Telugu States lose Godavari and Krishna
People of Telangana agitated for more than half century against inequitable distribution of Krishna and Godavari river waters between the sub-regions of Andhra and Telangana
People of Telangana agitated for more than half century against inequitable distribution of Krishna and Godavari river waters between the sub-regions of Andhra and Telangana. As the 10 Telangana districts of undivided AP were not having legal capacity to raise a complaint against injustice in water allocation, the demand for separate State gained strength.
This author has individually represented before Justice Srikrishna Committee, pointing out a constitutional necessity behind the demand for Telangana State. The former Supreme Court Judge (Srikrishna) and the Vice-Chancellor of Law University (NALSAR VC Prof Ranbir Singh) asked several questions on that point. Only a State government can raise an inter-state river water dispute as per the Constitution. It is the state alone that can invoke original jurisdiction of Supreme Court. Being a sub-region, not a State, the State is technically incapacitated from even knocking on the doors of Krishna or Godavari Water Dispute Tribunal. Not even a right to question.
The Andhra Pradesh government never took up the cause of deprivation of Telangana by upper riparian states at inter-state forum or Supreme Court. Even when the cases came up, the Andhra rulers did not instruct engineers or experts or lawyers to defend the interests of Telangana. Internally, the rivers were taken away from Telangana without catering to that region's irrigation or even drinking needs, which goes unchallengeable at any fora. The hostility against Telangana was aggravated because engineers and media persons were predominantly belonging to Andhra region who, except a few, were not raising these issues. Those who settled in Telangana were deliberately silent, allowing the hijacking of rivers to their ancestral villages. There was no fraternity or equity that resulted in raising of emotional anger and desire to divide. Depicting the language and slant of Telangana in insulting manner in print, TV and film media added fuel to the fire. Deprivation of Telangana of equitable share in waters, jobs and funds was the sole, if not substantial, cause of the agitation which took many human lives either in police firing or suicides.
Now, the Telangana being a State since 2014, it is the legitimate expectation of people that the Telangana State will raise a demand for its due share in proportion to the geographical area of river flowing. When more than 60 per cent of Krishna flows in Telangana, why should it get less than 50 per cent of share? It is a common-sense question of equity and the issue of equality as per the Constitution under Articles 14. Right to life with water under Article 21 is also violated. The argument that you have a right to life and water is essential, but water dispute can be settled by Tribunal; hence, even if equality or living rights are affected, the SC cannot look into it is an absurd contention and absolutely against the rule of law. This is the contextual background for the demand for reallocation of the shares between all the riparian states of these two rivers. To say no to it is an arbitrary conclusion without any rationale.
Before 2014, Telangana had no locus standi to raise injustice in water shares. Now what happened? Delhi orders the States to give total control of rivers to Delhi and wait with a begging bowl for water. Andhra Pradesh happily agreed to it, while Telangana formally opposed.
Ministry of Jal Shakti (Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation) issued a notification from New Delhi on the July 15, 2021 with number: S.O. 2842 (E), which has serious implications for two Telugu States – Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Seven years of their constitution, the Centre decided their 'jurisdiction,' which, according to them, means transferring of the operation of all projects including hydel generation. It is not just transferring the controls but entire asset – lock stock and barrel – being divested from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and vesting them in Union, through the nomenclature of River Management Boards.
The notification in the name of prescribing the jurisdiction of the Krishna and Godavari River Management Boards (KRMB and GRMB) relieved the two Telugu states of all their powers and jurisdiction and handed over them to the Boards. It attracted the criticism that the Centre has usurped all the powers of the State governments over all the irrigation projects (35 on Krishna basin and 71 on Godavari) with reference to all functions. Strangely, the Centre has imposed all liabilities arising out of functions on the States. The notification disqualifies the engineers and personnel of two states from becoming chairman or any functionary in the Boards and empowers the Centre to appoint its officers only.
The babus of the Centre and its engineers will really own Krishna and Godavari and act according to whims of their political bosses. Thus, it amounts to taking over of the two major rivers depriving the States totally.
States to pay
The States are directed to deposit funds Rs 400 crore each to Boards as seed money to enable them to discharge functions effectively, and the States were told to deposit required funds additionally within 15 days of the demand by the Boards. States have to give their money, staff, assets, projects, operational powers and control over all the projects in which they invested lakhs of crores of rupees for a long time. All powers go to the Centre and all responsibilities or liabilities are thrust on the States.
The two boards will have power to give any directions to the two States for maintenance of projects and they are supposed to obey. The boards were given full authority to get their orders implemented. The notification further mandates: Everything in plant, machinery equipment and stores, besides vehicles with all assets will go to KRMB and GRMB. If any question arises as to whether the KRMB or the GRMB has jurisdiction, the decision of the Centre shall be final (Paragraph (o)); The states should try to get approvals for unapproved projects within six months. Both the State governments shall stop all the ongoing works on unapproved projects as on the date of publication. If approvals are not secured within six months, the projects shall cease to operate.
All the unapproved projects will have to come to a grinding halt, even if it causes economic disaster to the State. But the Centre will not take any responsibility. Paragraph (g) says financial liability of any contract before the date of commencement of this notification, liability arising out of any of the present and future cases filed in the Supreme Court, High Court, any other Court or Tribunal in regard to the projects or components specified in Schedule-2 shall be the responsibility of the respective State governments.
It is not that approved projects, either completed or ongoing, are left to the States. They are also being taken over and brought under the 'jurisdiction' of relative River Management Boards to be controlled by the officers of Jal Shakti of the central government. On October 14, all the projects, assets and other properties will be taken over by the Centre through the Boards. It is not nationalisation of projects, but centralisation of waters of Godavari and Krishna, and depriving the two Telugu States of their rights, autonomy, authority and sovereignty over the natural rivers that flow in their states. Unfortunate.
(The author is Dean & Professor, School of Law, Mahindra University, Hyderabad, and former Central Information Commissioner)
(The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)