The government has decided to set up a tribunal to resolve issues relating to the sharing of the Mahanadi river water between Odisha and Chhattisgarh, a senior water resources ministry official said. Odisha has been demanding formation of a tribunal for a long time. It has argued that Chhattisgarh has been constructing dams and weirs (small dams) upstream, affecting the flow of the Mahanadi river considered as the “lifeline” on its territory. “It has been decided to set up a tribunal to resolve issues relating to Mahanadi between the two states under the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956,” the official said requesting anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media. He said a draft cabinet note in this connection has been prepared. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had taken up the issue of construction of barrages upstream by Chhattisgarh at a trilateral meeting convened by Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti on September 17, 2016.
He had complained the construction would affect drinking water supply and irrigation facilities in his state. The meeting, also attended by Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, however, had failed to achieve any solution. Odisha, again, approached the Centre on November 19 last year, demanding a tribunal be formed to adjudicate the matter. The BJD-ruled state had also asked the central government to direct Chhattisgarh to stop work on its reported plans of constructing 13 barrages across the river. It had also alleged the Chhattisgarh government planned utilising 27.48 million acre feet (MAF) of water from the river. This, it said, was “far in excess” of the equitable share of Chhattisgarh (8.3 MAF) in the waters of Mahanadi. Odisha has maintained that Chhattisgarh has planned six barrages allegedly without consulting it for utilisation of 0.84 MAF water, which, according to it, cannot be sustained in law or equity.
The Odisha government had also demanded Chhattisgarh stop construction of seven weirs (small dams) on the river. The official said the Centre had suggested the Odisha government that instead of setting up a tribunal, a joint committee should be formed to resolve the issue. Accordingly, a negotiation committee was formed comprising officials from the two basin states, the Central Water Commission, the National Hydrology Institute and the India Meteorological Department, he added. The committee held two meetings, one in March and the other in May this year. However, representatives from Odisha did not take part in any of the meetings, he said. “It was amply clear to the water resources ministry that the issue could not be resolved through talks. Hence, the formation of a tribunal has been recommended,” the official added.Under the Inter State Water Dispute Act, 1956, which provides legal framework to address such issues, a tribunal can be formed after a state government approaches the Union government with such a request and the Centre is convinced of the need to form the tribunal.
Only three out of the eight existing tribunals have given awards accepted by the states concerned. Tribunals like those on the Cauvery and Ravi-Beas rivers have been in existence for over 25 years without any award. Delays are on account of no time-limit for adjudication by a tribunal, no upper age limit for the chairman or the members, work getting stalled due to occurrence of any vacancy and no time-limit for publishing the report of the tribunal. Keeping this in mind, the Centre had in December last year decided to set up a single, permanent tribunal to adjudicate all inter-state river water disputes subsuming existing tribunals, a step which is aimed at resolving grievances of states in a speedy manner. A bill in this connection was also introduced in the Lok Sabha on March 13 this year.