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ISLAMABAD: The caretaker Minister for Water Resources and Planning has reportedly taken opposite positions on the role of Council of Common Interests (CCI) for proposed IRSA Act amendments, which may have prompted President Dr. Arif Alvi to reject the hurriedly prepared Ordinance, well-informed sources told Business Recorder.

Indus River System Authority was established in 1992 through an Act of Parliament for regulating and monitoring of the distribution of water resources of Indus river system among the four provinces in accordance with the Water Apportionment Accord 1991. At present, the Authority consists of five members, one nominated by each province and the Federal Government.

The Ministry of Water Resources noted that IRSA, in a letter dated January 18, 2024 had furnished to the Ministry draft amendments in the IRSA Act, 1992. The proposed amendments were forwarded to Law and Justice Division for vetting.

IRSA releases 229,800 cusecs of water

Salient features of the proposed amendments were as follows: (i) revised composition of IRSA Authority with the Chairman being a serving or retired employee of the Federal Government in BS-21 or above to be appointed by the Prime Minister with no voting rights ;(ii) creation of the post of Vice Chairman to be held on rotation by the four provincial members for a one year period ;(iii) creation of an Independent Experts Committee (IEC) to assist the Chairman and the Authority on technical matters;(iv) grant of powers to proceed against persons and entities involved in inter alia water theft, tampering of installations and data and other illegal or fraudulent activities in accordance with law ;(v) grant of powers of review to the Chairman regarding grievance of any Provincial Government, any Member of the Authority or WAPDA, against the decisions of the Authority prior to making any reference to the Council of Common Interests and ;(vi) grant of powers to Chairman to request the Federal Government to provide assistance through Armed Forces or other Law Enforcement Agencies for protection, safeguarding and securing of any location or installation which has been duly declared to be of a strategic importance under the IRSA Act.

Ministry of Water Resources further noted that the proposed amendments in Indus River System Authority Act, 1992 [Act No. XXII of 1992] were vetted by the Law & Justice Division.

Ministry of Water Resources accordingly submitted the proposed amendments for consideration and approval of the Cabinet Committee on Disposal of Legislative Cases.

During the ensuing discussion the case was discussed threadbare and divergent views were expressed and it was decided by the CCLC to record divergent views in terms of rule 20(11) (a) and rule 23(4) of the Rules of Business 1973.

The Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives (PD&SI) raised questions about absence of consultation with the provinces which could be done in the Council of Common Interest (CCI) and about the mandate of the caretaker government to make the amendments under discussion. He maintained that the amendments in IRSA Act were substantive in nature because it’s intention was to bring changes in the decision making structure of IRSA, therefore, consultation with the provinces was sine qua non. He further opined that if provinces were on board then it would lend credibility and acceptability to the proposed amendments and its implementation would be smooth thereafter.

The Secretary Law and Justice Division clarified that the proposed amendment to the Act could not be brought before the CCI as per the binding Supreme Court Judgement of 2018 which stipulated that CCL could only debate policy issues sans legislative aspects so the approval of the CCL is not required for the proposed amendment. It was further clarified that Part II of the Schedule IV of the Constitution of 1973 did mention other subjects except water and therefore it was not a constitutional requirement to discuss the proposed amendment at the CCI. He also pointed out that CCI did not meet frequently.

Minister for Water Resources who is also Minister for Law and Justice/ Chairman CCLC, argued that despite all the noble intentions of creating IRSA to resolve inter-provincial disputes it did not live up to expectations and one of the stumbling blocks in its way to expeditious decision making was its decision making structure which spawned a regressive and parochial culture of organizational governance which marred the objective of making expeditious and judicious decisions.

It was further contended that the proposed amendment was an ameliorative step towards making changes in the decision making structure of IRSA; and as per due diligence done by the Law and Justice Division there was no specific provision to discuss it before the CCI prior to submitting it to the CCLC for approval and that it was only water apportionment which was the subject of CCI to debate not the legislative aspects such as the amendment under discussion. This posits there is no legal requirement of submitting the matter to the CCI, he concluded adding that there was no bar on the caretaker government to take up this matter.

The representative from the Attorney General’s office concurred with the viewpoint expressed by the Ministry for Law and Justice.

The CCLC approved the proposal with the stipulation that the divergent viewpoints expressed in the meeting may also be presented before the Cabinet at the time of ratification.

The sources said, clear differences between Minister for Water Resources/Law Minister Ahmed Irfan Aslam and Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, Sami Saeed, might have prompted the President to reject the proposal to issue an Ordinance that was prepared sans consultation with the provinces who are the real stakeholders.

When contacted, sources in Ministry of Water Resources said that the Ministry has not yet received anything from Presidency in writing on the proposed amendments to the IRSA Act through Ordinance.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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