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Water Disputes and a Permanent Tribunal
The Union Cabinet has proposed to create a permanent tribunal that will subsume existing tribunals to adjudicate river water disputes between States. This will be a vast improvement over the present system of setting up ad hoc tribunals. This move is expected to provide for speedier adjudication. It remains to be seen whether the problem of protracted proceedings is resolved. The number of ongoing inter-State disputes and other disputes that may arise in future may make it difficult for a single institution to give its ruling within three years. Also, the decisions, interlocutory orders as well as final award, by this tribunal are likely to be challenged in the Supreme Court. This month the Supreme Court has given a verdict that under Article 136 of the Constitution, it had unregulated power to hear an appeal from a river water dispute tribunal. The proposed changes also include setting up an expert agency to collect data on irrigation, rainfall and surface water flows, which is a positive move given the tendency of states to fiercely question the data provided by the other side. The humanitarian dimensions also need to be handled with care and not lost in chaos of regional politics.

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