The centre’s proposed National Water Framework Law, as also the Guidelines for Inter-State Water Sharing and River Basin Authorities unveiled this week, has predictably met with no instant approval from state governments which have sought more time to study and discuss these documents. This was only to be expected as states have, in the recent past, been vociferously opposed to the centre’s proposal of evolving an overarching national legal framework of general principles on water and discussions on the issue have been heated. States have opposed it on the grounds that water is a state subject besides one that has local implications. In their view the central law is unconstitutional and is an attack on the distribution of powers under the federal structure which they feel should in no case be tinkered with. A proposed national water law makes sense if it is not intended to change centre-state relations in any way. This is only possible if it is not a law of the usual kind for central water management but a framework law, that is to say, an overarching statement of general principles providing a framework within which the centre, the states and the local governance institutions will exercise their respective legislative and executive powers.
With water being a necessity of life and with the judicial recognition of the right to water as a part of the fundamental right to life, there are several reasons for bringing a framework law into existence. There is a general perception of an imminent water crisis in the country amongst experts along with the dire need to conserve this precious resource. The sense of crisis is worsened by emerging concerns about the impact of climate change on water and the need for responses not just at the local and state level but also the national and global. Besides, the severe and intractable and wasteful interstate conflicts over the use of water may have no solution except an adherence to mutually acceptable rules. Though the centre had bungled earlier in presenting this law to the states, giving the false impression its purpose was to exert control over them, but a national consensus is a must to achieve equitable distribution of our waters.