New Delhi: A bill proposing a single tribunal to wrap up long-festering inter-state water sharing disputes within four-and-a-half years was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017 was introduced by water resources minister Uma Bharati who termed it a “revolutionary step” towards the resolution of inter-state river water disputes that can drag on for decades.
Bharati said the bill proposes a “single standing tribunal (with multiple benches) instead of multiple tribunals” that exist at present. “The total time period for adjudication of dispute has been fixed at maximum of four-and-a-half years. The decision of the Tribunal shall be final and binding with no requirement of publication in the official Gazette,” said an official statement.
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With increasing demand for water, inter-state river water disputes are on the rise but the present Inter State River Water Dispute Act, 1956 that provides the legal framework to address such disputes is seen to have many drawbacks. Under the present Act, a separate Tribunal has to be established for each dispute.
At present, there are eight inter-state water dispute tribunals, including the Ravi and Beas Waters Tribunal and Krishna River Water Dispute Tribunal.
The time limit for deciding on a dispute is significant, given the fact that only three of the eight tribunals have actually given awards accepted by the states. Tribunals like those on the Cauvery and Ravi Beas have been in existence for over 26 and 30 years respectively without any award.
Currently there is no time limit for adjudication or publication of reports and no upper age limit for the chairman or the members.
As per the proposed bill, the Tribunal shall have one chairperson, one vice-chairperson and not more than six other members. It limits the tenure of the chairperson to five years or till they attain the age of 70, whichever is earlier.
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The bill also proposes to introduce mechanisms to resolve disputes amicably by negotiations through a Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) to be established by the central government consisting of experts, before a dispute is referred to the tribunal.
It also provides for a transparent data collection system at the national level for each river basin and for the appointment of assessors to provide technical support to the tribunal.
“For this purpose, an agency to maintain data-bank and information system shall be appointed or authorized by central government. They (assessors) shall be appointed from amongst experts serving in the Central Water engineering Service not below the rank of chief engineer,” the statement added.