With the Water Act, 2011 mandating the National Environment Commission (NEC) as the sole authority for all matters related to water, the government’s decision to establish a national water commission is unlawful, according to the opposition party.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay during his State of the Nation address to the parliament on June 19 announced the decision to establish the water commission, which would address irrigation problems affecting the agriculture sector today.

However, members from the opposition pointed out that a water commission would not be in line with the Water Act 2011.   Officiating Leader of Opposition and MP Dorji Wangdi said NEC is the commission for all water related matters and that a separate water commission is not only unnecessary but also unlawful. “NEC is the commission and authority for all water related matters,” he said.

According to the opposition, most of the water problems remain because of the failure of the government and NEC to implement the Act. The prime minister is the Chairperson of NEC.

He said that the parliament during its deliberation on the Water Bill in 2011 had debated on whether or not the Act should provide for the formation of a water commission. He said the house had resolved that NEC would be the sole authority on all water related matters and that a separate commission on water was not required.

“Establishment of a water commission is lawful only if the water Act is amended first,” he said.

Opposition members say that the implementation of the water Act would help address all issues related to water.

The water Act states that it applies to all issues related to water resources of the Kingdom. However, the Act does not mention about formation of a separate commission for water.

The Act identifies NEC as the implementing agency of the law. Section 12 of the Act states: “NEC shall be an independent authority established by an Act of Parliament and shall exercise the powers and discharge the functions conferred under this Act.”

The Act states that a “national integrated water resources management plan” shall be formulated for coordinated development, management, conservation and efficient use of water resources.

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Dorji said the water commission would be formed soon. He refused to comment on the opposition’s argument of the water commission being unlawful.

While presenting the State of the Nation, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that one of the biggest problems facing the agriculture sector has been the lack of potable and irrigation water. He cited climate change and development activities such as construction of roads as some of the reasons for water shortage in the country.

“Once the water commission is established, we expect all irrigation problems will be solved,” the prime minister said. The government also hopes that lack of continuous supply of water in urban households would be solved.

The commission will be responsible for developing holistic plans and policies aimed at ensuring adequate water supplies for both agricultural farms and households. It is also expected to propose for establishment of a ministry for water in the long term.

Meanwhile, the government has allocated Nu 358 million (M) for drinking water and Nu 342M for irrigation water for the new fiscal year that will coincide with the final year of the 11th Plan.

Experts say the water problem in Bhutan, whose per capita fresh water is sixth in the world, is not because of the shortage of water but the country’s inability to manage water sources and tap rainwater.

MB Subba