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Inter-State River Linkages are a topic of interest for India, especially for the southern States of the Indian Union where the rivers are largely non-perennial and the water shortages are alarming in the off-season and summer. There are similar contexts elsewhere in the world, in almost all continents. It is in India, the topic is hot and is being talked about intensely in the last few months.
The present scenario in the country's water resources sector is alarmingly dismal. While floods are wreaking havoc in the Northeast and Eastern regions and drought is looming large in many parts of the Indian landmass, many States continue opposing the inter-basin transfer of waters from surplus to deficit basins. Punjab has gone one step ahead by passing unilaterally a Bill terminating all previous agreements and accords on river waters thereby vitally affecting irrigation and drinking water supply in the neighbouring States. Punjab's action has triggered a whirlwind of protest and has raised a core issue of national importance, the solution to which would determine the future course of action on such issues.
Conflict of interest is the normal state of affairs in a reality where river flows physically link upstream and downstream users and uses. The issues are complex and linkages are many. But instead of sorting out the differences, of late, water endowed States have been resorting to legal gimmickry while playing to the political galleries, in their bid to prevent use of waters flowing through their territories by their water deficit neighbours. Kerala has passed a Bill in this regard recently and Karnataka had issued an ordinance on the Cauvery waters some time back. In all these cases, reference has been made to the sovereign rights of the States as enshrined in the Constitution. If other water surplus States take the cue from these instances and act as arbitrarily, the consequences of such developments in terms of India's unity and integrity would be disastrous. Hence the demand has been gaining momentum in the last few years for the Central government to transfer the subject of 'Water' from the 'State List' to the 'Union List' or 'Concurrent List' to arrest further deterioration in water related issues.
In the Constitution, 'Water, that is to say, water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power,' is a matter contained in Entry 17, List II (State List). Hence the State legislatures have full powers to legislate under this provision on all water related matters including their regulation and development. However, this Entry is subject to the provision of Entry 56, List I (Union List) which authorises Parliament to enact laws for the regulation and development of interstate rivers and river valleys
Regulation and development of interstate rivers and river valleys to the extent to which such regulation and development under the control of the Union is declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in public interest.
In the past, the Centre had enacted over-riding laws using constitutional powers on many subjects such as industry and business, which are included in the State List. However, at present any constitutional amendment particularly in the emotive issue of water does not seem possible. Another view which has gained currency is that without any constitutional amendment, the Centre can deal with interstate rivers by empowering itself under the available provisions (Entry 56, List I).
Against the above background, any change in the scheme of the Constitution has to be ruled out and instead the Centre has to pass laws to deal with interstate rivers more effectively as they contribute more than 85 per cent of the water resources of the country. The National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development Plan had also recommended such an approach (September, 1999).
It must be remembered that the development of effective solutions to water problems depends more on governance. Hence it is essential for the Centre to empower itself to take over the interstate rivers for providing better regulation and management of the water resources available in the country and put a stop to the fissiparous tendencies recently demonstrated.
Over the last 200 years, resource managers and scientists have recognized four different approaches to resource management:
1. Exploitation - given resource should be used as intensively as possible to provide the greatest profit to the user (early loggers).
2. Preservation - resources should be preserved, set aside, and protected. This was founded in the 1880s when John Muir (SierraClub) proposed that some lands should be converted into National Parks (that is, Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks).
3. Utilitarian Approach - this concept suggests that renewable resources should be managed so that they will never be exhausted.
4. Ecological Approach - embraces the concept of multiple uses. A forest is not only a source of timber, but has many other values as well (see The Tragedy of the Commons).
Chaos and Resource Management
In a 1993 publication (Science 260: 17: 36), Ludwig, Hilborn and Walters noted the general failure of natural resource managers in managing biological resources. They suggest that the reasons for this failure are rooted in a poor scientific understanding of how resource systems work and misguided politicians. They also suggest that resource systems are inherently chaotic and uncertain, while most management systems are based on linear dynamics and principles. In conclusion, they recommend that resource managers and politicians must confront the uncertainty of natural systems.
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