. A slew of bills on water awaits Parliament’s approval. Two of them, passed by the Lok Sabha, were listed for clearing by Rajya Sabha in the monsoon session — The Interstate River Water Disputes Amendment Bill 2019 and the Dam Safety Bill 2019. The truncated session could not get to discuss the bills, though. A common issue that the bills confront is with respect to the ways in which the Centre can work with the states to deal with the emerging challenges of inter-state water governance. The latest centrally sponsored scheme (CSS), Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), too is pumping massive finances into achieving universal access to safe and secure drinking water in rural areas — otherwise a domain of the states. JJM presents an opportunity to get states on board for a dialogue towards stronger Centre-states coordination and federal water governance ecosystem.
The two bills under Parliament’s consideration attend to longstanding issues of inter-state externalities. The Interstate River Water Disputes Amendment Bill 2019 seeks to improve the inter-state water disputes resolution by setting up a permanent tribunal supported by a deliberative mechanism, the dispute resolution committee. The Dam Safety Bill 2019 aims to deal with the risks of India’s ageing dams, with the help of a comprehensive federal institutional framework comprising committees and authorities for dam safety at national and state levels. The other pending bills also propose corresponding institutional structures and processes.
However, the agenda of future federal water governance is not limited to these issues alone. There are a whole set of reasons — some well-known and others new — why a coordinated response from the Centre and states is vital. These include emerging concerns of long-term national water security and sustainability, the risks of climate change, and the growing environmental challenges, including river pollution. These challenges need systematic federal response where the Centre and the states need to work in a partnership mode.
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