With Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu staying away from Punjab government after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh changed his portfolio, the CM is all set to implement an earlier decision on setting up Punjab Water Regulation and Development Authority (PWRDA) to regulate usage of water in view of depleting water table. The matter concerns the Local Bodies Department that was headed by Sidhu earlier. He had then threatened to oppose the Bill openly in the Assembly if it was tabled.
The Chief Minister has called a meeting to discuss “Challenges and Issues Arising out of Depleting Groundwater and Future of River Waters in Punjab” on Friday. The meeting will be attended by seven departments and their ministers, experts and technocrats. A presentation prepared by Agriculture, Water Resources and Water Supply and Sanitation Department on the grave concerns would be given to those present.
The ministers, who have been asked to be present include the new Local Bodies Minister Brahm Mohindra, Rural Development Minister Tript Bajwa, Water Supply and Sanitation Minister Razia Sultana, Water Resources Minister Sukhbinder Sarkaria, Industries and Commerce Minister Sunder Sham Arora, Jails and Cooperation Minister Sukhjinder Randhawa and Public Works Minister Vijay Inder Singla. PPCC president Sunil Jakhar is also likely to attend.
Sources in the government said the government could bring an ordinance in the next Cabinet to set up the authority so that the issue is not delayed.
A government functionary said water was a serious concern and the Chief Minister wanted to take a call on it before losing more time especially in the wake of water crisis being faced by other states.
Sidhu, the then Local Bodies Minister, had opposed setting up of the authority not once but several times. He had not allowed the government to table a Bill for setting up the PWRDA in Winter Session of the Vidhan Sabha despite the Chief Minister asking him to understand the importance of the issue in the state. Later, Sidhu, along with Food Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu and then Education Minister O P Soni had again taken an opposing stand at a subsequent Cabinet meeting in January to give its nod to the authority.
Sidhu’s argument was that the draft of the Bill only provided for regulating usage of water in cities, but not in villages. He had said this would mean the consumers in urban areas would be made to pay huge water bills while on the other hand the agriculture sector would remain unaffected even as lion’s share of water is consumed by farming sector.
Also, Sidhu had argued that there was no need for the government to set up a separate authority as regulation part could be taken care of by Local Bodies Department and Water Resources Department. He had alleged that the government wanted to “rehabilitate” a retired IAS as chairman of the authority. Post his objections, the Chief Minister had constituted a Cabinet Sub Committee headed by Sidhu to study the issue, and Israel model of water regulation by visiting there. But the panel did not work on it.
None of the three ministers who objected to the authority would be a part of Friday’s meeting.
Meanwhile, Local Bodies Minister Brahm Mohindra said he is reviewing other projects initiated by his predecessor Sidhu. These include one time settlement policy for unauthorised colonies in the state and also the e-naksha service. “I will review and bring about a change if there is a need,” said Mohindra.