GUWAHATI, Oct 23 - The Draft Inter-State River Basin Management Bill, 2018 (DIRBMB-2018) is seemed to be an attempt at providing more powers to the Union Government in matters of formation of the River Basin Authority, contrary to the provisions of the Indian Constitution, which has kept water as a State subject.
This was the observation made by Dr Partha Jyoti Das, Head, �Water, Climate and Hazard Division� of the Aaranyak, a scientific and industrial research organisation. He was talking to this correspondent on the DIRBMB-2018. He further maintained that while prescribing elements to be included in the River Basin Master Plans, the Bill has laid no stress on taking into consideration the impacts of climate change on the river basins or structural interventions in the rivers.
He said the Bill has identified 13 inter-State rivers of the country to be covered under its subsequent legislation, and over which River Basin Management Authorities will be set up. This list includes the Brahmaputra, the Barak and their inter-State tributaries in northeast India.
Besides the mainstreams of the Brahmaputra and the Barak, there are a number of their tributaries, which flow through more than one State or have their basin areas spread over more than one State. They are like the Teesta, the Subansiri, the Jia Bharali, the Gai, the Ranganadi, the Dikrong, the Jiadhal, the Dibang, the Lohit, the Noa Dihing, the Buri Dihing, the Dhansiri-Doyang, the Kopili and the Kulsi in the Brahmaputra River Basin and the Tlawng (Dhaleswari) and the Tuivawl, tributaries to the Barak River.
There are major hydropower projects being constructed or cleared and planned on several such inter-State rivers. Most of these projects are not in conformity with the principles being promoted by the Bill. In this connection, one may consider the Ranganadi Hydroelectric Power Project (HEP), Lower Subansiri HEP, Demwe HEP, Dibang Multipurpose Project, Doyang HEP, Tipaimukh HEP etc.
Once the Bill becomes an Act, it will be imperative for the River Basin Authorities concerned to ensure that such projects adhere to the principles promoted by this Bill, like equity, sustainability, basin approach to development and management of water resources, unified perspectives of water in all its forms (including soil moisture, ground and surface water), cooperative management, inter-State collaboration and coordination, integrated basin management etc.
Until the River Basin Authorities are formed and they become functional as per this Bill, all activities of ongoing construction, clearance and planning of hydropower projects on inter-State rivers like the Brahmaputra and the Barak and their tributaries and sub-basins, should be put on halt, he said.
Moreover, there should be a specific mention in the Bill that the River Basin Authorities will act to ensure that the downstream States do not suffer from unwanted adverse impacts of river dams and other similar structures located in upstream States. In cases where such impact cannot be avoided, efforts should be mandated to minimise the same to tolerable levels on terms agreeable to all States concerned.
Besides, the exercise of preparation of the basin master plans should be carried out through a participatory process, involving communities.
The Bill will also influence the existing institutions that are in place for water governance in the region. For example, at present the Brahmaputra Board is the only river basin institution for the Brahmaputra, the Barak and their tributaries and their basins and sub-basins. Now, will the proposed reconstitution of the Board be done under the purview of the new Act, or, will another institution be created under this Act for the same purpose, he wondered.
Again, when the River Basin Authorities are formed on the Brahmaputra-Barak basin as well as on the inter-State sub-basins of their tributaries, their powers and functions may overlap and contradict with those of the existing State government departments like the Water Resources Departments. It will warrant a parallel exercise of reforms to be brought in such institutions and water governance policies at State level to harmonise water management in States and to avoid institutional discordance, said Dr Das.