NEW DELHI: The national water policy was on Friday adopted by states with the Centre assuring that it does not wish to encroach on their rights and that their concerns on an overarching framework on water laws will be addressed.
Amid fear expressed by various state governments that the legal framework proposed in the policy was an infringement on their constitutional rights, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh stepped in on Friday morning to allay such apprehensions.
"The central government does not wish to encroach, in any manner, upon the constitutionally guaranteed rights of states or to centralise water management…I would like to emphasise the need to see the proposed national legal framework in proper perspective," he said in his opening remarks at the 6th National Water Resources Council meeting where the document was adopted.
"The policy will not be re-drafted. Some modifications will be made to address the concerns of the states," the Water Resources Minister, Mr Harish Rawat told reporters after the meeting.
"Even while it is recognised that states have the right to frame suitable policies, laws and regulations on water, there is a felt need to evolve a broad overarching national legal framework of general principles on water to lead the way for essential legislation on water governance in every state of the Union and devolution of necessary authority to the lower tiers of government to deal with the local water situation," the policy reads.
Besides suggesting a legal framework for water laws, the policy also proposes Water Regulatory Authority in all the states to fix and regulate the water tariff system and charges.
Mr Rawat said some states voiced apprehensions that the proposed legal framework would infringe upon their right over water.
"Some states suggested that principles for allocation of river water be laid down. Reservations were expressed by states on inter-basin transfer of water. Many states called for speedy resolution of inter-state disputes," he said.
In his concluding remarks, Mr Rawat assured the states that the legal framework law and the law on river basin management would be drafted only after extensive consultations with states to ensure that the powers of the states are not curtailed.
Several states, including Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Bihar, Punjab and Chhattisgarh, slammed the proposed legal framework dubbing it as an attack on federal structure.
Punjab also opposed the idea of Water Regulatory Authority saying states should have a right to decide.
Under pressure from states, the Centre had put out in July a fresh draft of the policy which made it clears that the overarching national legal framework on water was an "umbrella statement" of general principles.
When the first draft was put out in January, this year, states had opposed the idea of a framework law.
Amid raging inter-state water disputes and demands for uniform laws on water, the Centre had recently told a parliamentary committee that it was willing to put water in the Concurrent list of the Constitution. The parliamentary committee on water resources as well as the consultative committee on the ministry have supported the idea.
While Chief Ministers of Assam, Punjab, Mizoram, Goa, Maharashtra, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Jharkhand attended the meeting, other states were represented by their respective PWD, Irrigation and Water Resources Ministers.