Recently, The Union Government came up with Draft of National Water Framework Bill, 2016 aimed to develop and manage river basins in an integrated manner to provide equitable share of water. The draft also proposes to establish river basin authority for each inter-state basin to ensure optimum and sustainable development of rivers and valleys. The Bill is yet to get a nod from the union cabinet, after which it will be introduced in the parliament for further approval.
Before, going into the details of bill, it is important to understand the position of water w.r.t India’s Constitution.
Water is State Subject
The primary entry in the Constitution relating to water is Entry 17 in the State List, but it is explicitly made subject to the provisions of Entry 56 in the Union List, which enables the Union to deal with inter-State rivers if Parliament legislates for the purpose. What does this mean?
This means that if Parliament considers it “in the public interest” that the “regulation and development” of an inter-State river, say the Ganga, should be “under the control of the Union”, it can enact a law to that effect, and that law will give the Union legislative (and therefore executive) powers over that river. That enabling provision has not been used by Parliament yet. No law has been passed bringing any river under the control of the Union.
Under Entry 56, Parliament did enact the River Boards Act 1956 providing for the establishment of River Boards for inter-State rivers, but no such board has been established under the Act. The reasons are political, i.e., strong resistance by State governments to any enhancement of the role of the Central government.
Hence, this bill if passed normally would not be binding on State Governments. It will serve as a model bill for the states, giving them a framework to come out with local laws to use and conserve water.
The Provisions of Water Framework Bill:
- Considers the provision of Right to Water for life and says that every person has a right to sufficient quantity of safe water for life within easy reach of the household.
- The appropriate government shall strive towards rejuvenating river systems with community participation, ensuring:
- (a) ‘AviralDhara’- continuous flow in time and space including maintenance of connectivity of flow in each river system;
- (b) ‘Nirmal Dhara’- unpolluted flow so that the quality of river waters is not adversely affected by human activities; and
- (c) ‘Swachh Kinara’ – clean and aesthetic river banks.
- Considers Water as common heritage of the people of India, held in public trust. Hence, States must recognize the principle that the rivers are public trustees and not owned by the basin-States.
- Establishing River Basin Authority (RBA) for each inter-State basin to ensure optimum and sustainable development of rivers and valleys.
- All basin states have equitable rights over the use of river water provided such use does not violate the right to water for life of any person in the river basin. All the basin States are equal in rights and status, and there is no hierarchy of rights among them. The upper basin state shall adopt a cautious and minimalist approach to major interventions in inter-state rivers; provide advance information to the 25 lower basin states about plans for intervention; consult them at all stages on possible impacts; and take care to avoid significant harm or injury to them.
- Managing water at river basin-level and right measurement of State’s contribution to river system to in order to resolve conflicts.
- Establishing institutional arrangements to deal with inter-state water disputes in order to “obviate” disputes through negotiations, mediation or conciliation.
- Proposes other mechanisms such as National water quality and footprint standards, Integrated river basin development and management plan and Graded pricing system.
Given the ubiquitous interstate water disputes, should water be moved from state list subject to concurrent list?