Inter-State Water Dispute
Context: Andhra Pradesh has complained to the Krishna River Management Board (KRMB) about the drawing of water from the Srisailam project by Telangana for power generation.
The problem of water crisis in India is more about water mismanagement. Examine the proposed Inter-State River Water Disputes Amendment Bill, 2019 in this context.
Salient Features of Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill
● Disputes Resolution Committee (DRC): The bill requires the central government to set up a DRC for resolving any inter-state water dispute amicably. The DRC will get a period of one year, extendable by six months, to submit its report to the central government.
● Permanent Tribunal: The Bill envisages to constitute a standalone Tribunal with permanent establishment and permanent office space and infrastructure.
● Composition of the Tribunal: The tribunal shall consist of a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, and not more than six nominated members (judges of the Supreme Court or of a High Court), nominated by the CJI.
● Time allotted to Tribunal to take its decision: Under the Bill, the proposed tribunal has to give its decision on a dispute within a period of two years extendable by a maximum of one year.
● Decision of the Tribunal: The decision of the tribunal will be final and binding on the parties involved in the dispute. This decision will have the same force as that of an order of the Supreme Court.
● Maintenance of data bank and information: The Bill also calls for the transparent data collection system at the national level for each river basin and a single agency to maintain data bank and information system.
● Additional rule -making powers: The Bill gives the central government powers to make rules in which water will be distributed during stress situations arising from shortage in the availability of water.
Significance of the Bill
▪ Reduce the delay in resolving disputes:-A permanent tribunal mechanism will reduce the delays in resolving interstate river disputes. It will also save costs compared to long-running individual tribunals.
▪ It provides an opportunity to build knowledge on new and evolving approaches for resolving interstate river water disputes in India. It will increase the potential for transboundary river water governance in South Asia as well.
▪ The role of DRC has been elevated from a superficial techno-legal body to an agency with a proactive role.
▪ The DRC aims for politically negotiated settlements for river water disputes which are deeply political at their core and to avoid legal adjudication.
Key Issues and Analysis of the Bill
1. Issues with DRC
● There are concerns of it being adequately empowered
● There is also lack of clarity whether the DRC function as part of the Permanent Tribunal or will it work separately.
● The Cauvery Supervisory Committee (CSC) which had a similar composition as that of DRC did not have much success
2. Conflict with Judiciary
● The Supreme Court in its various judgements had said that it has jurisdiction over interstate river water disputes while the Bill excludes the judiciary from the same.
3. Selection of Tribunal Judges: The selection of judges can lead to states politicising not just the disputes, but their adjudication by the tribunal. This creates a situation where the dispute could escalate to the Supreme Court.
▪ To set up a single, permanent tribunal to adjudicate on inter-state river water disputes is a major step towards streamlining the dispute redressal mechanism.
▪ The planning of projects and planning of water resources should be based on basin level and for that river basin organizations (RBOs) are need of the hour.
o The Jal Shakti Ministry is ready with the River Basin Management Bill. There is a proposal to replace the River Board Act with it.
o The Bill envisages to bring all the party states of a basin at one table and that would be headed by the Chief Minister of one of the states on a rotational basis.
o The RBOs will be having a technical secretariat with all the engineering and other environment experts in it. The central water service engineering officers will be playing an important role. This will help in avoiding the conflicts.
▪ Centre’s proposal to set up an agency alongside the tribunal, to collect and process data on river waters, is a step which will enable fast and easy access to data.
▪ To strengthen the cooperative federalism, parochial mindset making regional issues superior to national issues should not be allowed.
▪ Dialogues and talks must be the dispute resolving mechanisms and political opportunism must be avoided.
▪ A robust and transparent institutional framework with cooperative approach is the need of the hour.