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Evaluation of proposed permanent tribunal for inter-state water disputes (Relevant for GS Prelims and Mains Paper II)

Union proposal for establishing permanent tribunal for inter-state water disputes:
The Union Cabinet’s proposal to have a permanent tribunal that will subsume existing tribunals is expected to provide for speedier adjudication. But whether this will resolve the problem of protracted proceedings is doubtful.

Reasons for doubt over proposed Permanent Tribunal:
1. Given the number of ongoing inter-State disputes and those likely to arise in future, it may be difficult for a single institution with a former Supreme Court judge as its chairperson to give its ruling within three years.
2. Its interlocutory orders as well as final award are likely to be challenged in the Supreme Court.

SC judgement on Inter-State Water Dispute Act baring court interference:
This month, in a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court said it had unfettered power to hear an appeal arising from a river water dispute tribunal under Article 136 of the Constitution. It has interpreted the ouster clause in the Inter-State Water Disputes Act as one that merely bars the court from entertaining an original complaint or suit on its own, but not its power to hear appeals against a tribunal’s decisions.

Thus, finality and enforcement of a tribunal’s award may remain elusive.

Provision of Dispute Resolution Committee:
Dispute Resolution Committee will be an expert body that will seek to resolve inter-State differences before a tribunal is approached and thus may prevent  needless litigation.

Positive features in proposed changes:
1. A positive feature of the proposed changes is that there will be an expert agency to collect data on rainfall, irrigation and surface water flows. This acquires importance because party-States have a tendency to fiercely question data provided by the other side. 
2. A permanent tribunal having reliable data in its hands sounds like an ideal mechanism to apportion water.

Future of body inter-state water dispute resolution mechanism depends on State governments political will:
Having an institutional mechanism is one thing, but infusing a sense of responsibility in those helming State governments is quite another.

Adjudication, by whatever mechanism, should not be at the mercy of partisan leaders who turn claims into dangerously emotive issues. Institutional mechanisms should be backed by the political will to make them work.



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