Single permanent tribunal on water disputes gets govt push

After years of dithering, the government has finally initiated a move to replace all existing inter-state water dispute tribunals with a permanent body to settle such matters.

New Delhi: After years of dithering, the government has finally initiated a move to replace all existing inter-state water dispute tribunals with a permanent body to settle such matters.

The Water Resources Ministry has moved a Cabinet note to amend the Inter-state River Water Disputes Act, 1956 to scrap the five inter-state water dispute resolution tribunals and replace them with a single permanent tribunal to resolve matters.
The move to scrap the existing tribunals and replace them with one body was first mooted by then Law Minister M Veerappa Moily in 2011.

In October, 2012, the Centre had informed the states that it is in the process of intra-ministry consultations on the issue. Then Water Resources Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal had informed the 14th National Conference of State Water Resources and Irrigation ministers here about the proposal.
The Centre plans to have a `standing tribunal` for the purpose having several members. The members could be posted to various benches and one bench of three members could deal with more than one dispute.

The Centre`s experience has been that the tribunals continue for an inordinately long time and for one reason or the other, decisions are not taken.
The Ministry has pointed out that in most of the cases even after the tribunal gives its award, one of the affected states moves the Supreme Court through a Special Leave Petition.

The Water Resources Ministry had approached the Law Ministry in 2010 on the issue and one of the ideas which came out was to abolish the inter-state Water Disputes Act and ask states to directly approach the Supreme Court -- and not the High Courts -- with their cases. But the idea was junked.

The Draft National Water Policy 2012 also suggests a permanent tribunal.
"A permanent Water Disputes Tribunal at the Centre should be established to resolve the disputes expeditiously in an equitable manner. Apart from using the `good offices` of the Union or the State Governments, as the case may be, the paths of Arbitration and Mediation may also to be tried in dispute resolution," says the Policy.

According to the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956, "When any request under section 3 is received from any state government in respect of any water dispute and the Central Government is of opinion that the water dispute cannot be settled by negotiations, the Central Government shall, within a period not exceeding one year from the date of receipt of such request, by notification in the Official Gazette, constitute a Water Disputes Tribunal for the adjudication of the water dispute".

PTI