River water disputes: Disputes Resolution Committee (DRC), Inter State Water Dispute Act, 1956

Headline : One tribunal for all river water disputes: why the proposal, how it will work

Details :

In News:
  • The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019 has been passed by Lok Sabha.
  • It seeks to streamline the adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-State rivers and river valleys.
News Summary:
  • The Bill cleared by Lok Sabha seeks to make amendments to the Inter-State River Waters Disputes Act of 1956, that provides for setting up of a separate tribunal every time a dispute arises.
  • Once it becomes law, the amendment will ensure the transfer of all existing water disputes to the single Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal with different Benches in states.
  • All five existing tribunals under the 1956 Act would cease to exist.
What changes after the amendment?
Dispute resolution system:
Earlier:
  • Under the 1956 Act, a separate tribunal was needed to be set up every time a dispute arises.
Now:
  • Once it becomes law, the amendment will ensure the transfer of all existing water disputes to the single new tribunal.
  • The current system of dispute resolution would give way to a new two-tier approach:
    • Disputes Resolution Committee (DRC):
      • Under the new system, the Centre would set up a DRC once states raise a dispute.
      • The DRC would be headed by a serving or retired secretary-rank officer with experience in the water sector and would have other expert members and a representative of each state government concerned.
      • The DRC would try to resolve the dispute through negotiations within a year (extendable by another 6 months) and submit a report to the Centre.
      • Only if the DRC fails to resolve the dispute will the matter be referred to the tribunal.
  • Bench constituted by the tribunal:
    • If the DRC fails to settle the dispute, it would be referred to the permanent tribunal.
    • The chairperson would then constitute a three-member bench that would consider the DRC report before investigating on its own.
    • It would have to finalise its decision within two years (extendable by another year).
  •  The decision of the tribunal would carry the weight of an order of the Supreme Court.
 
Time taken to settle the disputes:
Earlier:
  • Under the 1956 Act, nine tribunals have so far been set up. It has taken 17 to 27 years to resolve disputes by these tribunals.
  • Only four of them have given their awards.
  • Though the tribunal was supposed to give its award within three years (extendable by another two years), the tribunals have taken much longer to give their decisions.
    • For example, the dispute over Cauvery waters between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu took 28 years to settle.
    • The Ravi and Beas Waters Tribunal was set up in April 1986 and it is still to give the final award.
    • The minimum a tribunal has taken to settle a dispute is seven years, by the first Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal in 1976.
  • The multiplicity of tribunals has led to an increase in bureaucracy, delays, and possible duplication of work.
Now:
  • The amendment is bringing a time limit for adjudicating the disputes.
  • All disputes would now have to be resolved within a maximum of four-and-a-half years.
About: Inter State Water Dispute Act, 1956
  • The Parliament has enacted Inter-State River Water Disputes (ISRWD) Act, 1956 for adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-State rivers and river valley thereof.
  • Setting up of Tribunal: When any request under the said Act is received from any State Government in respect of any water dispute on the inter-State rivers and the Central Government is of the opinion that the water dispute cannot be settled by negotiations, the Central Government constitutes a Water Disputes Tribunal for the adjudication of the water dispute.
    • Note: The 2019 amendment Bill seeks to modify this to have a single permanent Tribunal with multiple benches constitutes as and when necessary to adjudicate the disputes.
  • Make recommendations to government: The Tribunal so constituted investigates the matters referred to it and forward to the Central Government a report setting out the facts as found by it and giving its decision on the mattes referred to it.
  • Sole body to adjudicate disputes: Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, neither the Supreme Court nor any other Court shall have or exercise jurisdiction in respect of any water dispute which may be referred to a Tribunal under this Act.
  • Final and Binding: The Central Government shall publish the decision of the Tribunal in the Official Gazette and the decision shall be final and binding on the parties to the dispute and shall be given effect to by them.
    • Judicial Review: However, the Supreme Court, while hearing a civil suit in the Cauvery dispute, had said the decision of that tribunal could be challenged before it through a Special Leave Petition under Article 136 of the Constitution.
  • Implementation: The Central Government may establish any authority/body for the implementation of the decision or directions of the Tribunal.
Section : Polity & Governance

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