15 Mar 2017 15:11 IST

Inter-State river water disputes likely to be decided by a single tribunal

New legislation proposes a time limit of 4.5 years for adjudication of any dispute

Inter-State river water disputes will be adjudicated by a Single Standing Tribunal with multiple Benches if a new Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday gets enacted into law.

This is against the current practice of establishing separate Tribunals for each inter-State river-water dispute.

The new Bill — The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill 2017 — was introduced in the Lower House by Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti.

It has set the maximum time period for adjudication of a water dispute at four-and-a-half years. Interestingly, in the current law there is no time limit for adjudication by a Tribunal.

Also, the Bill provides that the decision of the Bench of the Single Tribunal would be final and binding on the States concerned, with no requirement of its publication in the Official Gazette.

Negotiated settlement

The Bill also proposes to introduce a mechanism to resolve the water dispute amicably by negotiations through the Disputes Resolution Committee, to be established by the Centre, before such dispute is referred to the Tribunal.

The proposed Single Standing Tribunal will consist of one chairperson, one vice-chairperson and not more than six members.

While the term of office of the chairperson is five years or till he attains the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier, the term of office of the vice-chairman and other members will be co-terminus with the adjudication of the water disputes.

Though the current Inter-State River Water Disputes Act 1956 provides for a legal framework, it suffers from many drawbacks.

Out of eight Tribunals, only three have made awards which have been accepted by the States.

Though the Cauvery and Ravi Beas Tribunals have been in existence for over 20 years and 30 years, respectively, they have not been able to make any successful award till date, according to the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ for introducing the Bill.

Meanwhile, indications are that the Single Tribunal with multiple Benches would initially be constituted by merging the existing five Tribunals.

The new Bill also seeks to provide for a transparent data collection system at the national level for each river basin and, for this, an agency to maintain a data bank and information system would be appointed by the Centre.