Cabinet approves tribunal to settle Mahanadi water dispute

Chattisgarh and Odisha are in dispute over water sharing.

February 20, 2018 02:25 pm | Updated February 21, 2018 12:55 am IST - New Delhi

The Union Cabinet on Tuesday approved the setting up of a tribunal to settle a row between Odisha and Chhattisgarh on sharing the waters of the river Mahanadi.

This is in keeping with a Supreme Court order last month directing the Centre to set up a tribunal in response to a plea by the Odisha government to stop the Chhattisgarh government from constructing several weirs on the river.

The order on constituting a new tribunal comes even as the government plans to introduce a new bill that would have a single tribunal to replace all existing water tribunals. The driving motive for such a tribunal was, according to senior official in the Water Ministry, that tribunals had a decades-long history of being “extremely inefficient” at settling disputes quickly and fairly. The bill, called the Inter-State River Disputes (Amendment) Bill, was introduced in the Lok Sabha by former Water Resources Minister, Uma Bharti, last March but is yet to be debated. “It is expected to be placed in Parliament after it reconvenes after the recess of the Budget session,” an official said.

Were such a Bill to become law, it could affect the composition of the members of various tribunals. Currently, all tribunals are staffed by members of the judiciary, nominated by the Chief Justice.

The proposed Bill has provisions for members, even a Chairperson, outside the judiciary. “It is possible that a newly-constituted tribunal, such as for Mahanadi, will have to be re-formulated were the new law to come into effect,” said another Water Ministry official.

The tribunal is expected to determine water sharing among basin States on the basis of the overall availability of water in the complete Mahanadi basin, the contribution of each State, the present utilisation of water resource in each State and the potential for future development, official sources said.

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