- The Union Cabinet has approved the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
- Once it becomes a law, it will help streamline the adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-State rivers and river valleys.
- Inter-state river water disputes are on the rise on account of increase in water demands by the States.
- The Inter State Water Dispute Act, 1956 which provides the legal framework to address such disputes, suffers from many drawbacks.
- Under this Act, a separate Tribunal has to be established for each Inter State River Water Dispute. There are presently 9 tribunals functioning to resolve disputes among States on sharing water from rivers common to them.
- Only three Tribunals have given awards accepted by the States, while Tribunals like Cauvery and Ravi Beas have been in existence for over 26 and 30 years respectively without any award.
- It has taken 17 to 27 years to resolve disputes by these tribunals. Delays are on account of no time limit for adjudication by a Tribunal, no upper age limit for the Chairman or the Members, work getting stalled due to occurrence of any vacancy and no time limit for publishing the report of the Tribunal.
- To resolve this problem, The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017 was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2017 but subsequently lapsed. Now, a new Bill is being brought to the Parliament.
- The Bill seeks to amend the Inter State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 to streamline the adjudication of inter-state river water disputes.
- All existing tribunals will be dissolved and the water disputes pending adjudication before such existing tribunals will be transferred to the newly formed single standing tribunal.
Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019:Composition:
- It will consist of one Chairperson, one Vice-Chairperson and not more than six nominated members (judges of the Supreme Court or of a High Court), nominated by the Chief Justice of India.
- While the term of office of the Chairperson is five year or till he attains the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier, the term of office of Vice Chairperson and other member of tribunal shall be co-terminus with the adjudication of the water dispute.
- The Bill also provides for the appointment of Assessors to provide technical support to the tribunal. They shall be appointed from amongst experts serving in the Central Water engineering Service not below the rank of Chief Engineer.
Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC):
- The Bill also proposes a Dispute Resolution Committee set up by the Central Government for amicably resolving inter-State water disputes within 18 months.
- Members of the DRC will be from relevant fields, as deemed fit by the central government.
- Any dispute that cannot be settled by negotiations would be referred to the tribunal for its adjudication.
Single Standing Tribunal (with multiple benches):
- A key feature of the bill is the constitution of a single Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal with different Benches in states.
- The standalone tribunal will have a permanent establishment so as to obviate with the need to set up a separate Tribunal for each water dispute, a time consuming process.
- A dispute referred to the tribunal by the DRC shall be assigned by the chairperson of the tribunal to a Bench of the tribunal for adjudication.
- The benches will cease to exist once the disputes are resolved.
- The tribunal will be mandated to deliver final award in two years.
- Whenever the tribunal gives order, it shall be final and binding and the verdict gets notified automatically (to avoid the current delays in notification).
Data collection system:
- The Bill also provides for transparent data collection system at the national level for each river basin.
- For this purpose, an agency to maintain data-bank and information system shall be appointed or authorized by Central Government.
Inter State Water Dispute Act, 1956
- The Parliament has enacted Inter-State River Water Disputes (ISRWD) Act, 1956 for adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-State rivers and river valley thereof.
- Setting up of Tribunal: When any request under the said Act is received from any State Government in respect of any water dispute on the inter-State rivers and the Central Government is of the opinion that the water dispute cannot be settled by negotiations, the Central Government constitutes a Water Disputes Tribunal for the adjudication of the water dispute.
- Note: The 2019 amendment Bill seeks to modify this to have a single permanent Tribunal with multiple benches constitutes as and when necessary to adjudicate the disputes.
- Make recommendations to government: The Tribunal so constituted investigates the matters referred to it and forward to the Central Government a report setting out the facts as found by it and giving its decision on the mattes referred to it.
- Sole body to adjudicate disputes: Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, neither the Supreme Court nor any other Court shall have or exercise jurisdiction in respect of any water dispute which may be referred to a Tribunal under this Act.
- Final and Binding: The Central Government shall publish the decision of the Tribunal in the Official Gazette and the decision shall be final and binding on the parties to the dispute and shall be given effect to by them.
- The Central Government may establish any authority/body for the implementation of the decision or directions of the Tribunal.