Thursday, March 1, 2012

Interlinking of Rivers: Supreme Court Forms Panel, Controversies Continue

The Supreme Court has directed the federal government to implement the ambitious interlinking of rivers project in a time-bound manner and appointed a high-powered committee for its planning and implementation.
The river interlinking project was the brainchild of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, which was elected to office in 1998 and was reelected in 1999. In October, 2002, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had formed a task force to get the project going against the backdrop of the acute drought that year.
A federal-appointed task force had in a report recommended division of the project into two-- the Peninsular component and the Himalayan component.
The Peninsular component-- involving the rivers in southern India-- envisaged developing a 'Southern Water Grid' with 16 linkages. This component included diversion of the surplus waters of the Mahanadi and Godavari to the Pennar, Krishna, Vaigai and Cauvery.
The task force had also mooted the diversion of the west-flowing rivers of Kerala and Karnataka to the east, the interlinking of small rivers that flow along the west coast, south of Tapi and north of Mumbai and interlinking of the southern tributaries of the river Yamuna.
The Himalayan component envisaged building storage reservoirs on the Ganga and the Brahmaputra and their main tributaries both in India and Nepal in order to conserve the waters during the monsoon for irrigation and generation of hydro-power, besides checking floods. The fate of the ambitious Rs 5,00,000 crore project proposing linkages between major rivers by the year 2016 has remained a virtual non-starter and the detailed project report is in cold storage.
Initial Work
At the initial stages, the project “may not involve those states which have sufficient water and are not substantially involved in any interlinking of river program and the projects can be completed without their effective participation.
The apex court made it clear that the Committee “shall be responsible for carrying out the interlinking program. Its decisions shall take precedence over all administrative bodies.”
The committee will be headed by the water resources minister and comprise the ministry secretary, the secretary, environment and forest ministry, the Central Water Commission chief, the water development authority secretary, the water and irrigation minister from each concurring state for a particular project, with their principal secretary, and the chief secretary (or his nominee) of the states involved.
Strict Monitoring
The apex court, which discontinued monitoring as it involved questions on “federalism” better left to be decided by the Union and states, said the panel’s other members would be from among social activists nominated by the water resources and environment and forest ministries.Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, assisting the court in the case since 2002, when it took suo motu notice of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), will also be in the panel as he is well versed with the issue.A three-member bench comprising Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices A.K. Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar ordered: “The committee shall meet at least once in two months, and shall maintain records of its discussions and minutes. It will be entitled to constitute subcommittees as it may deem necessary ... on such terms and conditions as it may deem proper.”The panel was directed to submit biannual reports directly to the Cabinet Secretariat, to be placed before the Cabinet for prompt decisions. The Supreme Court stated: “The Cabinet shall take all final and appropriate decisions... as expeditiously as possible and preferably within 30 days from the date the matter is first placed before its consideration.” All reports submitted to the court so far will also be placed before the committee after it is in place.
Major River Rift

* Krishna-Godavari dispute: Involves Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha
* Cauvery row: Relates to re-sharing of waters between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu
* Ravi-Beas dispute: Involves Punjab and Haryana; started with the reorganization of Punjab in 1966
* Sutlej Yamuna Link canal was to link both Sutlej and Yamuna through a 214-km long canal
* Haryana completed construction of its portion of the canal. Construction stopped on Punjab side since militancy days
* Punjab Government in 2004 passed Termination of Agreements Act that ended all earlier water sharing agreements with neighboring states

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