Mumbai : The Bombay High Court on Thursday held that Water is a ‘national resource’ and no citizen can claim monopoly over the same.
The observation came from a division bench headed by Justice Abhay Oka while delivering a verdict over a bunch of petitions seeking equal distribution of water across Maharashtra.
The petitions were mostly regarding the water supply to various parts of Western Maharashtra and Marathwada Region.
In a 199-page judgment, the bench observed, “No citizen or entity is entitled to claim any preferential right to get supply of water in a particular manner or a particular quantity except in accordance with provisions of law.”
Referring to the statement of renowned economist Ismail Serageldin, who observed that wars in the 21st Century will be fought over water, the bench noted, “The failure of the State to make equitable distribution of water is leading to serious conflicts amongst various regions (of the state).”
Referring to the large amount of water used during religious festivals especially during the Kumbh Mela, the bench said, “Water cannot be released from the reservoirs by the State for religious ceremonies or religious objects without the Regulatory Authority deciding the issue of priority of equitable distribution of water.”
It must be noted that as per the Clause 4.0 of the Maharashtra State Water Policy of 2003 (which deals with priorities of supplying water) the priority for supplying water for religious purposes is at the fifth stage, which is also the last stage.
“If sufficient water cannot be allocated for usages of drinking, industrial, agricultural and environmental purposes, there cannot be any allocation of water for Kumbhmela and other religious purposes,” the bench said.
Citing clause (b) of Article 39 of the Constitution of India, the bench said, “It is an obligation of the State to equitably distributethe river water and the water stored in the reservoirs/dams so as to subserve the common good.”
The bench said that new irrigation projects in the upstream area of Jayakwadi dam cannot be approved. The bench also said that all the projects, which were approved, and the work of which commenced prior to the government’s decision of September 6, 2004 must be completed as expeditiously as possible.
“The government is under an obligation to consider the proposal of diverting the water from the west flowing rivers to Godavari and Tapi subbasin as recommended,” the bench observed.
“We make it clear that the strategy of release of water from upstream dams laid down by the order can be applied only in case of scarcity (hydrological drought),” the judges added.
“The government will have to consider providing direct gravity pipelines from upstream to downstream reservoirs as we do not see as to why provision for such water transportation from areas receiving sufficient rainfall cannot be ‘catched’ and transported by pipelines to areas like Marathwada,” the judges further added.
The bench said, “We direct the government to effectively implement the provisions of the Maharashtra Management of Irrigation System by Farmers Act, 2005 and thereof by carrying out the delineation of the areas and by establishing the Water Users’ Associations.”
Concluding the verdict, the bench said, “The government shall take a policy decision on the issue of carrying out the exercise of the review of storage capacity of all the reservoirs and undertaking hydrology of Godavari subbasin. The decision shall be taken by the government and shall be placed on record within a period of six months from today.”