Weighing in on water

States may breathe easy, the new framework law won't undercut their powers

As the management of India's water resources made the transition from international protocol to state policy to legislation and finally to rules and orders, it ought to have gathered specificity at each step. For instance, a law should include, among other things, the powers and duties of the concerned authorities and penal provisions for violation. The national water framework law (NWFL), as included in the recently approved National Water Policy (NWP) 2012, interestingly includes neither.

It seems the Central government has sought to gain two things at the same time. One is a law-like certainty over the abstract principles and priorities in the management of water resources usually included in a policy. Meanwhile, the states are left to formulate their own legislation within this "umbrella statement", which provides all the necessary flexibility. This "unity in diversity" approach is quite different from the model law formulated some years ago by the Centre for the management of groundwater.

The over-arching framework law, found in Section 2 of the draft NWP 2012, was included in the agenda of the sixth meeting of the National Water Resources Council (NWRC) chaired by the prime minister, held on December 28, 2012. At the meeting, while some of the states had various concerns, including the infringement of their rights, a compromise was reached. They were assured that they would be consulted before any further measures were taken by the Centre. This was a welcome change from the Centre's earlier go-slow approach, where the subject of water legislation was not raised with the states for fear of disruption. However, Article 249 of the Constitution does give the Centre the power to enact legislation "in the national interest" on certain certain subjects in the states list, such as "water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power".

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