R Sedhuraman, Legal Correspondent
New Delhi, February 27. Endorsing the view of experts, the Centre and “most state governments” that the ambitious project to link rivers in India was in “national interest,” the Supreme Court today directed the Centre to constitute a committee headed by the Water Resources Minister for planning and implementing it.
The committee would meet at least once in two months and submit its reports every six months to the Union Cabinet which “shall take all final and appropriate decisions,” a three-member Bench headed by Chief Justice SH Kapadia ruled while disposing of two PILs on the issue.
Acknowledging that the Supreme Court “may not be a very appropriate forum for planning and implementation of such a programme having wide national dimensions and ramifications,” the Bench, which included Justices AK Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar, said it was necessary for constituting the committee “to plan, construct and implement this inter-linking of rivers programme for the benefit of the nation as a whole.”
The committee will have as its members the Secretaries of the Water Resources and Environment and Forests, the Chairman of the Central Water Commission and the Member-Secretary of the National Water Development Authority. It would also have experts from the two ministries, besides the Finance Ministry and the Planning Commission.
“The Cabinet shall take all final and appropriate decisions in the interest of the country as expeditiously as possible and preferably within 30 days from the date the matters are first placed before it for consideration” by the committee, the SC clarified in the 44-page verdict.
Keeping in view the expert reports, “We have no hesitation in observing and directing that time is a very material factor in the effective execution of the Interlinking of Rivers project.
“It is directed that the Committee shall take firm steps and fix a definite time frame to lay down the guidelines for completion of feasibility reports or other reports and shall ensure the completion of projects so that the benefits accrue within reasonable time and cost,” the SC ruled.
At the initial stages, the project “may not involve those states which have sufficient water and are not substantially involved in any inter-linking of river programme and the projects can be completed without their effective participation.
The SC made it clear that the Committee “shall be responsible for carrying out the inter-linking programme. Its decisions shall take precedence over all administrative bodies.”
“We not only express a pious hope of speedy implementation but also do hereby issue a mandamus to the Central and the state governments concerned to comply with the directions contained in this judgment effectively and expeditiously and without default. This is a matter of national benefit and progress.
“We see no reason why any State should lag behind in contributing its bit to bring the Inter-linking River Program to a success, thus saving the people living in drought-prone zones from hunger and people living in flood- prone areas from the destruction caused by floods,” the apex court held.
Major river rows
Krishna-Godavari dispute: Involves Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa
Cauvery row: Relates to re-sharing of waters between Karnataka &Tamil Nadu
Ravi-Beas dispute: Involves Punjab and Haryana; started with the reorganisation of Punjab in 1966
Sutlej Yamuna Link canal was to link both Sutlej and Yamuna through a 214-km long canal, Haryana completed construction of its portion of the canal. Construction stopped on Punjab side since militancy days. Punjab Government in 2004 passed Termination of Agreements Act that ended all earlier water sharing agreements with neighbouring states.