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Forum's Comments and Suggestions on the Draft River Basin Management Bill 2012

The Minister,
Ministry of Water Resources,
Government of India

Dear Sir,

We the members of the Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India wish to present our comments on the Draft River Basin Management Bill 2012 for your consideration and action.  The Forum is a loose network of more than 150 organisations and individuals who have been working in different areas in the water sector of the country and include many of the senior experts, activists and academics in the country. (see for details).

We wish to point out at the outset that the overall vision and direction of this Draft does not offer much hope for restoration and improved management of rivers or resolving the rising conflicts surrounding rivers and water sharing in the country. There is a need to thoroughly revamp the entire Draft. The detailed comments given below substantiate our point of view.
Secondly the Act once implemented is bound to affect all sections of the society. Merely publishing the same on website and inviting comments would not suffice. It demands much larger and wider discussions and consultations. The MoWR should translate the Draft Bill into different regional languages and hold consultations all over the country before finalizing the draft.

Thirdly River Basin Management demands constant interaction, co-ordination and co-operation between different arms of the Government and the people at large. It cannot be planned or implemented under the control of a single Ministry. Hence there is a need to arrive at an appropriate institutional structure that works to carry forward the process of RBM.

Overarching Comments

A shift from sectoral and departmental developmental approach to an integrated river basin level approach to management of water resources involves a major change in the mind set and functioning of the Government (both Union and State) and different arms of the government. It would entail looking at rivers and river basins from a different lens. For instance, upstream downstream linkages of development of water resources within a river basin, the need for the river to complete its hydrological and ecological life cycles, the need for viewing the entire river basin as a single bio–physical, ecological and hydrological unit of planning, the need to integrate lives and livelihoods within a river basin through the continuity of flows, the need to take into account the different types of land use within the basin and its interconnections with the  flows and ecology etc. are some of the important aspects which the government, the bureaucrats, the technocrats and the diverse river basin communities would have to reckon within a basin level planning and management process. Development projects like hydro power, irrigation, thermal plants, mining, industries, infrastructure, roadways, tourism etc. would follow the norms laid out by the Act. Hence, the Draft Bill should be a road map for a clear shift towards a governance process where environment, ecology, river dependent communities and their livelihoods become centre stage to any river basin management plan. This should be indicated in the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ section as well as the section on ‘Preliminaries’.

  1. Section 1(3) is a sweeping provision that simply declares that a public interest exists (hence it cannot be challenged) and that allows the Central government to take over the regulation and development of all the river basins mentioned in Schedule 1. This seems to be Centralisation at its worst (even though obviously the rest of the Act does not always exactly follow what this provision says but the principle established here is exactly that). The interpretation of ‘Public Interest’ is also not clear. Is the “public” the state or the people who depend upon the river? This overarching principle is against the spirit of decentralised bottom–up river basin management. The Act in this section should instead say that ‘It is declared that it is in public interest to create and enshrine a decentralised bottom–upscaled system of water resources planning, water management, regulation including restoration for which the Parliament is passing this Act’.
  1. The overall approach and focus of the Draft Bill is not acceptable. It reads ‘Regulation and Development’ of Inter State river basins. The non–inclusion of the term ‘restoration’ implies that the Government still considers hydrological potential of river basins to be unlimited and there is no linkage between the hydrology and ecology of a river basin. The Government is still reluctant to accept that Restoration of river basins is an equally important if not more important governing principle in any river basin management plan. In the present scenario, with most of the rivers moving towards ecological degradation, restoration should precede decisions for any further development of a river basin. The definition 2 (m) should be changed to Regulation, Restoration and Development of Inter State River Basins.
  1. The most important governing principle in any river basin management plan should be the participation and involvement of the river basin communities at all   levels in the planning and implementation process. This most critical element has been omitted from the Act. The process of involving people at every stage is as important as the outcome of the river basin plan. Moreover, wherever used, the term ‘consultation’ is not at all the appropriate term since it can end up as lip service to involving people and needs to be replaced by ‘participation’.
  1. A decentralized up scaling approach to river basin management alone can work effectively. For a highly complex planning unit like a river basin especially in a country like India, a mere two tier system of governance may not suffice for effective execution. Up scaling of the plans from watershed to basin level planning would be required if all the different land use and water use aspects are to be integrated into basin management. In other words, linking up watershed plans into sub basin plans and sub basin plans into the larger basin plan alone can cover the entire gamut of activities in the river basin. Meanwhile, regulation related activities in the river basin would require closer monitoring which cannot be achieved by a state level structure. Hence, a lower tier of governance would be required. Sub basin level river basin management committees reporting to the Executive Board are recommended to ensure effective up scaling of management.
  1. Equally important is the consideration of the environment, ecology and dependent livelihoods as an overarching governing principle in management. When all over the world governments are realizing the Ecological Limits to Hydrological Alteration (ELOHA), the Committee seems to have conveniently decided to omit this most critical governing principle in the legal framework. In the section on Proceedings, this fact becomes evident. Member of the Doabia Committee, Sri. B.P. Das stresses the need for quantifying the water demand for ecology and the quantity of water to be reserved in the basins for this main use. Meanwhile Member (WP and P) clarifies that whether environmental flow is important or not is not the issue before the Committee. The ToR of the Committee is to suggest the legal framework that would enable creation of appropriate RBs or RBOs. It is for the River Board / RBO to decide about environmental flows.  This argument by the Member is not correct. The first ToR of the Committee is to identify the main ingredients of a comprehensive river basin management plan. E-flows are definitely central to any proper RBP. In fact it should have been a key element of the ToR itself. Hence, in Chapter III, Environmental flows or allowing water for the environment and ecological needs of the river basin and dependent livelihoods should have been included as an important overarching Principle. The same needs to be appropriately defined in the Section on Definitions in Chapter II. E-flows should also included in Schedule II as part of elements of a river basin management plan.
  1. Basin level studies and Carrying Capacity studies should precede any development of a river basin master plan. We are dealing with river basins where already some intervention has taken place, where conflicts are prevalent and hence it is important to understand the limits to development possible before new management plans are developed.
  1. Risk Assessment: There should be a provision to assess the risks involved in managing the basin water resources, risks to the continued availability of the water resources and the strategies to be adopted to address and manage these risks. For instance climate change needs to be factored in as a risk which can change the flows and hydro – meteorology of the river basin.
  1. On interlinking of rivers the proceedings of the meeting states that the decision has been left to the RBOs once constituted. The results of the basin studies and carrying capacity studies (point 6 outlined above) and the principles outlined in the draft along with the suggested changes and recommendations in this submission should be used to arrive at the feasibility for interlinking.
  1. The draft Bill has covered just the important inter-state river basins in the country under its ambit. There are hundreds of smaller inter state rivers and in-state Rivers in this country especially originating from the Western Ghats which also demand regulation, restoration and management under the law. Hence the ambit of the Act should be extended to both inter state and the smaller in-state river basins in the country.

Detailed Comments

Chapter II

  1. There is an inherent mismatch in the definitions on ‘Integrated River Basin Management’ ( k ) and ‘Regulation and Development of Inter State river and river valley’ (m). While IRBM mentions coordinated development and management of land, water and other resources in a river basin, the latter just includes regulation and development of water resources. IRBM denotes a shift from ‘river’ to ‘river basin’. The definition on IRBM in the draft though does not include restoration is a more holistic one which looks at the river basin as a single entity including the land use and other resources uses. The latter definition should be omitted since it nullifies the essence of the River Basin Management Bill.
  1. The definition on River Basin Master Plan (o) should include development, management, regulation and ‘restoration’


  1. ‘Environmental flows’ needs to be defined and interpreted in this section as suggested in this letter

Chapter III

Overall, the principles governing river basin development, management and regulation in the Act seem to be based on the assumptions of unlimited hydrological potential with scanty concern for ecology or the fact that water is turning into a scarce and conflict ridden resource. The Committee should have evolved the principles based on the basic premise that water is part of the ecosystem, that rivers are ecosystems in themselves and hence any development, regulation or management should be based on the core value of maintaining the ecological integrity and minimum interference to the ecology and flows of rivers.

The detailed comments to Chapter III are below.

  1. Section 3 and 4 call for participation and co-operation of the basin states in the regulation and management of waters in inter state basins. Sadly 'development, management and regulation' of inter-state river basins is only done for the benefit of States and the Union assuming that the state will only do good for the people. Neither people living in the river basins, other concerned stakeholders nor the environment even get a mention here. Experiences reveal that people are not always in agreement to the development decisions taken by the state or the Union. And many of such decisions taken by the State have been harmful to the river basin communities and to the environment (even to the extent of beyond repair). Participation should hence imply a much broader and deeper principle wherein all relevant communities in a river basin take part right from the beginning in the development of the river basin master plan, in evolving regulations, in restoration, in implementation of the plan, in monitoring of the plan implementation etc. It should also be clearly spelt out who should participate in which activities, at what level and to what extent. For instance primary communities like fisher folk should be involved in the determination and monitoring of different flows in the river while local self governments should involve in development of local water resource management plans and its implementation. The quality of participation and co-operation is also important.
  1. Section 5 mentions 'equitable and sustainable use'. Yet, Section 5 (2) reverts to an undesirable perspective since it's not anymore 'equitable and sustainable' but 'optimal and sustainable'. The focus on 'optimal' is confirmed by the two provisions. The provision (2) on present and future needs should be expanded to ‘present and future needs for life and livelihoods, appropriate economic activity, social justice and equity, and ecological sustainability’ to have a holistic view of river basin planning.
  1. Section 6 has weak provision on conjunctive management since states only have to make 'best efforts'. In other words, it can also be read as; it is not legally binding on the states for conjunctive management. However, conjunctive management should not end up justifying more large dams and surface storage reservoirs. Decentralised community managed systems and management systems in other sectors like agriculture that conserve water use should be promoted. This approach should facilitate the management of the resource itself by the communities allowing a better understanding by water users of the hydrological and ecological linkages.
  1. Section 7 : the main principles in this section are taken from the Draft National Framework Law on Water prepared by Prof. Ramaswamy Iyer led Sub Group appointed by the Planning Commission’s Working Group on Water Governance for the 12th Plan. Two other overarching principles included in the Iyer draft are omitted in this section namely (1) The optimal utilisation of waters within a river basin shall be ensured, with due regard to the reasonable present and future needs for life and livelihoods, appropriate economic activity, social justice and equity, and ecological sustainability and (2) River-flows adequate to preserve and protect a river basin as a hydrological and ecological system shall be maintained. Section 7 should also add that any inter basin transfer can be considered only after confirming that the principles outlined therein along with the above two are fulfilled.
  1. Section 8 : This section is also borrowed from the Iyer draft but then goes back to being quite predictable when it says that the 'community resource' is ‘held by the state’. Further, one would expect that the 'common pool community resource' is there first to fulfill the 'fundamental right to water', even before food security. However, this right is not even mentioned. The Draft should have explicitly stated that ‘water in its natural form is neither a private or state property but a common pool community resource to be managed and protected by the community and/or by the state for the community’.

Additional Principles

  1. Maximizing environmental benefits: It is high time there is a visible shift in basin planning from a maximizing economic and development benefits approach to an approach and strategy that maximizes environmental benefits. This would help to maximize the benefits to the river ecology and environment of the river basin keeping in view the needs of the future generations and the ecological and hydrological integrity of the river basin. The need to add the principle on allocating flows for the environment which needs to be read together with this has been explained in the section on Overarching Comments (point 5).
  1. An important principle missing from the draft is the ‘principle of subsidiarity’; the planning for the river basin should start at the lowest level possible to be truly inclusive and for the plan to be owned by the different stakeholders. Otherwise the constitution of the Governing Council indicates that it would be a top down approach.
  1. Prior informed choice and consent to be included as an important principle:  Many a time consent of communities is namesake for fulfilling the obligation of participation and co-operation. Sometimes signing of papers through coercion is sought for consent. This is especially so in the case of large development projects where tribes or such other indigenous communities land / livelihoods are involved. Prior informed choice and consent should be built in as an important precedent to taking decision on any development intervention in the river basin. All the different options available should be discussed and placed before the communities before final decision is taken on a project.
  1. Maintain flexibility and dynamism: A river is a dynamic ecosystem. Like the river, the river basin master plan should be dynamic with provisions for future changes as and when required and the changing contexts.
  1. Access to data, documents and reports: All the data, reports including Annual Reports and documents produced with respect to the River Basin Authority and River Basin Plan should be put in public domain and made accessible to the people. There should be a system of data sharing between basin sharing states and also with those others who may require it. In many inter state water disputes, lack of sharing of data and access to data between the states has become a hindrance in negotiated dispute resolution process.
  1. Rights based approach: Does the Draft Bill follow a rights based approach? In this context it would mean that the Management Plan and its implementation should not infringe upon or deny the fundamental right to water for basic and livelihood needs of the basin communities. This would include communities like tribes, indigenous communities, fisher folk, boatmen, agriculturists, craftpersons, etc. The ‘right of the river’ to its legitimate share of water is a concept catching up in many countries across the world. In other words, the right of the river to environmental flows also cannot be denied or violated for the sake of any development and the river sharing states should allow the water for the same before allocating for development needs.

Chapter IV

All the inter state river basins which would come under the ambit of this Bill are provided in Schedule I. The Brahmaputra river basin is not seen included in the Schedule. The Doabia Committee has indicated that, ‘the Brahmaputra basin shall continue to be governed by the Brahmaputra Board Act No.46 of 1980 as in force or by any other enactment, which may come in to existence, to govern Brahmaputra Basin’.

The Brahmaputra Board (BB) was constituted exclusively for the maximum development of the hydrological potential of the basin with no regard for the impacts on the ecology or the livelihood, social and cultural dependencies in the river basin. In July 2012, the Ministry of Water Resources had published a document on revamping of the BB into a full fledged Brahmaputra River Valley Authority (BRVA) in its website. It is not clear if a final decision on this has been taken by the MoWR. The suggested functioning of the BRVA is along the lines of the Doabia committee recommendations of a Governing Council and Executive Board as the main governing bodies. The core value and vision of the BRVA is also along the lines of the Doabia Committee ; ‘ the Authority is envisaged as an autonomous self contained entity with a mandate for the development, management and regulation of all the water related activities based in the NE region keeping the entire Brahmaputra river basin as the unit for planning’. The sphere of work for the new Authority has nothing new to offer. It reiterates the oft repeated vision of the Government, viz; maximum development of water resources. Read for instance, ‘Hydropower development to the extent provided for by the National Interests’. National Interests are to supersede the carrying capacity of the river basin or ecological requirements or livelihood needs of river basin communities! The emphasis is on hydrological data collection and hydrology based water resources management. Here again, there is no mention of the need for ecological data collection and planning for water resources management based on the ecological limits to the hydrological alterations. Hence, though participation of river basin stakeholders is recommended before and after the draft basin plan is prepared, it is doubtful if the ground level inputs and concerns will be taken into the final basin plan!  The Brahmaputra basin should be included in the Schedule I or changes made in the present BB based on the comments in this letter.

Chapter V

  1. Section 12: It is doubtful if a two tier system alone would suffice for the management of an inter-state river basin with all its complexities and scale. There is a need to follow a basin level up scaling of the river basin plan and its execution. A multi tiered institutional set up based on principle of subsidiarity, inclusiveness, community managed and controlled is recommended. In fact the RBA shall be a part of this up scaled structure. Sub basin level committees would be required to be constituted as part of this multi tier structure.
  1. In those states (Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Sikkim etc.) where considerable tribal/ indigenous communities population exist, one representative from these communities (on a rotation basis ) should be part of the Governing Council. As for the Executive Board, in such states, it should include the Secretary, tribal affairs or equivalent department as a member for making tribal / indigenous communities sub plans with the participation of these communities which can be integrated into the river basin master plan.
  1. The management of the River Basin Authority would involve dealing with several enactments which concern river basins like the EPA (1986), the FCA (1980), FRA (2006), Water Act (1974) and other water laws like the proposed Water Framework Law etc., and for enforcing regulatory measures. Governing Council should have a legal expert as its member with a credible track record.
  1. The Executive Board should also have representation of the Secretary of the State Forest department in those states where the Forest and Environment department are led by separate ministries. Forest department has the critical role of protecting the river catchments. Similarly the district level Forest Officers should be members of the lower tier committees.
  1. The Executive Board should have representation of the Secretary of the State Fisheries Department in those states which have one. One of the most important indicators of healthy flows in a river is its fish diversity and fish wealth. Inland fisheries are declining in most Indian rivers which needs to be addressed through river basin restoration measures. Similarly the district level fisheries officer should be member of the District level committees.
  1. Constitution of the Governing Council includes representative from water user associations. All states may not have water user associations. There is a need to add water user associations / appropriate representative from irrigation management associations

Chapter VI

  1. The Section 16 should be divided into two sub sections. Sub section 1 should cover all the activities and studies that should be carried out before the river basin master plan is prepared. In fact Section 16 ( 2 ) would form part of Sub section I. Sub section II should cover all the main components of a river basin master plan based on Sub section I. These should compliment the Elements of the RB master plan given in Schedule II as well. This is not the case in the present draft Bill.
  1. Section 16 (6) states that river basin master plan shall be made through an inclusive consultative process. Also, there should be a provision for “public hearings” on the draft basin/sub basin plans prior to their finalisation. As mentioned elsewhere in the comments, the word ‘consultation’ should be replaced by ‘participation’. In fact it should be rewritten as the planning, designing, preparation, implementation and monitoring of the river basin plan should include and involve the basin communities.
  1. Section 16 (d) ‘environmental needs’ needs expansion. It should mean environmental needs of the river as an ecosystem and the aquatic species and the livelihoods of direct river dependent communities like tribes people, fisher folk and the like. All the points covered in this section should find a place in Schedule II as well.
  1. Section 16 ( 2 ) talks about  a comprehensive review of the impact of anthropogenic interventions on the status of surface water and ground water ….. It should be stated as ‘ A Comprehensive review of the existing and proposed anthropogenic interventions on the surface and ground water….

Chapter VII

A close perusal of the section on Powers and Functions of the River Basin Authorities reveal that the overall focus is on development and management of water resources per se. In other words building more large dams and projects seems to be the objective. There is also a tendency to control data. Regulatory and restoration functions take a back seat. Though ‘conservation’ gets a mention here and there, it is clearly subsidiary to development and management. Some instances are highlighted below:

  1. Section 17 (k) mentions about ‘permitting’ the publication of parts of water audit. While preparing water account is a very good decision, the clause ‘permitting’ is questionable. The entire water audit exercise should be carried out with public participation and placed in public domain once ready.
  1. Section 18 (b) clearly toes the line of MoWR that the functions are overly focused on water resources projects and schemes with mere lip service to land use management or conservation of natural resources. Since water is an inter-sectoral issue, there is a need to think beyond the MoWR domain and have clearly spelled out inter ministerial co-ordination for efficient management.
  1. Though laying down policies and to make recommendations for efficient use of water 17 (j) gets mentioned, the protection of the source itself as a primary function of the Authority does not find a place in the draft.
  1. In Section 18 (d) and 20 (f) are related to data collection and publication.  Who generates data is as important as what is the data generated. Often developers / government/ technocrats create data and try to manipulate data to suit their needs which does not reflect the ground reality. In fact the River Basin Authority should put in place mechanisms for alternate data generation by the public on the various parameters, community monitoring of rivers etc. to serve as a cross check and improve accountability/reliability of data generation. All data must be placed for in public domain for public access and scrutiny. Unfortunately this very important function is omitted!
  1. It needs to be clearly laid out in the Draft Bill that the Governing Council shall have powers to recommend penal action against members of the Executive Board and Sub basin level committees in case of violation of their duties, lack of transparency, lack of accountability and corruption.
  1. Both the draft and approved river basin master plans, any new or upcoming development projects for the river basin and all the proceedings of the meetings of the GC and EB should be made public and accessible to all river basin communities before approval or clearance. There is no mention in the draft as to what is the power / role of the River Basin Authority with respect to the various clearances (forest clearance, environmental clearance, techno–economic clearance etc.) given to different categories of development projects. There should be a well defined linkage between the river basin master plan and the environmental clearance mechanism. In other words, once the law comes into force, new projects within a river basin of any category can be considered for environmental clearance only after the entire process related to basin studies, carrying capacity studies and preparation and approval of the river basin master plan is complete. Those projects found to be not in conformity with the master plan shall not be considered for clearance by the Centre.

Chapter IX

26 (2) and 27 (2) – The Annual Budgets, Annual Reports and Accounts and Audit Reports should also be placed on public domain for public scrutiny and not only before both the Houses of the Parliament of before the Governments.

Section 29 (1) gives absolute power to the Central Government for giving direction to the States for the implementation of the Act. Read it along with (3) which says the power to give directions includes powers to issue guidelines. This creates a serious risk of centralization and too much power to the Central Government. This can be used to overrule the participatory decisions taken on the river basin plan with respect to development projects.

Schedule II

The elements outlined in Schedule II on the river basin master plan seem to be based on the assumption that there is unlimited potential still existing in each of the basins in Schedule II. The Draft Bill also views the basin plan as a technical document. This is problematic since a river basin plan is much more than mere managing water and water resources technically. A river basin plan needs to view a river more holistically with all its complexities, inter connections and potential for integration. The basin plan elements need to be complimentary to Section16.

Many critical elements missing in this section which are non–negotiable and linked to other sections are outlined below. Though there is bound to be overlap with some aspects already mentioned in earlier section, it is important to highlight these once again:

  1. Every river basin has a long history of human interventions. Hence, basin studies taking stock of the already existing development projects and interventions, their impacts on the hydrology, ecology, morphology, social and cultural fabric of the river basin need to precede the development of the river basin master plan itself. This would reveal the ‘limits to development’ rather than base the entire premise on ‘unlimited potential’. Such an assessment would also help to unearth the ecological degradation of the river basin due to hydrological interventions and other land use changes (deforestation, mining etc.). The future risks and development projects
  1. Maintaining healthy seasonal flows (environmental flows) should be the central objective of the river basin master plan. All other planning should be based on this and work towards this main objective. Maintaining the flows as close to natural flow regime and the sanctity of the natural cycles should be part of this. As explained in Section 16, flows should consider social, cultural, spiritual and all environmental–livelihood needs. This should also integrate the concerns of maintaining the quality of flows including the quality of discharge from industries and other sources. How much water you take out from the system is not the only concern. How much water and in what form it is returned to the system is equally important. Hence, working towards zero discharge from polluting units and maximizing recharge into the system should be part of the healthy flows objective.
  1. The basin plan cannot be a ‘one size fits all’. It should be in conformity with the unique eco-climatic characteristics of the river basin. It should take into consideration all the functions and uses and present and future needs of the particular basin.
  1. A Basin Plan should consist of sub plans viz; surface and ground water resources management plan, environmental needs sub plan, water quality and salinity management plan, land use plan, energy management plan, urban management plan, catchment restoration sub plan, industries management sub plan, etc. Each sub plan should identify the departments, agencies and local communities who need to work together towards implementation of the plan and the role and responsibilities of each. The integration across the sub plans should also be indicated in the master plan.
  1. The decentralised process of planning for the river basin should start from the smallest unit of watershed and build up in a nested manner to the basin level keeping in mind the needs for integration and complimenting at each level. In case of interstate watersheds or sub basins, planning should follow a joint exercise.
  1. The Master plan should have a section on the process of participation that would be followed and which all stakeholders would be consulted at what all stages. A stakeholder mapping should accompany the sub plan for each sector.
  1. The plan should clearly articulate the trade offs and choices involved for each sector as well as on the overall sharing and allocation of water. While deciding on development choices, economic, social, environmental and financial criteria should be given similar weightages. The trade offs and choices should be based on the participatory process as outlined earlier. In fact this aspect can be added in point xiii of the Schedule II.


  1. The program for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the river basin management plan should be built into the larger plan.
  1. The basin plan would require multi disciplinary inputs. However the planning should desist from being merely an ‘expert driven’ process
  1. The master plan should also delineate recharge areas and also spell out measures for their protection.
  1. The master plan while allocating water for different needs must prioritize basic needs (which include drinking, domestic, cattle and direct river dependent livelihoods), water for other livelihood needs, food and fodder security.
  1. There is need to create a broad acceptance of the river basin master plan among all the concerned. The RB Authority should take all the measures to ensure the same.
  1. The master plan should outline the process and means of sharing the economic and social benefits – benefit sharing - of development among the communities who have become bereft of their needs/ livelihoods / land for the development projects.

Annex I

The ToR of the Committee is very predictable and problematic. The ToR (i and ii) reveals that the MoWR is more only interested in the ‘development’ of the river basin with no mention of including environmental concerns into the plan. As for ToR (iv) the draft Bill has not delved deep enough into this very important aspect; means of ensuring accountability of the states in the faithful implementation of the basin plans. Lack of transparency and accountability of the bureaucracy, the developers, the EIA Agencies and the government would turn out to be a main bottleneck in the implementation of any basin plan. Hence the Bill should also have a provision for penal action against officials at any level who lack transparency and accountability.

The River Boards Act 1956

General view: In general, there is no need to consider the ‘Amendment’ of the River Boards Act 1956 while the new Bill entails 'Rewriting' the entire Act! A major shift is the Draft bill now considers ‘river basins’ where as the 1956 Act only considered rivers and river valleys. The Draft bill talks about basin management which includes water together with other resources (Section 2 (k) and 7. 1) which the River Boards  Act did not. In this sense it can be seen as a progress of vision. However, the overall policy context within which this improved water management framework is proposed would likely be extremely negative in its actual impacts and effects. Perhaps it is most clearly visible in the non-existence of people and the environment (protection/conservation in key sections).

It would be good if the Committee can give its diagnosis of why the River Boards Act 1956 was never give a serious try in the country as this can throw light to what the future holds for the proposed bill. Tone of the legislation: Section 4(1) talks about the Union establishing River Boards when requested by state governments. This is more or less the opposite from the Draft Bill's Section 1(3) which states that it is expedient in the public interest that the Central Government should take under its control the regulation and development of State’s rivers and river valleys to the extent hereinafter provided. Functions: The Draft Bill has moved from the role of Advising the Governments interested as in Section (13) of the 1956 to a much more hands on authority that 'approves' a master plan, makes recommendations, lays down policies (Section 17 of Draft bill). Emphasis on conservation: Interestingly Section 13 (a.i) of the 1956 Act mentions 'conservation' first and in ( vi ) mentions afforestation which seem to have taken a back seat in the Draft Bill.

We hope the MoWR would give the due seriousness to the detailed comments and recommendations made. We can also provide  further clarifications, if needed. We also look forward to a response to this detailed letter and a meeting with your office for taking this forward.

Yours sincerely,

Steering Committee Members: Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India (Forum)
Amita Shah, Eklavya Prasad, Gorky Chakraborty, Himanshu Kulkarni, Janakarajan S., Josantony Joesph, Joy K. J. Latha A., Partha J. Das, Philippe Cullet, Shripad Dharmadhikary, Soma K.P., Suhas Paranjape

K. J. Joy
Phone: 020-25886542, 9422505473