River Water Dispute Settlements Board

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The Inter-State River Water Disputes are one of the most contiguous issues in the Indian federalism today. In the extreme cases, it may hamper the relationship between the different states. The recent cases of the Cauvery Water Dispute and the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal case are examples.

Water is a State subject as per entry 17 of State List and thus states are empowered to enact legislation on water.  

Entry 17 of State List deals with water i.e. water supply, irrigation, canal, drainage, embankments, water storage and water power.

Entry 56 of Union List gives power to the Union Government for the regulation and development of interstate rivers and river valleys to the extent declared by Parliament to be expedient in the public interest.

Article 262 of Indian constitution: Constituent Assembly anticipated the emergence of water disputes in future. A specific provision of Article 262 is mentioned in the constitution itself due to the sensitivity of such disputes. Parliament has enacted two laws according to Article 262:

The river boards act 1956

The act to provide for the establishment of River Boards for the regulation and development of inter-state rivers and river valleys empowers the Central Government, on a request received in this behalf from a State Government or otherwise, by notification in the Official Gazette, to establish a River Board for advising the Governments interested in relation to such matters concerning the regulation or development of an inter-State river or river valley or any specified part thereof.

The inter-state water disputes act 1956

If it appears to the Government of any State that a water dispute with the Government of another State has arisen or is likely to arise by reason of the fact that the interests of the State, or of any of the inhabitants thereof, in the waters of an inter-State river or river valley have been, or are likely to be, affected prejudicially it can request the Central Government under Section 3 of the Act to refer the water dispute to a Tribunal for adjudication.

Inter-state River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017

(Amendment) Bill, 2017 was introduced in Lok Sabha by the Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Ms. Uma Bharti, on March 14, 2017.  The Bill seeks to amend the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956.

Disputes Resolution Committee:  Under the Act, when a complaint is received from a state government regarding a water dispute, the central government may ask the affected states to undertake negotiations to settle the dispute.  If the dispute cannot be settled through negotiations, the central government has to set up a Water Disputes Tribunal within a year of receiving such a complaint.

The Bill replaces this provision and requires the central government to set up a Disputes Resolution Committee (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.

Tribunal:  The Bill proposes to set up an Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal, for adjudication of water disputes, if a dispute is not resolved through the DRC.  This tribunal can have multiple benches.

  • All existing tribunals will be dissolved and the water disputes pending adjudication before such existing tribunals will be transferred to this newly formed tribunal.
  • Under the Act, any water disputes tribunal has to give its decision on a dispute within a period of three years.  This period is extendable by a maximum of two years.  Under the Bill, the proposed tribunal has to give its decision on a dispute within a period of two years.  This period is extendable by a maximum of one year.
  • Under the Act, if the matter is again referred to the tribunal by a state for further consideration, the tribunal has to submit its report to the central government within a period of one year.  This period of one year can be extended by the central government for such a period as it may consider necessary.  The Bill amends this to specify that the extension may be up to a maximum of six months.
  • Decision of the Tribunal:  Under the Act, the decision of the tribunal must be published by the central government in the official gazette.  After publication, the decision has the same force as that of an order of the Supreme Court.
  • Under the Bill, the requirement of publication in the official gazette has been removed.  The Bill also adds that the decision of the bench 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:  Under the Act, the central government maintains a data bank and information system at the national level for each river basin.  Under the Bill, the central government will appoint or authorise an agency to maintain a data bank and information system at the national level for each river basin.
  • 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.

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