In the last quarter of 2011, I undertook a 40-day rath yatra to highlight three issues: corruption, inflation and black money.
While passing through the desert region of Shekhawati in Rajasthan, some one mentioned to me that when the N.D.A. regime was in office and Prime Minister Vajpayee had spoken about interlinking of rivers farmers of Rajasthan had felt greatly enthused by the move.
Indeed, whenever in my speeches I referred to this NDA proposal for which a Task Force headed by Shiv Sena leader Suresh Prabhu had been set up, I found the audience very responsive.
In 2002, A PIL Petition was filed in the Supreme Court that there was need to conserve water and properly utilize available resources by inter linking rivers like Ganga, Kaveri, Vaigai and Tambaravani.
A 3-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia delivered a 63-page judgment on 27th February 2012, in which the operative part described the judgment as a mandamus to the Central and State Governments concerned, and issued the following directions :
64. Realizing our limitations, we would finally dispose of this Public Interest Litigation with the following directions :
(I) We direct the Union of India and particularly the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India, to forthwith constitute a Committee to be called a “Special Committee for Inter-linking of Rivers’ (hereinafter referred as the Committee’) of which, the following shall be the Members:
a) The Hon’ble Minister for Water Resources
b) Secretary, Ministry for Water Resources
c) Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests
d) Chairman, Central Water Commission
e) Member-Secretary, National Water Development Authority
f) Four experts to be nominated, one each from the following
I) One Expert from the Ministry of Water Resources
II) One Expert from the Ministry of Finance.
III) One expert from the Planning Commission
IV) One Expert from the Ministry of Environment & Forests
g) Minister for Water and/or Irrigation from each of the concurring States, with the Principal Secretary of the Concerned Department of the same State.
h) The Chief Secretary or his nominee not below the rank of the Principal Secretary of the concerned Department in case of any other State involved directly or indirectly in the water linking river project.
i) Two social activists to be nominated by each of the concerned Ministries.
j) Mr. Ranjit Kumar (Amicus Curiae).
II) The Committee shall meet, at least, once in two months and shall maintain records of its discussion and the Minutes.
III) In the absence of any person from such meeting, irrespective of his/her status, the meeting shall not be adjourned. If the Hon’ble Minister for Water Resources is not available, the Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India, shall preside over the Meeting.
IV) The Committee would be entitled to constitute such sub-committees, as it may deem necessary for the purposes of carrying on the objects of the Inter-Linking of River Program, on such terms and conditions as it may deem proper.
V) The Committee shall submit a bi-annual report to the Cabinet of the Government of India placing before it the status-cum-progress report as well as all the decisions required to be taken in relation to all matters communicated therewith. The Cabinet shall take all final and appropriate decisions, in the interest of the countries as expeditionly as possible and preferably within thirty days from the date the matters are first placed before it for consideration.
VI) All the reports of the expert bodies as well as the status reports filed before this Court during the pendency of this petition, shall be placed before the Committee for its consideration. Upon due analysis of the Reports and expert opinions, the Committee shall prepare its plans for implementation of the project.
VII) The plans so prepared shall have different phases, directly relatable to the planning, implementation, construction, execution and completion of the project.
VIII) We are informed that large sums have been spent on preparation of initial and detailed project reports of the project ‘Ken-Betwa Project’. The DPR is now ready. The States of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and also the Central Government had already given their approval and consent. The clarifications sought will be discussed by the Committee. We would direct the Committee to take up this project for implementation at the first instance itself.
IX) Keeping in view the expert reports, we have no hesitation in observing and directing that time is a very material factor in the effective execution of the Interlinking of Rivers project. As pointed out in the Report by NCAER and by the Standing Committee, the delay has adversely affected the financial benefits that could have accrued to the concerned parties and the people at large and is in fact now putting a financial strain on all concerned.
X) It is directed that the Committee shall take firm steps and fix a definite timeframe to lay down the guidelines for completion of feasibility reports or other reports and shall ensure that completion of projects so that the benefits accrue within reasonable time and cost.
XI) At the initial stages, this program may not involve those States which have sufficient water and are not substantially involved in any inter-linking of river programme and the projects can be completed without their effective participation.
XII) However, the Committee may involve any State for effective completion of the programme at any subsequent stage.
XIII) There are projects where the paper work has been going for the last ten years and at substantial cost to the public exchequer. Therefore, we direct the Central and the State Governments to participate in the program and render all financial, administrative and executive help to complete these projects more effectively.
XIV) It is evident from the record that the Reports submitted by the Task Force have not been acted upon. Thus, the entire effort put in by the Task Force has practically been of no use to the concerned governments, much less the public. The Task Force has now been wound up. Let the reports of the Task Force also be placed before the Committee which shall, without fail, take due note of the suggestions made therein and take decisions as to how the same are to be implemented for the benefit of the public at large.
XV) The Committee constituted under this order shall be responsible for carrying out the inter-linking program. Its decisions shall take precedence over all administrative bodies created under the orders of this Court or otherwise.
XVI) We grant liberty to the learned Amicus Curiae to file contempt petition in this Court, in the event of default or non-compliance of the directions contained in this order.
65) We would fail in our duty if we do not place on record the appreciation for the valuable and able assistance rendered by the learned Amicus Curiae and all other senior counsel and assisting counsel appearing in the present PIL”.
If any one were to ask me which were the main achievements of Vajpayeeji’s NDA Government, I would identify three :
Firstly, it established its sincerity in wanting normalcy and peace with Pakistan, but the Vajpayee Government simultaneously made it clear that its attitude towards Pakistan’s hostile military designs, as also towards cross border terrorism would be of zero-tolerance. Within two months of assuming power, therefore, the NDA Government made India a nuclear power.
Secondly, the NDA Government laid a firm foundation for a network of highways and rural roads, for the entire country
Thirdly, the NDA Government not only drew up an ambitious programme for interlinking of major rivers but spared a senior minister Suresh Prabhu to head a Task Force devoted exclusively to this work. Suresh Prabhu met me recently and give me a detailed account of his painstaking exertions in pursuance of this task. He had held more than 5000 small and big meetings in all states of the country. Besides, he set up a committee of finance experts and eminent bankers, led by ICICI Chairman K.V. Kamath which presented very innovative and forward looking ideas for financing this Interlinking of Rivers project.
Suresh Prabhu told me that this group of experts were confident that they would be able to raise at least Rs.5,60,000 crores worth investment for the interlinking scheme.
Yet another point Suresh Prabhu stressed was that ISRO under the chairmanship of Dr. Kasturi Rangan had agreed to use remote sensing, satellite imagery, etc. for effective project planning and monitoring.
Three months have now elapsed since the Supreme Court delivered this judgment. And yet the Special Committee the Court had wanted to be constituted has not been set up. One wonders if the Amicus Curiae, Shri Ranjit Kumar, who has been richly complimented by the Supreme Court for his contribution to the case, would heed the specific advice of the Court, and move a contempt petition against the UPA Government for its ‘default’.
May 29, 2012