Plan panel relents, no talks on water legislation at NDC meet

After power and land, the Centre does not want to open up water as another area of dispute with the state governments. Instead of rushing through with a national water legislation, the government will engage with each state to build up a consensus on metering of use of water, even in rural areas.

Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia has agreed with Union water resources minister Pawan Kumar Bansal that the legislation will not figure on the agenda of the National Development Council as it could be disruptive. The meeting of the council (NDC), the apex forum of state chief ministers and the Union Cabinet, will be held in the last week of December this year to formally adopt the 12th five year plan.

Bansal had recently sought Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's intervention saying there would be charges of political bias if the National Water Framework Law was hurried through. He argued that a Central water legislation may be possible under Article 252 of the Constitution but it will need overriding state powers and hence "needs to be negotiated with great care and caution".

Ahluwalia has agreed there could be stiff opposition and an adverse political fallout in his response. He has told the Prime Minister that he acknowledged Bansal's concerns and recalled that the YK Alagh Committee appointed by the water resources ministry is slated to draft the NWFL legislation. "Once drafted, this framework law would be finalised after evolving a consensus involving intensive deliberations with states to be initiated by the water resource ministry through meetings with the states," a letter from his office notes.

Member of the commission Mihir Shah has been assigned the role of coordinating with Bansal, who has argued that the "need for evolving a nation-wide perspective on water could get lost in political bias and strident invocation of federalism. Therefore placing these proposals before the NDC at this juncture may be premature and lead to downright rejection".

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