and governments of both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Also read: CJI’s worthy solution to Water Dispute

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
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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