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Bansal for forum on water issues

Posted on Oct 04, 01:33AM | IANS

Calling for far-reaching reforms in the water sector, Water Resources Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal Wednesday said the government has proposed setting up a forum of state water ministers to discuss issues.

Speaking after conclusion of the 14th meeting of state water resources and irrigation ministers here, Bansal said there was a broad agreement among states on forming the forum.

Bansal said the agenda may include reforms in water sector such as the proposed overarching legal framework on water. However, bilateral issues will not be discussed at the forum, he added.

He said the government may amend the inter-state water disputes act to set up a standing tribunal to deal with water-related disputes among states.

Bansal said the tribunal would have benches dealing with more than one dispute. The minister said it was time that reforms of far reaching consequences were brought about in water sector and added that "business as usual" will not do.

The minister said some states had expressed apprehension that the overarching legal framework on water will encroach on their powers. "(We are) not taking away powers. Nothing we are imposing," he said.

Answering queries, Bansal said Haryana and Kerala were among the states that expressed apprehension that the ministry wanted to make the overarching legal framework binding through enactment of law. "That is not our intention."

Replying to a query, he said members of consultative committee of his ministry have suggested bringing water on the concurrent list. He said the national conference of water resources and irrigation ministers of states and union territories was held after seven years.

Earlier in his speech at the meeting, Bansal said population growth, urbanisation and economic growth had exerted pressure on water resources and made India a water stressed country by the defined international norms.

He said the present institutional and legal structures dealing with water in the country were inadequate and added water should be treated as community resource.

"Conserving our groundwater is now an urgent priority because we depend on it for more than two thirds of our water needs. The decline in the water table across the country is a matter of serious concern," Bansal said.

"The present legal situation gives every land holder the right to pump unlimited quantities of water from a bore well on his own ground. There is no regulation of ground water extraction and no coordination among competing uses," he said.

"We need to move to a situation where ground-water can be treated as a common or community resource. We also need to promote participatory management of aquifers to ensure sustainable use," the minister said.

Bansal said injudicious distribution of water, low water use efficiency, unsystematic water resources planning, poor maintenance of irrigation systems and poor recovery of water charges were some of the major problems associated with the management of water resources in the country.

He said climate change might complicate further the existing temporal and spatial variation in availability of water.

Bansal said the new water policy will be deliberated at the meeting of National Water Resources Council. The meeting is expected to take place Oct 30.

Bansal said water "is by and large a state subject" but added that problems confronting water sector call for a unified national perspective.

"We need to think of a national framework for reforms in water governance. This means that a set of fundamental principles should guide water governance throughout the country. These principles need to be enshrined in a legal framework which could be evolved by the states themselves through consensus," Bansal said.