Lok Sabha Passes Inter-State River Water Disputes Amendment Bill
Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said the existing tribunals constituted for resolution of river water disputes among states have failed to resolve the issues.
Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.
New Delhi: A bill seeking to expedite and streamline resolution of inter-state water disputes was approved by Lok Sabha on Wednesday. A key feature of the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is the constitution of a single tribunal with different benches, and the setting up of strict timelines for adjudication.
The Lower House approved the bill, which seeks to amend the Inter State River Water Disputes Act, 1956, by a voice vote.
Piloting the bill, Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said the existing tribunals constituted for resolution of river water disputes among states have failed to resolve the issues and a change in approach was needed.
The minister said there have been instances when a tribunal could not resolve a dispute between states for 33 years.
While underlining the need for strict and timely implementation of the awards of tribunal, the Minister observed "we have to focus on management of water as neither court nor tribunal can create water".
On concerns expressed by members regarding reliability of data, the Minister said that government will make all data on water public with a view to make everything transparent.
The debate also witnessed acrimony and heated exchange of words between some members from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over the Cauvery water dispute.
The acrimony prompted Speaker Om Birla to intervene. In a bid to calm down the members, he observed: "This is not assembly of Karnataka or Tamil Nadu."
During the debate, opposition parties like the Congress and Trinamool Congress alleged that the proposed legislation has no provision for consultation with states and was an assault on the federal structure.
In his reply, Shekhawat said the bill aims to address longstanding water disputes permanently and urged all parties to back it.
He said all states were consulted way back in 2013 and then the draft bill was sent to a standing committee. Its recommendations were taken on board before the bill was finalised, he added. The earlier bill lapsed when the term of the 16th Lok Sabha ended.
Agreeing with the concerns expressed by many members over the issue of water availability, he said India has 18 per cent of the world's population but only four per cent replenishable water. The water issue can become a matter of concern like climate change, he said.
Under the proposed law, a retired Supreme Court judge will head the tribunal. There will be benches formed as and when required. The benches though will be wound up once a dispute is resolved.
The tribunal will be mandated to deliver final award in two years and it is proposed that whenever it gives order, the verdict gets notified automatically.
As per the current provisions of the 1956 Act, a tribunal can be formed after a state government approaches the Union government with such a request and the Centre is convinced of the need to form the tribunal.
At present, there are nine tribunals including those on Cauvery, Mahadayi, Ravi and Beas, Vansadhara and Krishna rivers.
Opposing the bill, Congress member Manish Tewari said the proposed legislation has no provision for consultation with states which is an "assault on the Constitution". Tewari said the bill is "completely and absolutely flawed", noting matters pertaining to water are complex and it takes time for resolution of such disputes.
The Congress MP said the selection panel to be set up for choosing tribunal members would have no provision for inclusion of either leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha or leader of the single largest party in Lok Sabha. He also said the bill also provides for membership of a retired judge and domain experts instead of the current provision of only sitting judge and it "defeats the entire purpose" of the proposed legislation.
BJP member Satyapal Singh said there should be no apprehensions in anyone's mind that the central government wants to hurt the federal structure of the country and asserted that the bill is the need of the hour.
The provision for making domain expert as members is a significant decision in the right direction, he said. Singh said that timely resolution of river water disputes will bring development in the country.
DMK Dayanidhi Maran said that setting up a tribunal will not resolve the disputes unless the awards are binding on states. He alleged that Karnataka has not abided by awards of the Cauvery river water tribunal and the state is in "direct contempt of court". "We disbelieve the tribunals. Tamil Nadu has been a sufferer for long. All (central) governments have been playing vote bank politics," he said. Maran also said that without nationalisation of rivers, the water disputes would not be resolved.
Trinamool Congress member Kalyan Banerjee claimed that there have been no consultations with states by the present government whenever it takes up an issue of concurrent list of the Constitution. Banerjee suggested that judicial members of the tribunals should have weightage.
Speaking on the bill, BJP MP Varun Gandhi said water should not be looked from a territorial perspective rather it should be looked as a national resource and this approach can resolve many disputes.
Varun suggested that on lines of GST council, an inter- state water council could be constituted which will look into all the water-related disputes between different states in the country.
Earlier speaking on the same bill, YSR Congress party MP Midhun Reddy expressed concern about water scarcity in the country. He said girls are not willing to marry boys in his constituency due to water hortage.
N K Premachandran (RSP) said the bill talks about judicial adjudication but the process will not help and emphasised on political resolution of inter-state water disputes.
He said Kerala has signed five inter-state agreements and it has provided water to all its neighbouring states.
Premachandran said in his capacity as the Minister for Water Resources of Kerala, he had tried to talk to DMK leader M Karunanidhi to address the disputes between the states.
However, the two states could not reach an agreement. DMK MPs protested over his remarks, resulting in argument between the members of the two opposition parties.
Hanuman Beniwal (Rashtriya Loktantrik Party) complained about polluted water being released by industries in Punjab in the canals and alleged it was resulting in cancer cases in his state.
He also demanded that water "be nationalised". Water is a state subject. Ram Mohan Naidu (TDP) said the water sector lacks comprehensive and scientific data
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