Government readies Bill to save river waters

The Akali-BJP government seems all set to introduce a Bill in the emergency session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha, which will essentially protect the rights of the state over its riverwaters, on the principle that under the Constitution, the decision on releasing of riverwaters through irrigation channels was the sole right of the state.

Highly placed sources told The Tribune that the new Bill, likely to be presented in the emergency session on Wednesday, is being given its final shape. Though its initial draft was discussed today, the final Bill will be ready by tomorrow after effecting certain changes as suggested by irrigation and experts. The final decision on bringing the Bill will be taken tomorrow.

The sources said the new Bill, if given a go ahead, would assert that the state government had the right to determine the flow of its riverwaters as water falls in the state list (List 2, which now comprises 61 items) of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India, subject to the provisions of Entry 56 of List I.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is also likely to pass a resolution highlighting the contribution of Punjab in making India food secure and how the river waters are the lifeline of Punjab. The government is likely to take a strong political stand on the issue, and may declare that the state will not tolerate the injustice as it is against the recognised principles of riparian laws. An appeal could also be made to the Prime Minister and the President, besides all other law makers in the states as well as the Centre, to support Punjab’s cause.

The session has been convened for 10 am on Wednesday. Though the Congress MLAs have tendered their resignation in wake of an adverse SC verdict on the matter, their resignations have not yet been accepted by the Speaker. Thus, intimation has been sent to all Congress MLAs to attend the special session. The latter have so far chosen to abstain.

Sources say that though no back channel talks have been initiated by the government to ask the Congress MLAs to attend the session, Badal has made public appeal to them to be present. With elections round the corner and the riverwater dispute becoming a major poll issue, it suits the government to take the credit as being the ones serious about the issue and show the Congress in poor light, saying they ran away from it.

The issue will be discussed in the SAD core committee meeting tomorrow morning and later in the Cabinet.

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