The Union Ministry of Water Resources on 16 May 2016 released the Draft National Water Framework Bill, 2016 to invite comments and suggestions from public.
The proposed Act provides an overarching national legal framework with principles for protection, conservation, regulation and management of water as a vital and stressed natural resource.
Since ‘water’ is in the State list of the Constitution, the Act will be applicable only after approval of the concerned State legislature.
Highlights of Draft National Water Framework Bill, 2016
• Right to Water for Life: Every person has a right to sufficient quantity of safe water for life within easy reach of the household.
• The right shall be provided regardless of, among others, caste, creed, religion, community, class, gender, age, disability, economic status, land ownership and place of residence.
• However, the precise quantity of safe water for life shall be determined by the appropriate government from time to time.
• Water as a Common heritage and Resource, held in public trust: The state at all levels holds water in public trust for the people and is obliged to protect water as a trustee for the benefit of all.
• Water in its primary aspect as a sustainer of human life shall take precedence over other uses of water, such as agricultural, industrial, commercial, and other uses.
• River rejuvenation: The appropriate government shall strive towards rejuvenating river systems with community participation, ensuring Aviral Dhara - continuous flow in time and space including maintenance of connectivity of flow in eachriver system, Nirmal Dhara - unpolluted flow so that the quality of river waters is not adversely affected by human activities and Swachh Kinara – clean and aesthetic river banks.
• Sustaining ecosystems dependent on water: There shall be minimum interference in existing natural river flows; in the natural state of water bodies and wetlands and in floodplains and riverbeds, which shall be recognised as integral parts of the rivers themselves.
• The protection, conservation, regulation and management of water shall be carried out by the appropriate Government in a manner that is sustainable, equitable, transparent, accountable and participatory.
• People-centred water management: People-centred decentralised water management, for both surface and ground water, including local rainwater harvesting, watershed development and participatory irrigation management, shall be prioritised, while recognizing, encouraging and empowering local initiatives.
• Appropriate treatment and use of wastewater: The appropriate Government shall evolve and implement economic models that promote sustainability of recycle-reduce-and-reuse of water resources, while ensuring adherence to principles of equity.
• Standards for water quality and water footprints: There shall be binding national water quality standards for every kind of water use. And, there shall be binding national water footprint standards for every activity or product.
• Water use prioritisation: The first priority and charge on water shall be meeting the right to water for life, followed by allocation for achieving food security, supporting sustenance agriculture, sustainable livelihoods and eco-system needs.
• Integrated River Basin Development and Management: A river basin, including associated aquifers, shall be considered as the basic hydrological unit for planning, development and management of water.
• Each State Government shall develop, manage and regulate basins of intra-State rivers through a River Basin Master Plan to be implemented by an appropriate institutional mechanism.
• The Central Government shall provide for establishment of a River Basin Authority for each inter-State river basin, or for a sub-basin of sub inter-sate river basin wherever appropriate, for optimum and sustainable development of the inter-State rivers and river valleys.
• Each River Basin Authority shall prepare a Master Plan for the River Basin, under its jurisdiction. The plan shall be reviewed and updated after every 5 years after due consultation with all other planning agencies and stakeholders.
• Preparation of water security plans: The appropriate Government shall prepare and oversee the implementation of a Water Security Plan for (a) attainment of sufficient quantity of safe water for life and sustainable livelihoods by every person; and (b) ensuring water security even in times of emergencies like droughts and floods.
• The plan shall be valid for a period of 5 years from the date on which it becomes binding. It shall be revalidated or amended after every 5 years.
• Groundwater Conservation, Protection, Regulation and Management: Groundwater shall be conserved, protected, regulated and managed through appropriate laws based on the Model Bill for the Conservation, Protection, Regulation and Management of Groundwater, 2016.
• Flood mitigation and management: The Central Government shall develop a Decision Support System (DSS) for flood forecasting and flood inundation under the National Water Informatics Centre (NWIC).
• Each State Government shall also develop their own DSS to address state-specific issues. The NWIC shall ensure that the central DSS and that of each State are provided adequate and effective linkage.
• Drought mitigation and management: Each State Government shall prepare a Drought Mitigation and Management Policy and Action Plan within 6 months of coming into force of this Act.
• The policy and action plan shall include a drought risk and vulnerability assessment for the State, identify programmes and measures for drought mitigation.
• Water pricing and water regulators: The pricing of water shall be based on a differential pricing system in recognition of the right to water for life and its multiple roles, being a part of history, culture and religion.
• Water, as a part of water for life, shall not be denied to anyone on the ground of inability to pay. Water used for commercial agriculture and for industry or commerce may be priced on the basis of full economic pricing, or higher if needed and appropriate in a given case.
• Sectoral use of water: Urban water supply shall be metered and priced on a volumetric basis. Water Users Associations (WUAs) shall be accorded statutory powers to collect and retain a portion of Irrigation Service Fees
• Water resources information system: The Central Government shall develop and maintain a publicly available web based Water Resources Information System (IndiaWRIS) on Geographical Information System Platform.
• The IndiaWRIS will be developed by integrating water resources and other related data with satellite imageries through use of state-of-the-art Information Technology.
• Inter-state river water disputes: Appropriate institutional arrangements shall be established at all levels within the State and beyond up to an inter-State river-basin, to obviate and/or resolve emerging inter-State river-water disputes.
• The disputes should be settled through negotiations, conciliation or mediation, or other such means, at the earliest stages before the disputes become acute, so as to avoid recourse to adjudication as far as possible.
• All basin States in a river system are equal in rights and status, and there is no hierarchy of rights among them.
• The upper basin State shall adopt a cautious and minimalist approach to major interventions in inter-State rivers.
• They provide advance information to the lower basin States about plans for intervention, consult them at all stages on possible impacts and take care to avoid significant harm or injury to them.
• Existing water-related conflicts or disputes shall be reviewed and appropriate action taken in the light of the provisions of this Act.
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