Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017

“Water Disputes will be resolved in a fixed time frame and not drag forever. That's a good thing about this Bill”

Introduction: 

Union Government on March 14, 2017 introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha for the setting up of a “Single Standing Permanent Tribunal” (Hereafter referred as the new tribunal) to adjudicate and resolve all the river water related disputes among the states. Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti introduced the “Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017.

Requirement of the Bill: 

  • Currently there are multiple tribunals which delay the resolution of the water disputes most of the times.
  • This bill aims to take place of the currently existing law - “The Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956” (IRWD Act) relating to inter-state water disputes. 
  • The bill was introduced in the background of the water disputes over sharing of river waters going on lingering among many states.
  • The basic idea at the back of the bill is optimal sustainable development, maintenance of quality and efficient use of water resources to match with the growing demands of this precious natural resource of the country. 

Salient Features of the Bill: 

Hereunder given are the salient features of this bill:
  • The draft legislation i.e. the bill provides for taking over all existing mechanism for all the water disputes settlement in the country. 
  • The bill intends to dissolve all existing tribunals relating to water disputes and transfer their work to the new tribunal. 
  • In place of having multiple tribunals under the existing IRWD Act 1956, the bill makes a provision for a new tribunal with multiple benches across the country. 
  • The new tribunal would not reopen the issues already adjudicated and settled by the existing or the previous water tribunals. 
  • The new tribunal under this bill will have a fixed time period to resolve all the water disputes, unlike the existing tribunals delaying the resolution of the water disputes. 
  • The new bill introduced seeks to speed up the redressal of grievances and accelerate the inter-state river water dispute resolution process. 
  • The maximum time to adjudicate water disputes for the new tribunal has been fixed as four-and-a-half years. 
  • The decision and order of the new tribunal shall be final and binding on the concerned states. 
  • There shall be no requirement of publication of the adjudication order/decision in the Official Gazette of the Union of India. 
  • The new tribunal will have one Chairperson, one Vice-Chairperson and a maximum of six members. 
  • The tenure of the chairperson will be five years or till he or she attains the age of 70, whichever is earlier. 
  • The tenure of the Vice-Chairperson and members will be co-terminus (to end simultaneously) along with the adjudication of the water disputes. 
  • There is a provision in the bill for appointing an assessor to offer technical support to the tribunal. The assessor will be appointed from the experts serving the Central Water Engineering Services not below the rank of Chief Engineer. 
  • The bill also provides for the collection of data in a transparent manner on at the national level from all the river basins of the country. 
  • There is also a provision in the bill to amicably resolve the water disputes by way of negotiations through a 'Dispute Resolution Committee' (DRC) to be set up by the Centre before such disputes are referred to the tribunal. 

Opposition to the Bill: 

Biju Janata Dal (BJD) M.P. Bhartruhari Mahtab objected to the introduction of the bill, stating that water is a state issue and the Centre was “overstepping” the Constitutional limits by introducing the Bill. Mahtab also alleged that the bill had been drafted in a poor manner and the honourable minister should herself take a relook at it before introducing the same in the house. He also asked the Minister whether she had consulted all the 29 states before the drafting of the bill.

What the Minister Stated? 

Bharti called the bill as a “Revolutionary Step” and “A well – planned Bill” and rejected the argument of Mahtab. She added that the Centre was very much within its rights to introduce such a bill under Article 262 of the Constitution of India. She further stated that although the IRWD Act 1956 provides for a legal framework to address these water disputes, yet the same suffers from various drawbacks. She added that the bill was the need of the hour in times when on the one hand due to the reasons of rising water demand in the states, water disputes are on the rise; and on the other hand states were increasingly refusing to honour the awards of multiple existing tribunals. She specifically mentioned the dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the Cauvery waters.

Objection Overruled: 

The objection was overruled by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Sumitra Mahajan and the bill was introduced in the house.

Procedure: 

This will be sent to the Rajya Sabha after the Lok Sabha. This bill would become “Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Act, 2017” after the bill is passed by both the houses and after the assent of the President of India is received.
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