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Bill for permanent water tribunal moved in Lok Sabha

IANS | New Delhi |

A bill to set up a single, permanent tribunal to adjudicate all inter-state river water disputes was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, amid opposition from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017, was introduced by Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti, who called it a "revolutionary step" towards the resolution of inter-state river water disputes.

Giving details of the Bill, the minister said the Bill proposes a single Standing Tribunal (with multiple benches) instead of existing multiple tribunals, which shall consist of one Chairperson, one Vice Chairperson and not more than six members.

The maximum time window for adjudication of disputes has been fixed at four-and-half years. The decision of the tribunal shall be final and binding with no requirement of publication in the official Gazette. 

While the term of office of the Chairperson is five years or till he attains the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier, the term of office of Vice Chairperson and other members of the tribunal shall be co-terminus with the adjudication of the water dispute.

The Bill also provides for the appointment of assessors to provide technical support to the tribunal. They shall be appointed from among experts serving in the Central Water Engineering Service not below the rank of Chief Engineer. 

The Bill also proposes to introduce mechanism to resolve the dispute amicably by negotiations, through a Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) to be established by the central government consisting of relevant experts, before such dispute is referred to the tribunal.

Inter-state river water disputes are on the rise due to an increase in water demands by different states. 

Under the Water Dispute Act, 1956, separate tribunals are established for every inter-state river water dispute. Only three of eight awards given by these tribunals have been accepted by the states, while tribunals on the Cauvery and Ravi-Beas have been in existence for over 26 and 30 years respectively without any award. 

The new Bill seeks to streamline the adjudication of disputes and make the present legal and institutional architecture effective. 

BJD leader Bhartruhari Mahtab objected to the Bill's introduction, saying water is a state issue. The objection was, however, overruled by the Speaker and the Bill was moved in the house.