WATER DISPUTES TRIBUNAL
02, Aug 2019
Prelims level : Polity & Governance- Parliament, Judiciary, Institutional Reforms Mains level : GS-II- Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
Context: Lok Sabha gave its approval to a proposal to set up a permanent tribunal to adjudicate on inter-state disputes over sharing of river waters.
Water and Constitution of India
- Water is a State subject
- Entry 17 of State List deals with water i.e. water supply, irrigation, canal, drainage, embankments, water storage and water power.
- Entry 56 of Union List gives power to the Union Government for the regulation and development of inter-state rivers and river valleys to the extent declared by Parliament to be expedient in the public interest.
- Parliament may by law provide for the adjudication of any dispute or complaint with respect to the use, distribution or control of the waters of, or in, any inter-State river or river valley.
- Parliament may, by law provide that neither the Supreme Court nor any other court shall exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such dispute or complaint.
What Inter-State River Waters Disputes Act of 1956 says about Tribunal:
- Inter-State River Waters Disputes Act of 1956 provides for setting up of a separate tribunal every time a dispute arises.
- The amendment will ensure the transfer of all existing water disputes to the new tribunal.
- All five existing tribunals under the 1956 Act would cease to exist.
Why the Change?
- The main purpose is to make the process of dispute settlement more efficient and effective.
Issues with Old Tribunals:
- Under the 1956 Act, nine tribunals have so far been set up. Only four of them have given their awards.
- One of these disputes, over Cauvery waters between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, took 28 years to settle.
- The Ravi and Beas Waters Tribunal was set up in April 1986 and it is still to give the final award.
- The minimum a tribunal has taken to settle a dispute is seven years, by the first Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal in 1976.
- Time Limit-The amendment is bringing a time limit for adjudicating the disputes. All disputes would now have to be resolved within a maximum of four-and-a-half years.
Duplication of work:
- The multiplicity of tribunals has led to an increase in bureaucracy, delays, and possible duplication of work.
- The replacement of five existing tribunals with a permanent tribunal is likely to result in a 25 per cent reduction in staff strength, from the current 107 to 80, and a saving of Rs 4.27 crore per year.
Disputes Resolution Committee (DRC):
- The current system of dispute resolution would give way to a new two-tier approach.
- The states concerned would be encouraged to come to a negotiated settlement through a Disputes Resolution Committee (DRC).
- Only if the DRC fails to resolve the dispute will the matter be referred to the tribunal.
How it will work?
- In the existing mechanism, when states raise a dispute, the central government constitutes a tribunal. Under the current law, the tribunal has to give its award within three years, which can be extended by another two years.
- In practice, tribunals have taken much longer to give their decisions. Under the new system, the Centre would set up a DRC once states raise a dispute.
- The DRC would be headed by a serving or retired secretary-rank officer with experience in the water sector and would have other expert members and a representative of each state government concerned.
- The DRC would try to resolve the dispute through negotiations within a year and submit a report to the Centre. This period can be extended by a maximum of six months.
If DRC fails:
- If the DRC fails to settle the dispute, it would be referred to the permanent tribunal, which will have a chairperson, a vice-chairperson and a maximum of six members — three judicial and three expert members.
- The chairperson would then constitute a three-member bench that would consider the DRC report before investigating on its own.
- It would have to finalise its decision within two years, a period that can be extended by a maximum of one more year — adding up to a maximum of four-and-a-half years.
- The decision of the tribunal would carry the weight of an order of the Supreme Court.
- There is no provision for appeal.
- However, the Supreme Court, while hearing a civil suit in the Cauvery dispute, had said the decision of that tribunal could be challenged before it through a Special Leave Petition under Article 136 of the Constitution.