The Centre today gave an assurance to Odisha, which is protesting construction of barrages across Mahanadi river by Chhattisgarh, that its interest will be protected and that the dispute between the two states will be resolved in the meeting on July 29.
It also urged the two states to set up a long-pending Joint Control Board to address water disputes in future, while hinting that the government was open to review the Inter-State Water Disputes Act if states make any suggestions.
"We had called a meeting of representatives of states of Odisha and Chhatisgarh on June 27 to discuss issues concerning projects in Mahanadi basin. However, the same was postponed at the request of Odisha government for a month and now the meeting will be held on July 29," Water Resources Minister Uma Bharati said while replying to a Calling Attention Motion on the issue in Rajya Sabha moved by BJD members.
The concerns of the two states will be first discussed at the chief secretaries level in the upcoming meeting and later if there is any need, the Centre would call a separate meeting of state water resources ministers, she said.
"We will find a way out and solve the matter. We all love Odisha and we will not do any injustice to Odisha people," she said, while clarifying that the July 29 meeting was scheduled much before the notice for the Calling Attention Motion was given by BJD.
Dissatisfied with the government's response, the BJD members staged a walk out in the Rajya Sabha.
Noting that the Centre was only an intermediary as the issue was majorly a state subject, Minister of State for Water Resources Sanjeev Balyan said only one project has been approved for construction of a dam on Mahanadi river so far, while the rest three projects are under appraisal of the Central Water Commission (CWC).
The construction of Kelo dam was approved in 2009. The other three pending projects are -- Tandula Reservior project, Sondur Reservior Project and Detailed Project Report of Arpa Bhaisajhar barrage project, he added.
Balyan said, "We had told the Chhattisgarh government to send these proposals to Odisha government as well."
"We had convened a meeting last month of both the states. The next meeting is due on July 29 and if within one year no solution is arrived at, then the matter would reach the tribunal," he added.
The Minister also said that flow of water into Hirakud dam in Odisha has not come down in the last ten years as alleged by some of the members.
Balyan, who spoke on similar lines in the Lok Sabha where also a Calling Attention Motion on the issue was taken up, said the water disputes between the two states would not have aggravated had they set up a Joint Control Board as per the agreement signed between Odisha and Madhya Pradesh way back in 1983.
"As per the 1983 pact signed between two states, a Joint Control Board was to be set up. So far, it has not been done. It the matter between Odisha and Chhatisgarh. The two states should come forward to set up the Board so that such problems do not arise in future," he said.
Balyan said the Chhattisgarh government has started construction before the recommendations of the Technical Advisory committee came in.
He suggested that a study be conducted on the impact of such construction on Odisha during non-monsoon period as during monsoon, there was enough water flow.
Observing that the role of Central Water Commission (CWC) comes only after any state gives notice to the Centre, Balyan said Odisha gave a notice only one and a half months back and since then the Centre has convened meetings.
Stating that water disputes between two states are a matter of concern, Balyan said the Centre is keen to review the Inter-State Water Disputes Act if any suggestions or represenations made by the states.
Earlier, moving the Calling Attention Motion, BJD leader Dilip Kumar Tirkey said, "The Chhattisgarh government is unilaterally making barrages across river Mahanadi just upstream of the Hirakud dam jeopardising lives and livelihood of millions of farmers in Odisha. The central agency CWC is silent on this issue."
Tirkey said Chhattisgarh has decided to construct 10 dams on Mahanadi basin, of which 2-3 dams are already constructed. "It is doing without informing Odisha. It is a matter of concern. Flow of water into Odisha would be affected. Our farmers and fishermen would be impacted."
He demanded immediate stoppage of work on the ongoing projects. A similar demand was made by his party colleague Bhartruhari Mahtab in Lok Sabha.
Initiating the debate in Lower House, Mahtab hit out at
the Chhattisgarh government for "illegally" constructing a number of barrages on Mahanadi river which has "severely" impacted flow of water into Odisha and wondered if the Centre was in the process of "killing" Hirakud dam.
He also targeted the central government for giving permission to Chhattisgarh for these projects and asked it for "better and sane" judgement as he spoke in detail how Odisha was losing out on water meant for drinking and irrigation.
"The government (Chhattisgarh) has acted in an illegal manner. We will go to tribunal if necessary," he said.
"The moot question is why the Central Water Commission is flouting the norms... The government should rise to the occassion and do justice to Odisha," he said.
Chhattisgarh, where the BJP is in power, has constructed a number of projects without informing Odisha, Mahtab said, rejecting the the state Chief Minister Raman Singh's claim that Odisha had never informed his government about any objections.
Seeking clarification on the minister's reply, D Raja (CPI) sought to know if the centre plans to come out with a comprehensive policy to address such issues as many states are facing water disputes while citing Cauveri water dispute.
He also sought know how the Centre plans to address the concerns of the downstream states.
A Navneethakrishnan (AIADMK) said the provisions of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956 are not sufficient to address the disputes and sought to know if the government plans to review the Act and bring amendments to it or plans to come out with a new law.
Tapan Kumar Sen (CPI-M) questioned the inaction on the part of the Centre and states for failing to constitute a joint control board to address water disputes between Odisha and Chhattisgarh. "It is basically the problem of central government's inaction," he added.
Jairam Ramesh (Cong) said the Chhattisgarh government's four projects are going to affect Odisha. "Has Chhattisgarh government and Union Ministry taken study to complete the environment impact assessment?"
Stating that water is not a technical issue but a political issue, he sought to know if the government would call a meeting of the two state ministers as well as chief ministers.