Highlights of the Bill
- Dispute Resolution Cmtee (DRC) will try to settle disputes through negotiations within 1 yr, extendable by another 6 months
- If the negotiations fail after 18 months (1yr + 6 mths) the dispute will be referred to the Tribunal
- Members of DRC will comprise relevant subject matter experts as decided by the centre
- The Tribunal
- the Bill proposes a single permanent Tribunal with multiple benches
- all the existing tribunals will be merged into it
- each dispute has to be solved within 4.5 yrs
- appeal agains the tribunal’s verdict is not allowed. The decision is final and binding.
For each river basin (at the national level) a dedicated agency will be established by the centre for data collection.
The system at present (ISWDA, 1956)
- A new tribunal has to be formed each time a state approaches the centre with the request and the latter is convinced.
- 8 such Tribunals have been formed till date.
- The Judiciary does not have jurisdiction over such disputes. It can, however, interpret verdicts of tribunals
- The system has had some successes especially with the 1st gen Tribunals (Krishna, Narmada and Godavari)
- But in general, the system has struggled to offer equitable awards.
- Out of the 8, only 3 tribunals'(Krishna, Narmada and Godavari) awards have been accepted by the states.
- Tribunals like Cauvery and Ravi-Beas have been in existence for over 26 and 30 years respectively without any award.
Problems with ISWDA, 1956
- Protracted proceedings and extreme delays in dispute resolution
Reasons for delays
- no time limit for adjudication by a Tribunal
- no upper age limit for the Chairman or the Members
- work getting stalled due to the occurrence of any vacancy, and
- no time limit for publishing the report of the Tribunal
- politicization of the issue compounds the problem
eg. recent eruption of Cauvery dispute as an identity issue b/w Tamils and Kannadigas
- Opacity in institutional framework and guidelines
- procedural complexities + India’s messy federal polity (Water – state list ; Regulation and dvpt of inter-state rivers – union list) = muddled adjudication
- The tribunals have largely failed in ensuring compliance of verdicts, especially in the coalition era.
eg. Punjab refused to accept the Ravi-Beas Tribunal’s verdict
- An absence of authoritative water data makes adjudication difficult.
The new system (2017 Bill) vs. The existing system (1956 Act)
- Will address problem 1 (of Delays (see above)) as
- the Bill proposes defined timelines and qualifications for members, and
- obviates the need for notification of the award in official gazette by the centre
- Will NOT address the problem – of Opacity – because of procedural complexities
- the DRC’s functions sound similar to the current techno-legal procedures of Tribunals
- India’s messy federal polity will continue to haunt satisfactory resolution
- as the Bill continues with the extant constitutional arrangement on ‘Water’
- Will NOT address problem 3 – of Compliance – as
- today, inter-state water disputes are no longer just about water allocation, public opinion matters too.
- the Bill lacks a transparent and robust institutional framework to secure public opinion and ensure quick implementation
- About problem 4 – related to establishment of a data bank and information system
- despite a similar provision in the extant law, tenuous centre-state relations have obscured success.
- the challenge is not about gathering data and information but more about consensus over the gathered data.
- moreover, the capacity to process this data to deliver ‘knowledge’ that could fasten adjudication remains elusive
- Collaborative, not competitive approach to water disputes
- states should be sensitive to each others’ needs
- the govt must bring in a comprehensive legislation in place of the River Boards Act, 1956
- Implementation / Compliance
- set up a transparent and robust institutional framework
- the SC should restrain itself in accepting the inevitable “Spl Leave Petitions” against the Tribunal’s award
- Put ‘Water’ in the concurrent list to avoid legal complexities
- Improve awareness about rising water stress.
- Adopt a participatory approach (involve the public) to improve water use-efficiency.
- Incentivize sustainable use of water, especially in agriculture and industry.