March 4, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss why Punjab is concerned with the changes made to the Bhakra Beas Management Board by the Centre recently. We also look at why Village Defence Committees are being revived in J&K, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Bargaining for Control: Punjab’s Water Management Struggles
If you still think that water crises only exist in the sci-fi works of Dune, Mad Max and The Burning World, think again. While the severity of the issue might not have equally affected us all, fights over who controls water have definitely made some waves in the political sphere. Right now, Punjab and Haryana are fighting the Centre over who manages the body that works the projects on the Indus river’s tributaries.
We’re talking about the changes made to the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB). On the one hand, the Centre claims that the new changes only add a few technical qualifications for prospective members. And on the other, we’ve got the two states of Punjab and Haryana, their farmers, political leaders and engineers saying that this will most definitely hurt India’s federal structure. Either way, we’ve got a situation, and things are getting heated.
The origins of the BBMB lie in the Indus Water Treaty signed back in 1960. To cut a long story short: the treaty gave Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers to India while Pakistan got access to Indus, Chenab and Jhelum. What came out of this was a need to capitalise on the water from these tributaries to provide proper distribution while ensuring flood control. This led Rajasthan and the then undivided Punjab to establish the Bhakra and Beas projects.
In 1966, when Punjab was reorganised, and Haryana came to be, Section 79 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act provided a Bhakra Beas Management Board. The following year, the operation and maintenance of the Bhakra Nangal Dam project on the Sutlej were given to the Bhakra Management Board. And in 1976, when the Beas Projects Works was completed, it too was handed over to the board. After a quick renaming procedure, the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) was ready and open for business.
The current issue developed when the BBMB’s member rules were tweaked on 23 February. The BBMB Rules of 1974 state that there needs to be one chairperson and two full-time members who run the board. The members are called Member (Power) and Member (Irrigation). Both members must hail from Punjab and Haryana, respectively. The chairperson of the BBMB, on the other hand, can be from any other state.
This was the norm till now. After the Centre’s notice, the rules say that any person with the proper technical knowledge and qualifications can become a full-time member. Doesn’t matter where they come from. Punjab sees this as a deliberate setback. Some even believe that the new requirements were set up to keep Punjabis out of the running. Considering the BBMB regulates water and power supply to Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Chandigarh along with Punjab and Haryana, this matters.
Given the uproar in Punjab and Haryana regarding the changes, the Centre and the BBMB tried justifying their decision in an official statement. They clarified that no change in representation has been made. Until recently, both the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, and the BBMB Rules, 1974, did not include any specific eligibility criteria. The notice issued on 23 February simply fills in those gaps in legislation.
As per convention, the Member (Power) and Member (Irrigation) were chosen from a panel of distinguished and, usually, senior engineers from Haryana and Punjab. The names of whom were later sent to the Centre for their ratification, or more accurately, just their signature. There was no specification of qualifications or experience needed to become full-time members of the board, according to written law. Basically, making the whole process one of trusted tradition instead of rule-based systems.
When it comes to the representation of states in the BBMB, other than the two full-time members, the board has around 12,000 employees. Out of them, 696 are designated as Group A officers from the different partner states. There is also representation from each member state, i.e. Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, as per nominations from the state governments.
The power ministry has gone on record to say that there have been no changes made to this. Representatives and the share of representation, just like the share of water and power supply, has remained untouched. The ministry also said that the changes are all compliant with the directions provided by the Punjab and Haryana High Court during the Jagmohan Singh v. Union of India case of 2016.
Even the BBMB chimed in to clarify that no changes will be made to any current member of the board. And, the states need not worry about the rules as they don’t affect them anyway. The whole issue stems from a slight misunderstanding. This was a simple procedural issue that needed fixing, and now, those gaps have been filled.
According to the people of Punjab and Haryana, the government’s response to the backlash formed more questions than it answered. Considering Punjab is already deep in its election season, nobody was really looking at changes to an age-old water management body. Why fix something that isn’t broken, right? So when the notification broke, the first reaction was just plain shock which was soon followed by threats of protests, sit-ins and several other demonstrations of disillusionment. As far as they are concerned, this is a violation of the states’ rights.
Political leaders of both Punjab and Haryana have expressed their concerns about losing power over the water management body. This has also been described as an attempt to hurt the federal structure of India by the Centre. The reason? None of the states involved was consulted while the changes were made to the BBMB rules. Just a couple of months back, the Centre even increased the authority of the Border Security Force (BSF) without talking to the Punjab government.
Another point of concern brought up by former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh is that the new member requirements are “defined in such a way that the electricity departments of Haryana and Punjab cannot meet [it]”. For example, one of the requirements states that a member must have experience heading the operation and construction of major hydroelectric power plants. And as several officials and engineers have pointed out, there simply aren’t any in Punjab or Haryana.
In the words of an exasperated AP Singh Atwal, general secretary of the Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB) Engineers Association, “how will any engineer meet the criteria?” The main elements required to meet the Centre’s criteria are missing. Instead, the requirements favour agencies like the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation.
One of the main reasons Punjab and Haryana were given such important posts was their stakes in the game. At first, Punjab and Haryana were given a 58:42 share in power projects run by the BBMB. Later, Rajasthan, Delhi, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh were added. Yet, to this day, Punjab covers more than 50% of the BBMB’s share. With this in mind, Punjab needs to have a say in the workings of the BBMB. Something that has now been tarnished by the Centre.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The changes made to the BBMB Rules are a long time coming.
b) The changes made to the BBMB Rules are unnecessary and concerning.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Beware Of The Avalanche Of Stupidity Threatening To Bury Us All
For the Left:
We, As Indians, Must Not Shy Away From ‘Nationalism’
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Village Defence Committees (Jammu & Kashmir) – As militant groups look to spread their influence in the region, the Centre decided to revive the Village Defence Committees (VDCs) in all 10 districts. They were rechristened as Village Defence Groups (VDGs). In the vulnerable areas, those who lead or coordinate with VDGs will be paid ₹4,500 per month, while voluntary members will get ₹4,000 per month. Each VDG will comprise 8-10 members and be trained to use automatic weapons.
Why it matters: Last August, VDCs were rejuvenated by the Indian Army, and its members were trained in the handling of arms and ammunitions. It came in the wake of increased infiltration attempts by Pakistan. VDCs were formed in 1994-95 during the peak of militancy. They play a crucial role in assisting the army and keep an eye on activities in remote villages to thwart any attacks. While the BJP has been in favour of them, two mainstream parties of J&K – the NC and the PDP – have been against them.
HC recommendation on trans persons (Tamil Nadu) – The Madras High Court ‘strongly recommended’ the state government provide reservations for transgender persons in public employment. The court also asked the state to relax mandates for physical and endurance tests on par with concessions extended to women candidates and those from socially backward classes. It was in response to pleas challenging a 2020 notification issued by the Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board (TNUSRB). The petitioners wanted to scrap the notification and increase the upper age limit to 45 for applications to Grade-II police constables.
Why it matters: If this goes through, Tamil Nadu will join Karnataka that notified 1% reservation for transgender persons in any service or post in all categories of employment. Karnataka became the first state in India to provide reservations in employment for trans persons. In November, the Madras HC allowed transgender persons to request the government to give reservations in employment.
Hamro party performance (West Bengal) – The newly-formed Hamro party performed admirably to beat the big political parties. It will now form the new board of the Darjeeling municipality. It won 18 out of the 32 seats. In the wards where it lost, its candidates had close margins against their competitors. President Ajoy Edwards said this is a new beginning for Darjeeling hills. This win could have an effect on the Kalimpong, Kurseong, and Mirik civic elections.
Why it matters: The Hamro party was formed only three months ago. It put forward a mix of candidates that included teachers, activists, tour guides, and even a taxi driver. It beat out the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). The turnout for the elections was low at 53.79%. Edwards launched the party after he left the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF). The name, which means “our party”, was chosen by people through a public poll.
Ethanol supply (Maharashtra) – Sugar mills in the state have filed bids to supply 111 litres of ethanol to oil marketing companies (OMCs) for the current supply year (December-November) 2021-22). Among those participating will be 34 cooperative sugar mills, 33 private sugar mills, and five standalone molasses distilleries. OMCs have floated tenders for the supply of 465 crore litres for the 2021-22 supply year. Currently, the state has 127 plants with a production capacity of 303.27 crore litres.
Why it matters: In the past sugar seasons ending 2020-21, the mills and distilleries earned revenues of about ₹35,000 crores from selling ethanol to OMCs. To support the ethanol-blending programme, the Centre allocated ₹160 crores for 2021-22 and an additional ₹300 crores for 2022-23 to help set up more ethanol distilleries in the country. During the 2020-21 season, the state supplied around 79.04 litres of ethanol.
Opposition to sex worker rights (Meghalaya) – Some Shillong residents of Mawkhar have decided to boycott the meeting called by the Rot Association of Meghalaya (RAM), a community of sex workers, to observe ‘International Sex Workers Rights Day’. A member of the “Voice of the people of Mawkhar”, said residents are disgusted that RAM planned to organise the meeting. The assistant headman of Mawkhar locality didn’t oppose the meeting, stating it will help bring awareness.
Why it matters: The state currently criminalises sex work, and RAM is looking to change that through legislation. I Kharmuti, the president of RAM demanded in an open letter that the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill’ be introduced. They hope this legislation will recognise their rights and grant them protection from violence. Currently, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, criminalises sex work in the state.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
868 – The number of women inducted into the Assam Rifles. They recently passed out of the Assam Rifles Training Centre and School (ARTCS) at Shokhuvi in the Dimapur district of Nagaland.