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Water rights and entitlements

Book>> Water and the laws in India edited by Ramaswamy R Iyer Sage Publication, Delhi Indian Price Rs 995

 
By M K Ramesh
Published: Monday 30 November 2009

-- Book>> Water and the laws in India edited by Ramaswamy R Iyer Sage Publication, Delhi Indian Price Rs 995

The latest edited work of Ramaswamy Iyer addresses the need for an inter-disciplinary approach to a variety of legal issues on water policy and management.

Starting with a legal overview, the book gets into the minefield of Centre-state relations over water resource management and inter-state water conflicts. The authors of the papers in this part and the editor towards the end, give a number of suggestions. These range from repeal of Inter-state Water Disputes Act, conferment of final appellate jurisdiction to the Supreme Court, visualizing greater role and responsibility to people and moving the subject to the concurrent list.

Access and right to and use and community management of water, form the core of enquiry in the following part.Floods and pollution, mega developmental projects and their impact and other aspects of augmenting water constitute the later aspects of scrutiny, ending with the emerging trends in water law reforms. The book also presents a case for accommodating scientific knowledge to inform and guide legal decisionmaking over water. The editor rounds off with a neat summation of the issues covered by the authors.

A lot of groundwork has gone into the making of this publication. It includes bringing together the contributors in a workshop to deliberate over water law and management in India and to develop each ones thoughts into well-researched papers. The editor, in the concluding chapter, refrains from any value judgment over any of their positions. It is, however, debatable if the approach serves any purpose.

Down to Earth At times, when he ventures to offer an opinion (like, when he suggests that water be moved from the State List to the Concurrent List), Iyer neither sounds convincing nor certain about its utility.

This work, in the scanty landscape of Water Law Discourse in India, is arguably, the most noteworthy one after the Water Law Series publication of Indian Law Institute, edited by the late Chhatrapati Singh, in the 1990s. The focus then, essentially, was on water rights. The Law Institute series had a real challenge because there existed no legal writing of any worth on water issues. Since then there have been several scholarly writings on the subject. Policy formulations, legislative enactments and judicial pronouncements are in great supply. When viewed against this background, the book leaves a lot to be desired. Missing are indepth analyses on issues of contemporary concern: privatization of public resource, the Sheonath river controversy for example; the alarming shrinking space for treating water as commons; ecological, economic and social implications of linking of rivers project; local self-government institutions as the custodians and protectors of community assets, the Perumatty panchayat case for example, and the role of the state as public trustee of natural resources.

The editor expresses helplessness over space constraint. This reviewer feels space could have been made by reducing the length of some of the papers on Centre-state relations and rights under the common law tradition. These are no more than narrations of what the law provides and have very little analytical content.

But I will not stretch this criticism. Pieces such as this will kindle interest on water law and governance. It is a must read for every academic, activist and adjudicator concerned about natural resource conservation and management.

M K Ramesh is professor at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru

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