| Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi at an event to release the official New Year calendar of the information and broadcasting ministry in Parliament on Tuesday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Dec. 19: Water resources minister Saifuddin Soz’s angst-ridden plea to Parliament yesterday to strengthen the Centre’s hands in resolving river water disputes between states may result in a fundamental change in the constitutional status of water.
Soz made the startling revelation that the parliamentary standing committee on water resources had recommended that water should be put on the concurrent list. At present, water is placed under List II of the seventh schedule of the Constitution, which means it is a state subject.
Having informed the House about the standing committee’s recommendation, Soz asserted that he fully endorses it. He said it would help everyone if water is put on the concurrent list.
“I am not saying this in my capacity as a Union minister but as a common citizen of this country. I feel water should be on the concurrent list. Otherwise, the Centre’s position would remain as helpless as it is now.”
Soz’s appeal has a historical background. Owing to the constitutional status of water, the Centre has for decades been in an unenviable position trying to settle water wars between states.
The Centre’s failure to settle the disputes has forced the appointment of a number of tribunals under the inter-state water disputes act to mediate between the warring states.
So far, tribunals have been set up for water disputes over the Narmada, Ravi, Beas, Krishna, Godavari and Cauvery.
This has given rise to a complex and highly litigious process as the states have moved the Supreme Court challenging various awards given by the tribunals. This is in spite of the tribunal’s decision being final and binding on states.
In this backdrop, Soz’s petition to Parliament was almost emotional. “What am I supposed to do when the chief minister of one state refuses to sit with the chief minister of another…'
“These are sovereign states. I can hardly tell them what to do. I try and set up meetings, mediate as far as I can. But that is all. I can drag the horse to water, can’t make it drink.
“Of course, this is for Parliament to decide but as a citizen, this is my feeling.”