Supreme Court dismisses plea to review order expediting interlinking of rivers

Central Ground Water Authority had said the order could amount to judicial overreach

 
By Anupam Chakravartty
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

The Supreme Court has dismissed a petition seeking a review of its order, directing the Central and state governments to expedite the controversial project to interlink rivers to transfer water from water surplus areas to water deficit regions. The review petition was filed by the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) and said that the court order  dated February 27 could be interpreted as judicial overreach.

At the same time, the apex court bench of Chief Justice S H Kapadia, Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice A K Patnaik refused permission for filing of a similar review petition by 21 eminent citizens. The bench, in its order on September 26, said both petitions were delayed and lacked merit.

Projects in limbo
 
The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests had refused permission for survey and investigation of the Manas-Sankosh-Tista-Ganga link

In the Peninsular region, Bedti-Varada and Netravati-Hemavati-Tapi links are awaiting Karnataka government's approval. In the case of the Netravati-Hemvati-Tapi link, the Karnataka government has refused to give consent even to the preparation of feasibilityt report until final decision of courts in related cases

Comprehensive clearances for Ken-Betwa link are yet to be granted by Uttar Pradesh.

Rajasthan has refused to consider the MoU for another priority link, Parbati-Kalisindh-Chambal till its hydrology project gets updated

In the Par-Tapi-Narmada and Damanganga-Pinjal links, residents have expressed concern over the extent of land to be submerged on the construction of the proposed dam. In response, the state governments of Gujarat and Maharashtra have set up committees to take up the matter with the panchayats and to commence the projects

Kerala has protested the long distance inter-basin water transfer in the state on the ground that the state needs water to maintain its intricate network of natural and manmade channels and supply water for irrigation and drinking purposes. Kerala contends that its rivers are fed by the monsoons and are not perennial; therefore, the state experiences severe water scarcity during summer or off-monsoon months

There are eight interlinking projects which are under review by different state authorities. However, the details of the divergence of opinion between the states are not clearly spelt out
 
The two petitions raised concerns over impacts of interlinking of rivers. The eminent citizens who have questioned the project include former secretary of water resources, Ramaswamy R Iyer and  social activist Medha Patkar.
 

On February 27, the court had asked the Central and state governments to expedite the neccessary feasibility reports and detailed project reports for the 30 links that would connect various rivers. The judgement upheld the importance of interlinking of rivers in view of the paradoxical situation wherein floods and droughts occur at almost the same time in different parts of the country.

Some states oppose river interlinking

Most states have agreed to cooperate with Central government to expedite the projects but the problems arising from them, like rehabilitation and resettlement of the people to be displaced, are yet to be resolved. The National Advisory Council was entrusted with making the draft national policy on resettlement and rehabilitation.
 
Some states like Kerala and Karnataka have, however, have opposed the projects. Karnataka is yet to grant permission for the Bedti-Varada and Netravati-Hemavati-Tapi links. The state government even opposed feasibility study of these river links due to cases relating to water sharing pending in other courts. This was noted by the apex court in its February order.
 
Kerala has staunchly opposed the long distance inter-basin transfer of river water in the state, saying the state needs water to maintain its intricate network of natural and manmade channels and supply water for irrigation and drinking. The Supreme Court in its judgement had observed the state's hesitation in implementing the project because it experiences severe water scarcity during summer and off monsoon months. The court had earlier noted that even states like Uttar Pradesh have not granted comprehensive approvals for projects such as the Ken-Betwa link (See 'Projects in limbo').

The February judgement, however, allows the amicus curiae Ranjith Kumar to file a contempt plea if the orders of the court are violated by either the states or the Central government. The court has also appointed a committee, comprising experts from Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment and Forests, social activists and others to speedily execute the project.
 

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