A key feature of the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is the constitution of a single tribunal with different benches, and the setting up of strict timelines for adjudication.
The Lower House approved the bill, which seeks to amend the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956, by a voice vote.
Piloting the bill, Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said the existing tribunals constituted for resolution of river water disputes among states have failed to resolve the issues and a change in approach was needed.
The minister said there have been instances when a tribunal could not resolve a dispute between states for 33 years.
While underlining the need for strict and timely implementation of the awards of the tribunal, the Minister observed: “We have to focus on the management of water as neither court nor tribunal can create water”.
On concerns expressed by members regarding the reliability of data, the Minister said that the government will make all data on water public with a view to making everything transparent.
The debate also witnessed a heated exchange of words between some members from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over the Cauvery water dispute.
The acrimony prompted Speaker Om Birla to intervene. In a bid to calm down the members, he observed: “This is not an assembly of Karnataka or Tamil Nadu.”
During the debate, opposition parties like the Congress and Trinamool Congress alleged that the proposed legislation has no provision for consultation with states and was an assault on the federal structure.
In his reply, Shekhawat said the bill aims to address longstanding water disputes permanently and urged all parties to back it.
He said all states were consulted way back in 2013 and then the draft bill was sent to a standing committee. Its recommendations were taken on board before the bill was finalised, he added.
The earlier bill lapsed when the term of the 16th Lok Sabha ended.
Agreeing with the concerns expressed by many members over the issue of water availability, he said India has 18 per cent of the world’s population but only four per cent replenishable water. The water issue can become a matter of concern like climate change, he said.
Under the proposed law, a retired Supreme Court judge will head the tribunal.
There will be benches formed as and when required. The benches though will be wound up once a dispute is resolved.
The tribunal will be mandated to deliver final award in two years and it is proposed that whenever it gives an order, the verdict gets notified automatically.
As per the current provisions of the 1956 Act, a tribunal can be formed after a state government approaches the Union government with such a request and the Centre is convinced of the need to form the tribunal.
At present, there are nine tribunals including those on Cauvery, Mahadayi, Ravi and Beas, Vansadhara and Krishna rivers.