A Bill to help adjudicate disputes related to water sharing and rivers was tabled and passed in Lok Sabha on Thursday amid protests from the Opposition.
The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which seeks to amend the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956, proposes setting up of a Central tribunal.
As part of this, the existing nine tribunals looking at water disputes — including those of the Cauvery, Mahadayi, Ravi, Beas, Vansadhara and Krishna — will be dissolved soon as it becomes law.
Opposition parties, led by Congress floor leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, maintained that they do not have any particular objection to the content itself but said that the Bill should have been tabled after consultation with the states.
Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said states had already been consulted in 2013 for a similar Bill, which was introduced in 2017. That Bill lapsed with the end of the 16th Lok Sabha.
Shekhawat told the House: “There are nine tribunals. Four tribunals took 10-28 years to deliver their awards. There is no time-frame to adjudicate disputes, and tribunals are extended indefinitely.”
While BJP member Nishikant Dubey called it a “necessary Bill’’, Congress’s Chowdhury, BJD’s B Mahtab and DMK member T R Baalu opposed it. None of the objections raised was against the Bill’s content, with all three MPs questioning the Central government’s apparent haste in “bulldozing’’ Bills, especially considering water is a state subject.
Under the present system, two laws deal with water-related disputes: the River Boards Act, which deals with projects in relation to river basins in particular, and Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956, which addresses issues of water disputes between states. Each time a dispute arises between states in relation to water-sharing, or in any other issues related to rivers that run through both states, a complaint is made to the Centre and a tribunal is set up to look in to the matter.
But setting up a tribunal, and awarding of the case, can take anything between six and 20 years, the government said. The new Bill proposes to reduce the time it takes to constitute a tribunal by forming a permanent agency, comprising benches that will be permitted to hear more than one dispute.
“The total time period for adjudication of a water dispute by the Tribunal has been fixed at a maximum of four-and-a-half years,” the Bill states. “The decision of the Bench of the Tribunal shall be final and binding on the states…with no requirement of the publication in the Official Gazette.”