NEW DELHI/CHENNAI: In a major development, the Centre has decided to accelerate solutions to inter-state river water disputes by setting up a single, permanent tribunal to hear all such cases. Besides the tribunal, the government has also proposed to float some benches by amending the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956 to look into disputes as and when required. Unlike the Tribunal, the benches will cease to exist once the disputes are resolved.
“There will be only one permanent Tribunal with retired Supreme Court judge as its chairperson. There will be benches formed as and when required. The benches though will be wound up once a dispute is resolved,” Water Resources Ministry secretary Shashi Shekhar said. The Cabinet has already cleared it and the Bill will be introduced in next Parliament session.
Water management experts and activists in Tamil Nadu have slammed the move as they feel the Centre has scuttled the efforts of the Supreme Court to form the Cauvery Management Board as mandated by the Cauvery River Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT).
According to A Veerappan, retired Special Chief Engineer, TN PWD, “The Centre’s efforts to set up a single, permanent tribunal to adjudicate inter-state water disputes will undermine the principles of federalism and will make things more complicated instead of resolving them.”
Meanwhile, Mannargudi S Ranganathan, one of the original petitioners in the Cauvery dispute says, “centralised tribunal would not yield the desired results and would only further delay the implementation of final awards of existing tribunals.”
Water management experts say this could cause long legal battles. “It would result in an enormous legal battle,” says Dr S Janakarajan, attached to the Madras Institute of Development Studies.
“When even the independent tribunals could not deliver in time, how can you expect a single tribunal to deliver in three years? All awards, even if delivered in time, would land up in the Supreme Court. Most important, it is unjustifiable to include all existing disputes in the new scheme,” he said.
(With inputs from T Muruganantham, R Sivakumar, S Deepak Karthik and Nirupama Viswanathan)