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Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017: A Solution to Indian Water Disputes

India, a country having 18% world’s population, 2.4% of the land and only 4% of renewable water resources. With the increasing population day by day it will increase the water conflict that is and will be a prominent problem in India. In order to overcome this problem we have to manage our water resources efficiently and equitably, so that everyone will get his share.

On 14 March, 2017, Uma Bharti, Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation introduced the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017 in Lok Sabha which she called a revolutionary step in the resolution of the water disputes in India. The reason behind the introduction of this amendment was to remove the debility to solve the water disputes efficiently and in a short span of time in the past.

Water disputes had been a prominent concern for the Indian government since Independence. Before moving to the infamous water disputes, we should know the basic provisions given in the Indian Constitution and others act that were passed later on to help resolve these disputes. Water being a subject matter that cannot be governed by only the State or the Union, that’s why water is included in both union and the state list.

I) Entry 56 of the Union list – It gives Union the power to deal with regulation and development of the Inter- state rivers and river valleys only to the extent it is under control of the Union or is made by Parliament in public interest.

II) Entry 17 of the state list – It gives States the power to make laws on water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power.
But all the power under the Entry 17 is subject to the Entry 56, means it cannot override the powers conferred to Centre under the Entry 56. Also Article 262 of the Indian Constitution deals with disputes and restricts the jurisdiction of the court in that respect. Basically it is divided into two parts:

(I) Parliament may by law be able to provide for the adjudication of the water disputes, use of water, distribution or control of water or in any inter-state water dispute.
(II) Herein the parliament may by law be able to restrict the power of the Supreme Court or any other court to exercise jurisdiction in any of these matters related to Inter-state water dispute.

In the pretext of Article 262, Parliament has enacted two acts which govern the issue of Inter-State water disputes, which are discussed below

(I) Inter-State Water Dispute Act, 1956 – This act provides with the only effective mechanism through which river disputes can be resolved. This act empowered the Centre to help resolve the issue whenever a State approaches the Centre. And if the dispute is not resolved through that discussion then it will constitute a tribunal that will be constituted by the Chief Justice of India and comprised of the sitting judges of the Supreme Court and the other two judges from any other High Court. Also the Supreme Court cannot question the award given by the tribunal, but it can question the working of the tribunal.

(II) River Board Act, 1956 – This act empowered the Union government to constitute River boards for the river disputes and the river valleys in consultation with that particular state. But no such river board is constituted till now.

Drawbacks of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956
The main drawback of this act is the time lag in resolving the dispute. As for example in case of Cauvery Water Dispute, Tamil Nadu requested Centre regarding constitution of the tribunal in the year 1970 but the tribunal was constituted in the year 1990 only after the intervention by Supreme Court. Similarly in the case of Godavari water dispute, the tribunal was constituted in the year 1968 while the request for it was made in the year 1960. Also one another problem is that till the time the award or the judgment is not published in the Gazette of India, it is not enforceable and can be challenged before the Supreme Court or any other court.

Inter-State Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017: How it will resolve the existing problems of Water dispute

Dispute Resolution Committee
Previously under the act the states have to approach the Centre for resolution of the issue and then the Centre would constitute a tribunal which would hear the matter and decides the award. But now under this bill whenever the States will approach the Centre, then the matter would be referred to the Dispute Resolution Committee which would try to settle it with both states, basically you can say that the Centre would play the role of arbitrator here. The members of the DRC will be from the relevant fields of the concerned matter.

As per the provision of the bill, there will be only one tribunal that will listen to all the Water Disputes, those which are referred from the Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC). All the pending disputes in the present different tribunals will be referred to this single tribunal for adjudication of the matter.

The tribunal would comprise of a Chairperson, Vice-chairperson and six nominated judges of either Supreme Court or any High Court (nominated by the Chief Justice of India). The Central government may also appoint two experts not below the rank of Chief Engineer serving in the Central Water Engineer Service to advise the bench whenever necessary.

Also there is change in the time allotted to the tribunal to decide the matter. Previously three years time was allotted to the tribunal, extendable by two years, but as per the bill it will be reduced to only two years extendable by one year. Another change in the same is that whenever the matter is again put before the tribunal it had to submit a report regarding it to the centre with one year but this bill will reduce the time to only six months.

As per the provisions of the act the award or the judgement will only be enforceable once it is published in the Gazette of India, but as per the provisions of the bill, the judgment and award will be enforceable even though it is not published in the Gazette of India. And the decision of the tribunal would have the force as that of the Supreme Court.

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