- Why it was in News?
- Three key amendments of the Bill
- IT’s Input
- About Inter-State River Water disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019
- Reason for introducing this bill
- Criticism of the Bill
Inter-State River Water disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019
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Why it was in News?
- The Lok Sabha passed the long awaited amendment to the Interstate River Water Disputes Act 1956 in July.
- The Bill proposes a permanent tribunal and several other measures to improve the settlement of interstate river water disputes.
Three key amendments of the Bill
- A permanent tribunal with exclusive benches for each dispute instead of separate tribunals as provided by the Interstate River Water Disputes Act 1956.
- A Disputes Resolution Committee (DRC) to attempt an ex-ante resolution through mediated negotiations, instead of the Centre’s mediation.
- A provision for appointing a technical agency for a data bank to support dispute resolution.
About Inter-State River Water disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019
- The bill seeks to amend the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956. The Act provides for the adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-state rivers and river valleys.
Disputes Resolution Committee:
- Under the Bill, when a state puts in a request regarding any water dispute, the central government will set up a Disputes Resolution Committee (DRC), to resolve the dispute amicably.
- The DRC will seek to resolve the dispute through negotiations, within one year (extendable by six months). An officer of secretary rank will head the DRC and the body members are senior officers from the states that are party to a river water disputes.
- If a dispute cannot be settled by the DRC, the central government will refer it to the Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal. Such referral must be made within three months from the receipt of the report from the DRC.
- The central government will set up an Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal, for the adjudication of water disputes.
- All existing Tribunals will be dissolved, and the water disputes pending adjudication before such existing Tribunals will be transferred to the new Tribunal.
Composition of the Tribunal:
- The Tribunal will consist of a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, three judicial members, and three expert members.
- They will be appointed by the central government on the recommendation of a Selection Committee.
- Under the Act, the Tribunal must give its decision within three years (extended by two years).
- Under the Bill, the proposed Tribunal must give its decision on the dispute within two years, (extended by one year).
- Under the Act, if the matter is again referred to the Tribunal by a state for further consideration, the Tribunal must submit its report to the central government within a period of one year.
- The Bill amends this to specify that such extension may be up to a maximum of six months.
Decision of the Tribunal:
- Under the Act, the decision of the Tribunal must be published by the central government in the official gazette. This decision has the same force as that of an order of the Supreme Court.
- The Bill removes the requirement of such publication. It adds that the decision of the Bench of the Tribunal will be final and binding on the parties involved in the dispute.
- The Act provided that the central government may make a scheme to give effect to the decision of the Tribunal.
- The Bill is making it mandatory for the central government to make such scheme.
- Under the Act, the central government maintains a data bank and information system at the national level for each river basin.
- The Bill provides that the central government will appoint or authorize an agency to maintain such data bank.
Reason for introducing this bill
- No strict time limit for adjudication as the central government kept extending tenure of the tribunals indefinitely, even though they were to resolve disputes within 5 years
- No limit for publishing the report of a tribunal
- No upper limit for retirement of the chairperson or other members
- In case of any vacancy, the Chief Justice of India to nominate a person which took time and caused considerable delays and
- Absence of data on river basins.
Criticism of the Bill
- The proposed Disputes Resolution Committee has same composition that of Cauvery Supervisory Committee (CSC). However, CSC did not have much success. Hence, DRC is not adequately empowered.
- The DRC aims at a politically negotiated settlement as river water disputes are deeply political at their core. However, the most important reason for its existence is to avoid legal adjudication. Hence, DRC contradicts its own purpose.
- The bill does not specify the implementing agency for the proposed data bank.
- The Supreme Court says it has jurisdiction over interstate river water disputes while the legislature says it doesn’t. The bill does not address this contradiction.
- The bill does not give solution to the challenges around implementing the tribunal/Supreme Court’s decisions.
- The section committee, that selects the members of DRC, does not include the tribunal judges. This creates a situation where the dispute could escalate to the Supreme Court as States often politicize the disputes.
- Policy making is an incremental process. That is particularly so in case of a matter as complex as interstate river water disputes. The American poet Henry Longfellow’s tribute to the River Charles captures this, “Half in rest, and half in strife”.