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Himachal, Punjab CMs meet as water cess is on verge of boiling into inter-state dispute

The Chief Ministers of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab met in Chandigarh on Wednesday

Shimla:  The Chief Ministers of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab met in Chandigarh on Wednesday, amid the souring relations between the two states over the water cess that the hill state wants to levy on the hydroelectric power projects run by the Punjab government in Himachal Pradesh.

Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu reached out to Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann to explain why it was important for resource-starved Himachal to raise an income of Rs 4000 crore per annum by levying cess on the non-consumptive use of water at 172 hydropower projects.

However, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann did not give up his opposition to the hill state’s move to levy water cess on the hydropower projects located in Himachal Pradesh. He expressed concern over the move and asked the Himachal Chief Minister to reverse the decision.

Sukhu offered to hold discussions with the neighbouring states including Punjab on the exact amount of cess to be levied and also the modalities for the collection of the cess.

“Punjab is our big brother. We have common issues and a lot of inter-dependence. The amount of cess to be levied can be negotiated. I can only say at this point, we are within our rights to levy cess on the water used at hydro-power projects” he said on reaching Shimla after his visit to Chandigarh.

The bill has already been passed by the state assembly and only the modalities on its implications are to be worked out for which the state government officials will meet their Punjab counterparts in the next few days.

“Both the states will meet once in every 10-15 days to settle inter-state matters amicably,” said Sukhu as he claimed to have also raised the issue of 110 MW Shanan power project, located at Joginder Nagar in Himachal’s Mandi district .The project was on a 99-year  lease with the Punjab electricity board which ends in March 2024.The two states  have to work out the modalities for the transfer of the assets and this project

“Besides water cess, we held detailed discussions on hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh including Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) and Shanan Hydroelectric Project.There were talks on tourism related projects also,” the Chief Minister said.

He said that some misconceptions regarding the water cess were also resolved in today’s meeting.

The water cess levied by Himachal Pradesh would not be imposed on water but on hydropower projects operating within the state and both Punjab and Haryana will not suffer any loss due to this water cess, Sukhu claimed.

“A committee of Chief Secretary and Energy Secretary of Himachal Pradesh and their Punjab counterparts will be constituted to conduct a detailed discussion over various hydroelectric projects including water,” Sukhu said.

This committee will sort out the matters in a time-bound manner besides discussing the projects of Bhakra Beas Management Board, said the Chief Minister, besides will amicably solve the contentious issues if any.

Apart from this the two CMs also discussed the proposed ropeway between Anandpur Sahib and Mata Naina Devi for facilitating the travel of pilgrims at these holy shrines. The project was conceived during the earlier BJP regime led by Prem Kumar Dhumal but put on the back burner by successive Congress governments headed by Virbhadra Singh.

The Punjab Chief Minister said that the issue of religious tourism in Himachal Pradesh besides water cess and various other projects was discussed in detail during the meeting amicably. Himachal and Punjab would work together on various joint projects of religious tourism in future also, Mann said.