A stronger river referee:

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.


  1. 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.
  1. 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.
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