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Aiming at Further Centralising Its Powers, Centre Plans to Merge Inter-State River Water Dispute Tribunals

July 11, 2019 | By

New Delhi/Chandigarh: In a move which will further centralise powers of the Union government of India in matters related to “inter-state river water disputes”, the Modi government cabinet has given approval to an amendment bill seeking to merge different inter-state river water dispute tribunals into a single entity.

As per reports, presently nine such tribunals exist but the union government is planning to form a single tribunal with different branches.

Image used for representational purpose only

A government press release states that the cabinet has given approval to “Cabinet approves Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019″ with aims at amending the Inter-state River Water Disputes Act, 1956”.

Government Press Release:

A press release issued by Public Information Bureau of the Government of India reads as follows:

The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the Inter-State River Water disputes(Amendment) Bill, 2019 for adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-State rivers and river valley thereof.

It will further streamline the adjudication of inter-State river water disputes. The Bill seeks to amend the Inter State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 with a view to streamline the adjudication of inter-state river water disputes and make the present institutional architecture robust.

Impact:

Constitution of a single tribunal with different benches along with fixation of strict timelines for adjudication will result expeditious resolution of disputes relating to inter-state rivers.The amendments in the Bill will speed up the adjudication of water disputes referred to it.

When any request under the Act is received from any State Government in respect of any water dispute on the inter-State rivers and the Central government is of the opinion that the water dispute cannot be settled by negotiations, the Central Government constitutes a Water Disputes Tribunal for the adjudication of the water dispute.

How It could Affect Punjab’s Interests:

Though the press release clearly states that the cabinet “has approved the Inter-State River Water disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019 for adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-State rivers and river valley thereof, which means that if the dispute is not related to inter-state rivers and river valley thereof then this amendment  will not have any effect; but still its likely to affect the interests of Punjab as, despite the fact that Punjab’s rivers are not inter-state rivers with Rajasthan Delhi and Haryana, the Indian government has allocated their water to these non-riparian states.

As the last paragraph of the press release says that “When any request under the Act is received from any State Government in respect of any water dispute on the inter-State rivers and the Central government is of the opinion that the water dispute cannot be settled by negotiations, the Central Government constitutes a Water Disputes Tribunal for the adjudication of the water dispute“. Therefore, it is likely that the government of India would move the Satluj Yamuna Link canal issue to this tribunal on the request of Haryana government.

Notably, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh had already urged the government of India to form a tribunal on Punjab’s rivers water. It may be recalled that in 2004 the Amarinder Singh led government had passed a law (section 5 of Punjab Termination of Agreements Act) in the state assembly to put legal stamp on extra-legal and constitutionally ultra-vires arrangements made by the Government of India to allocate Punjab’s river water to non-riparian states. Amarinder Singh’s move was backed by the then opposition SAD (B)-BJP combine. Considering all this it seems that Punjab’s established political leadership would collide with union government in this matter which would be detrimental to the interests of the state that is already facing acute water crisis as its ground water levels are depleting at an alarming rate.



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