Water dispute means any dispute or difference between two or more State Governments with respect
Use, distribution or control of the waters of, or in, any inter-State river or river valley
The interpretation of the terms of any agreement relating to the use, distribution or control of such
waters or implementation of such agreement.
Levy of any additional fee with respect to use of water by other State or their inhabitants.
Complaints by a State about water dispute
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, then the State Government may request the Central Government
to refer the water dispute to a Tribunal for adjudication.
When a request with respect to water dispute is made by any State government, then the Central
Government (if it is of the opinion that water dispute cannot be settled by negotiations) shall within
one year from the date of receipt of such request by notification in the Official Gazette, constitute a
Water Disputes Tribunal for the adjudication of the water dispute. So, centre under this Act has the discretion to constitute water tribunal and this at times is based on political considerations of parties enjoying power at the centre and state. This also results in delay to
solve the dispute.

Composition of Water Disputes Tribunal

The Water Disputes Tribunal shall consist of a Chairman and two other members nominated in this
behalf by the Chief Justice of India from among persons who at the time of such nomination are
Judges of the Supreme Court or of a High Court.
Bar of jurisdiction for Supreme Court .Neither the Supreme Court nor any other Court shall have or exercise jurisdiction in respect of any
water dispute which may be referred to a Tribunal under The Inter-State River Water Disputes Act,
1956.  It means that once a matter is referred to the Tribunal, no state can proceed to either the Supreme
Court or any other Court during the course of proceeding at the Tribunal.

Under the current legislation, each time a problem or a dispute with respect to sharing of water or any kind of issue with respect to river between two states arises, it translates into complaint for constitution of a tribunal. The time taken to constitute tribunals has been, in some cases, 6 years, 7 years, 10 years and up to 20 years.Also, there is a practice that once a dispute is resolved by the tribunal, it has to be notified by the government as part of the official gazette and then it attains the status of decree or an award by the Supreme Court. Therefore, one does not have access to the Supreme Court over and above that. But still there have been matters going to the Supreme Court citing violation of fundamental rights under Article 31 and Article 32.

The inter-state water disputes have become one of the biggest challenges to the Indian Federalism. There has been so much infighting between the states and the tempers/ emotions run so high that it actually spillovers from the borders of the states. The Cauvery Water Dispute is an example.There has been increasing politicization of the issue.

There are arrangements regarding the implementation, in case of Narmada, there is a Narmada Control Authority and in the case of the Cauvery river, there is a Cauvery Water Management Authority. The framework is there but the implementation certainly depends upon the cooperation of the states.The states have come together voluntarily and got into agreements. So far, India had nine water disputes, but there are a huge number of water cooperation agreements that are in place. The Central Water Commission has compiled more than 1 60 agreements between the states. There are certain factors that motivate the states to think about working together. The problem is that one does not know what precisely motivates states.

The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019

The Bill tries to reduce the time it takes to constitute a tribunal i.e. it creates a permanent infrastructure. Also, like most commercial disputes, a pre-litigation dispute resolution process, which is attempted for a period of 18 months with the central government playing the role of arbitrator is present. And if the issue is not resolved within that period, it gets referred to the tribunal as a dispute. The delay in the adjudication process is because of the appointment of the members i.e. judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court and the assessors. The Bill seeks to constitute a permanent tribunal, so there will be benches and one bench would be able to look at more than one issue/dispute. Hence, the process will be expedited. In the proposed Bill, some timelines have also been fixed.

The Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) will take one year extendable by six months to one and a half years. The main report will be prepared in two months, that means the entire deliberations and argumentation and all those will take two years extendable by one year, so a total of three years. And the clarification that is required has to be decided within one year extendable by six months.

Way Forward

The cooperation is the most important thing. First, the states should try to avoid the conflict. The Centre can play a role here in establishing a mechanism, so that disputes are taken care of at the first instance itself.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.The Jal Shakti Ministry is ready with the River Basin Management Bill. There is a proposal to replace the River Board Act with it.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.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. There needs to be a political leadership as well as some kind of fear should be there. In the past, the contempt proceedings have been initiated against the chief secretary of the state but nothing really happens. The formation of the River Basin Organization which has been proposed, definitely takes into account the political participation because these are supposed to be headed by the chief ministers of the concerned states by rotation and members will be from the Jal Shakti ministry and from the concerned states. There needs to be a water policy tied with the farming policy that provide solutions to the following questions


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