LS takes up Bill for setting up a single tribunal on all river disputes

LS takes up Bill for setting up a single tribunal on all river disputes

Agency News

New Delhi, Jul 31: The Lok Sabha on Wednesday took up a Bill which will help adjudicate disputes relating to waters of inter-State rivers and river valleys at a faster pace. Piloting The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said the central government will set up an Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal, for the adjudication of water disputes. He said this Tribunal can have multiple benches.  All existing Tribunals will be dissolved, and the water disputes pending adjudication before such existing Tribunals will be transferred to the new Tribunal, the minister said. Mr Shekhawat said India is a huge country and there are 24 rivers and basins, adding that 90 per cent basin area are inter-state basin area.

There has been history of river dispute between states and there are more than 160 documented agreements in the country, he maintained.A total nine tribunals were set up, the minister said, and only four have submitted their reports.  Five tribunals, including the Ravi-Beas tribunal, were still working, he pointed out.There was no time restriction for these tribunals, the reports were not published, there was no age limit for the chairperson, he said, adding that keeping all these factors in mind the draft law was prepared. The draft law was sent to standing committee and the report was submitted to the government on August 11, 2017 and all the suggestions were included in this Bill, the minister told the House.The Bill seeks to amend the Inter State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 to streamline the adjudication of inter-state river water disputes.The government is bringing this draft law for time-bound and effective resolution of disputes, he said.

He said the Tribunal will consist of eight members -- 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.Each Tribunal Bench will consist of a Chairperson or Vice-Chairperson, a judicial member, and an expert member. The central government may also appoint two experts serving in the Central Water Engineering Service as assessors to advise the Bench in its proceedings. The assessor should not be from the state which is a party to the dispute. Under the Bill, the proposed Tribunal must give its decision on the dispute within two years, which may be extended by another year.

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. Opposition parties said states were not consulted when the draft law was brought in the House.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 comprise of a Chairperson and experts with at least 15 years of experience in relevant sectors, to be nominated by the central government. It will also comprise one member from each state, who are party to the dispute, to be nominated by the state government concerned.

The DRC will seek to resolve the dispute through negotiations, within one year (extendable by six months), and submit its report to the central government. 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 Bill says that the decision of the Bench of the Tribunal will be final and binding on the parties involved in the dispute. Initiating the debate, Congress member Manish Tewari said that Article 262 of the Constitution provides for adjudication of inter-State river water disputes. The article pertains to inter-State disputes only.

Since, a new government has taken office, it is implicit that a fresh consultation with the States should have been undertaken, he said.Mr Tewari said rather than cutting the time, the amendment in the bill will increase the time taken to get a resolution.He said the selection Committee will comprise of Prime Minister, somebody nominated by PM, Jalshakti Minister, Law minister and Chief Justice of India or a SC judge, and asked the government to explain the reason for exclusion of Leader of opposition or leader of the largest party.

He said when a sitting or retired judge is appointed, 'you are opening Pandora's box'. BJP member Satya Pal Singh supported the draft law saying the Centre was within its right to bring such a legislation and the initiative is no assault on the federal structure of the constitution.Kalyan Banerjee of Trinamool Congress and Dayanidhi Maran of DMK also spoke.In view of this Bill, Mr Maran wanted to know the fate of the Cauvery Water Management Board. UNI