A stronger river referee: (Indian Express, Editorial) Inter-State River Water Disputes gets a new Bill Context:
- The government introduced the long-awaited Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill 2017.
- The Interstate Water Disputes Act 1956, has been amended about half a dozen times.
- The amendments have stuck to a template, which relies exclusively on tribunals for expeditious resolution of river disputes.
- Disputes have recurred, there have been long delays in adjudication and states have not complied with verdicts of the court.
- But the current bill has provisions solve the disputes.
- The bill proposes a permanent Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal (ISRWDT).
- In the current arrangement, tribunals are formed when a river water dispute arises which are dispute-specific.
- The ISRWDT will be an eight-member body comprising serving Supreme Court and high court judges.
- It will have a chairperson and a vice-chairperson.
- The members will retire when they are 70 — there was no such limit earlier.
- Each dispute will be referred to a three-member bench and resolution will be time bound.
- At least on paper, the entire process is restricted to five-and-half years, taking into account all extensions.
- There is almost no limit on extensions in the current arrangement.
- The bill provides for a DRC (Disputes Resolution Committee) to enable ex-ante negotiated settlements, in place of earlier mediation by the Centre.
- The benefits of the bill depends on the mechanism’s efficiency.
- But the government is ill-equipped to offer competent and resilient mechanisms.
- The bill doesn’t fully recognize the need to plug holes in the larger ecosystem of interstate river water sharing, development and governance.
- In any case, the challenge is not about gathering data and information, but more about states agreeing over a particular piece of data.
- The challenge is also about tapping the data to produce knowledge that can be used for decision-making.
- The bill no doubt holds promise for tightening and improving adjudication.