Political parties in Punjab, barring the BJP, are up in arms over the Centre’s decision to amend the rules regarding appointments to two key positions on the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB). The Indian Express explains the history of the BBMB, the changes that have been made and the apprehensions of the political parties and farmers of the state.
The genesis of BBMB lies in the Indus Water Treaty signed between India and Pakistan in 1960 whereby waters of three eastern rivers— Ravi, Beas and Sutlej — were allotted to India for exclusive use while Indus, Chenab and Jhelum rivers were allocated to Pakistan.
In India, a master plan was drawn to harness the potential of these rivers for providing assured irrigation, power generation and flood control. Bhakra and Beas projects form a major part of this plan and were established as a joint venture of the then undivided Punjab and Rajasthan.
Following the reorganisation of Punjab on November 1, 1966, and the creation of the state of Haryana, the Bhakra Beas Management Board was constituted under Section 79 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966. The administration, maintenance and operation of Bhakra Nangal project was handed over to Bhakra Management on October 1, 1967. On May 15, 1976, when the Beas Projects Works were completed and handed over, the Bhakra Management Board was renamed as Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB). Since then, BBMB regulates supply of water and power to Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Chandigarh.
The BBMB management includes a chairperson and two whole time members who are from the partner states of Punjab and Haryana. They are designated as Member (Power) and Member (Irrigation) from Punjab and Haryana, respectively. There is representation from each member state including Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh as nominated by the respective state governments. The total strength of BBMB is about 12,000 employees and out of these 696 are Group A officers and are posted from the partner states.
What changes have been made to the BBMB rules?
The Government of India issued a notification on February 23, 2022 to amend the BBMB Rules 1974, thereby changing the criteria for the selection of whole-time members of the Board. New rules specify technical qualifications for the appointments and pave the for appointment of the members from across India and not only Punjab and Haryana.
What has been the objection to the new rules?
The opposition to the new rules has come from within the engineers’ fraternity, farmers as well as the political parties of Punjab. While the Congress, AAP and SAD have labelled this as an attack on the federal structure of the country, the farmer unions have promised a protest if the cahnges are not rolled back. The engineers have pointed out that hardly any engineer would qualify for appointment as per the new specifications, which appear to tailor-made for some personnel to be appointed from outside Punjab and Haryana.
Senior Congress leader Sunil Jakhar has urged Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi to lead a delegation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to oppose the new rules while AAP and SAD have said the Centre and BJP should refrain from changing rules arbitrarily.
What has been the official response to these protests?
BBMB officials have clarified that the representation of Punjab and Haryana as well as other members states will continue as before. They have stated that the new rules only spell out the technical qualifications required for the Member (Power) and Member (Irrigation) and that the power and irrigation benefits to member states remains the same.
It has also been argued that the changes have been made in pursuance to a judgement of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the case of Jagmohan Singh Vs Union of India.
The BJP has also chided the other parties for raising “frivolous objections” and said that there is no material change in the rules and in the share of member states in power and irrigation projects.
The parties continue to maintain that the rules have been changed to drastically reduce chances of the officials from Punjab and Haryana who could be appointed to the two posts. They continue to state that these changes affect the prospects of Punjab as part of BBMB and that this was a conspiracy to ultimately remove the state from the Board. They have also pointed out that in 2018, a chairperson from Himachal Pradesh was appointed despite the fact that in the past, the person on the post had always been from outside the member states in order to maintain neutrality of the Board. Now, various farmers groups have announced that they will hold a protest on March 7 on the issue. The Samyukt Samaj Morcha has said that the BBMB should specify that the position of the member from Punjab will be permanent else an agitation may be launched against it.
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