Ministers sleeping, senior bureaucrats facing ire of HC

No seriousness towards encroachments, diversion of water bodies

Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, Oct 11: As a Cabinet Sub-Committee comprising of six Ministers has failed to finalize the first ever State Water Policy, the senior bureaucrats have been facing the ire of the State High Court after regular intervals for non-compliance to its directions during the past over one and half year.
In a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking strict compliance to Section 4 of the J&K Water Resources (Regulation and Management) Act, a Division Bench of the State High Court in the month of February 2016 directed the Government to frame the State Water Policy and Plan for better planning, development and management of water resources.
However, the Government paid scant attention towards the directions of the High Court and continued with the dilly-dallying approach despite being aware of the fact that such a policy was of immense importance especially to check encroachments and diversion of water bodies like rivers, lakes, ponds, wetlands and drainage channels by earmarking the water courses after analyzing data of past several decades.
Anguished over non-compliance to the directives and practice of seeking time-frame after regular intervals, the High Court was constrained to seek personal appearance of the Commissioner Secretary to Government, Department of PHE, Irrigation and Flood Control. Finally, the draft of the first ever State Water Policy and Plan was prepared after hectic deliberations and the same was placed before the State Cabinet under intimation to the High Court.
However, the Cabinet vide its Decision No.71/5/2017 dated June 7, 2017 referred the draft policy to the Cabinet Sub-Committee headed by Deputy Chief Minister and comprising of Ministers for Revenue & Disaster Management, Forest, Social Welfare, Finance and PHE, Irrigation and Flood Control. Thereafter, the General Administration Department issued Order No.745 dated June 14, 2017 mentioning that Cabinet Sub-Committee has been asked to submit its report within a period of one month.
Even after this step no progress could be made vis-à-vis finalization and notification of State Water Policy and Plan which led to filing of contempt petition in the High Court. Now, the Division Bench has issued notice to the Chief Secretary, who is also Secretary to the Cabinet, while granting last and final opportunity to comply with the order issued in February 2016. The head of the bureaucracy has been told in explicit terms that in case of further non-compliance he will have to appear in person.
“It is a matter of grave concern that while senior bureaucrats are facing the ire of the High Court, those Ministers, who have been assigned the task of finalization of policy, are sleeping over the matter”, sources regretted while disclosing that even after issuance of notice to the Chief Secretary the Cabinet Sub-Committee has not fixed any date for completion of assigned task.
They further said, “the job of the concerned bureaucrats was to prepare the draft and assist the Cabinet Sub-Committee in gathering any additional information on the subject but in the absence of seriousness on the part of Cabinet Sub-Committee they are left with no other option but to face the ire of High Court”, adding “this is a clear testimony of lack of harmony and synchronization between the political leadership and bureaucracy”.
According to the sources, “the Cabinet Sub-Committee has yet not reached to a conclusion as to what should be the fate of the encroachments that have taken place on the water bodies and natural drainage system till date”, adding “the inability of the committee to finalize the policy is notwithstanding the fact that unless course of water bodies is decided on the basis of available data full stop cannot be put on the encroachments, which otherwise are fraught with the danger of causing devastating floods during the rainy season on the pattern of those witnessed in September 2014”.
Moreover, the State Water Policy is imperative for the proper town planning, sources said, adding “in the absence of earmarked course of water bodies any town planning is fraught with many dangers”.
“If the Cabinet Sub-Committee fails to accomplish the assigned task within next few weeks the Chief Secretary would have no option but to personally appear before the High Court, which would be the major embarrassment for the entire Government”, sources said.