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Bhubaneswar: Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi today that Odisha government has rejected the Centre's negotiation committee on Mahanadi river water dispute with Chhattisgarh.

Patnaik in his letter, however, said he was open to attending a meeting at the prime minister's level as a last chance to settle the river water dispute through dialogue.

"My government rejects the Negotiation Committee and request your good self to instruct the Central Government (Ministry of WR, RD &GR) to withdraw the Office Memorandum dated January 19, 2017 constituting the committee and initiate the constitution of Tribunal as the water dispute raised in the statutory complaint of my government dated November 19, 2016 cannot be resolved by negotiation," Patnaik wrote.

Pending formation of the tribunal, he requested the prime minister that Chhattisgarh be immediately directed to stop works of the ongoing project on Mahanadi basin.

"However, as a last and final chance to settle the dispute by negotiation, I am open to attend a meeting at your level, if the meeting of the chief ministers of the riparian states is called immediately," Patnaik mentioned in the letter to the prime minister.

Noting that the negotiation committee would only delay the setting up of the tribunal as demanded by Odisha, Patnaik said the state would allow Chhattisgarh to complete the construction of the disputed projects.

On Odisha's rejection of the negotiation committee, Patnaik said, "The committee is not in accordance with the provisions of Sec 4(1) of the Inter-State Rover Water Dispute Act of 1956 and its composition is arbitrary."

The provisions of the Act of 1965 put responsibility on the central government to negotiate after receiving complaints and in this regard the principle of federal relations mandated that the constitutional functionaries namely the prime minister or Union minister for water resources conduct negotiations with the chief ministers of the riparian states rather than appointing a committee headed by an officer of the subordinate office namely Central Water Commission, he said.

"In fact, recognising this constitutional position, Uma Bharati, Union Minister of Water Resources had called a meeting of the chief ministers of the riparian states on September 17, 2016 at New Delhi. However, Bharati could not successfully mediate, particularly by failing to direct the state of Chhattisgarh from going ahead with construction of ongoing disputed projects in the Mahanadi basin," Patnaik's letter said.

Patnaik said the terms of reference of the committee indicate that it is not intended to negotiate on the water dispute raised by Odisha govenrment but is designed to record its views of findings.

"While section 4(1) of the Act of 1956 mandates the central govenrment to negotiate by mediation, it does not empower the central government to record its findings on the water dispute, such as assessment of yield which may cause prejudice to the claims of the riprarian states before the tribunal is constituted," he claimed.

Stressing that the negotiation should be between constitutional functionaries and if any nomination of official is permissible, the chief secretary or principal secretary to the government in water resources department should be the nominee, Patnaik said.

The choice belongs to the state and not the central government, he said, adding that the nomination of engineer-in-chief of WRD of Odisha by the office memorandum dated January 19, 2017 as the member of the committee is not appropriate.

Besides, the member of CWC who has been nominated as the chairman of the committee, which comprises six nominees of the central government agencies and one member each from other non-contesting basin states of Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh in all covering less than 0.5 per cent of the total catchment of the inter-state Mahanadi basin.

"The outcome from such committee with represntatives from states who have no real stakes will lack focus and unnecessarily delay the whole process," Patnaik said.

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