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Water is a State subject. But Centre misinterpreted its common jurisdiction in Concurrent List and provisions of AP Reorganisation Act 2014, which nowhere stated that Centre could take away the rivers.

The Centre issued a notification from New Delhi, on July 15, with number: S.O. 2842 (E) which has serious implications for two Telugu States- Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. It 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 States should understand that they are submitting their sovereignty at the feet of the emperor in Delhi.

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The Narendra Modi’s Union Government has stirred up an emotional issue with all seriousness of challenging the very purpose of bifurcation of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh. Water, funds and employment were the three issues, where Telangana was deprived of its due share that formed the reason for decades of agitation.

Though separate State of Telangana could not address the issue of earlier jobs and diverted funds, it was hoped that at least it would gain a due share in Krishna and Godavari Rivers besides using hundred per cent revenue for the development of Telangana, which did not happen earlier. Jobs position was also not substantially improved, despite some good initiatives to fill up the thousands of vacancies. What left is the due share in Krishna and Godavari based on the length and breadth of flowing of river in Telangana.

The disputes over the water sharing were subdued but not resolved. As the two States were issuing hostile Statements without any effective increase in the share for Telangana, and the people getting agitated, the Centre has, instead of offering management or taking initiative to resolve the dispute, preferred to take over the two inter-State rivers under its control.

Water is a State subject. But Centre misinterpreted its common jurisdiction in Concurrent List and provisions of AP Reorganisation Act 2014, which nowhere stated that Centre could take away the rivers.

Even under general principles of sharing sovereignty between States and the Centre, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are entitled to autonomy in managing the water. This federal principle is watered down as the Centre took over the Krishna and Godavari rivers from the Telugu riparian States.

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

I have individually represented before Justice Srikrishna Committee that there is 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 and not a State, it is technically incapacitated from knocking the doors of Krishna or Godavari Water Dispute Tribunal.

The issue of over exploitation of rivers by upper riparian States could be questioned only by a State. The Andhra Pradesh Government never took up the cause of deprivation of Telangana by upper riparian States at inter-State forum or Supreme Court. Even when the cases came up, the Andhra rulers did not instruct engineers or experts or lawyers to defend the interests of Telangana. While internally the rivers were taken away from Telangana without catering to that region’s irrigation or even drinking needs, which goes unchallengeable at any fora.

The hostility against Telangana was aggravated because engineers were predominantly belonging to Andhra region and media was also not raising these issues because of their regional bias. Those who settled in Telangana were deliberately silent allowing the hijacking of rivers to their ancestral villages. There was no fraternity or equity that caused the emotional anger and divide. Depicting the language and slant of Telangana in insulting manner in print, TV and film media add 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 for division of State.

When 70 per cent of Krishna flows in Telangana, why should it get less than 50 per cent of share? It is a common-sense question of equity and the issue of equality as per the Constitution under Articles 21 and 14. The argument that you have a right to life and water is essential, but water dispute can be settled by Tribunal, hence even if equality or living rights are affected the SC cannot look into is an absurd 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.

Ministry of Jal Shakti (Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation) has issued a notification from New Delhi, on July 15 with number: S.O. 2842 (E) which has serious implications for two Telugu States- Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Seven years after  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.

The States are directed to deposit funds Rs 400 crore each to Boards as seed money to enable them to discharge functions effectively, and the States were told 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.

All powers to Centre – and all responsibilities or liabilities are thrust on the heads of the States.

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.

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. 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.

Entire basis of this usurpation is claimed to be the ‘authority’ delegated to Union by the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2014, dividing the State into two. The Act enables the Union to constitute two River Management Boards and decide its jurisdiction. The Boards were constituted in 2014 but their jurisdiction was thought about in 2020 and taking over notifications were given on July 15.

The States should understand that they are submitting their sovereignty at the feet of the emperor in Delhi.

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Courtesy: Hans News Service | 3 Aug 2021

Author Dr. Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu was a Professor at Nalsar University of Law in Hyderabad, former Central Information Commissioner and presently Professor of Law, at Bennett University, Greater Noida.

Email:professorsridhar@gmail.com


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