Bill for single water dispute tribunal introduced, powers to Centre for amicable settlement

VISHANT VAZE, BICHOLIM | 15 March 2017 22:08 IST

The Mhadei water sharing dispute, which has reached near completion, is caught into rough weather as the central government today introduced a bill for a single tribunal for all the inter-state water disputes.

One important clause in the tribunal proposes to introduce a mechanism to resolve grievances “amicably” through a dispute resolution committee to be established by the Centre.

Water Resources Minister Uma Bharati introduced the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill 2017 in the Lok Sabha today.

After Lok Sabha passes it, it would require an easy passage through the upper house of Rajya Sabha, only after which it would be assented to by the President of India.

The bill proposes to subsume the existing tribunals, including the Mhadei water dispute tribunal, which is hearing a case between Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

Bhartruhari Mahtap of the BJD opposed the bill at the introduction stage, arguing that water is a state subject and the Centre was “overstepping” Constitutional limits by introducing the Bill.

Bharati rejected the argument, saying the Bill was necessary in times when states were increasingly refusing to honour the awards of multiple existing tribunals, mentioning the dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the Cauvery waters.

“This is a revolutionary step. It’s a well-planned Bill,” she said.

Mhadei flows from Karnataka and joins the Arabian Sea in Panaji as river Mandovi.

     

Though the existing Mhadei tribunal had upheld the arguments of Goa against Karnataka on several occasions, it had also once proposed to resolve the issue amicably.

The bill presented now gives power to the centre to legally set up a committee to resolve the issue amicably, as per the reports published by the national media.

Goa is on a sticky wicket at political level as it has only 2 MPs in the Lok Sabha against 28 seats of Karnataka, which any central government favours.

While the attempt of out-of-court amicable settlement had failed due to Goa’s firm stand not to allow diverting a single drop of water to Karnataka, the next hearing of the tribunal is scheduled on 21st March.

Reacting to the introduction of the bill, Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar said he would not allow Karnataka to divert the Mhadei, which is Goa’s lifeline.

The bill proposes multiple benches of the central tribunal, headed by a chairperson with a five-year term.

The time period to adjudicate a dispute would be a maximum of four-and-a-half years and its decision would be binding on the states.

In a statement later, the Union Water Resources Ministry cited delay in adjudication by tribunals set up earlier as one of the main drawbacks. “The decision of the tribunal shall be final and binding with no requirement of publication in the official Gazette,” it said.

The Bill also provides for appointment of assessors to provide technical support to the tribunal.

It is also not clear that the one single tribunal would divert the ongoing disputes at different tribunals or it would be heard afresh.

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