New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed a bill that proposes to set up an Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal to resolve water disputes in a time-bound manner with Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat saying that there was a need to focus on water management due to declining per capita availability of water in the country.
The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed by a voice vote after the amendments of the opposition parties were negatived.
The debate saw several members raising their state-specific issues and apprehensions with Speaker Om Birla at one point stating that it is not "assembly of Karnataka or Tamil Nadu".
Shekhawat said that the bill provides an effective way to deal with water disputes in a time-bound and effective manner.
He said the BJP-led government will also bring a river basin management bill.
Shekhawat urged the members and states to rise above local considerations and said there was a need to move ahead, thinking of water requirements of the country in 2050.
He said that India has 18 per cent of the world's population and 18 per cent of dairy animals but only four per cent of replenishable water and it was a matter of concern.
The minister said the government was alive to the concerns about the availability of water and there was a need to meet the challenges on both supply-side and demand side.
He said that the impact of climate change is likely to exacerbate problems concerning water.
Responding to a concern raised by Congress member Manish Tewari, he said that if the award is not published, it will not make a difference.
"The award without publication is equal to Supreme Court decree," he said.
Referring to concerns about the sanctity of data, Shekhawat said the data will be based on figures from institutions such as the Central Water Commission.
He said a water informatics centre has been created by the ministry and urged states to share the data.
Shekhawat said that the per capita water availability has reduced to a third of that in 1951.
Earlier, moving the bill for passage in the House, Shekhawat said that 99 per cent of the area of 24 identified basins was inter-state and there were water disputes between states during the British rule as well.
The minister said the Bill provides for the creation of dispute resolution committees to provide an institutional mechanism for states to resolve their disputes before these go to the tribunal.
The committee will be required to give its award in one year with a six-month extension if required. Referring to nine tribunals set up to resolve inter-state water disputes, he said four have given their awards and the time taken has varied from seven to 28 years.
He said the final award of Ravi Beas Tribunal had not come even after over three decades. The minister said the work on amendments to the bill started in 2013 and the bill was tabled in Parliament in 2017 after which it was referred to the standing committee.
"The present bill incorporates suggestions of the standing committee," he said.
Shekhawat said while there were disputes between states, there were also 107 documented agreements, which had been implemented in good spirit.
The Bill seeks to streamline the adjudication of inter-state river water disputes and make the present institutional architecture robust.
It provides for dissolution of existing tribunals and the water disputes pending adjudication before these existing tribunals will be transferred to the new tribunal.
The single tribunal can have different benches and the decision on a dispute will be required to be made in two years. Parties such as BJD and RSP supported the bill.