July 31, 2019
Kalyan Banerjee speaks on The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019
Chairman Sir, to a certain extent I agree with the Honourable Minister’s speech that not only for years together but for decades together the tribunals were functioning. Sometimes I was astonished as to how long a tribunal can take for adjudicating a dispute.
I know about one such case, involving a judge who retired from Patna in either 1990 or 1991. He was elevated as a judge for only one year. I know that upto 2017 he was a member of a water disputes tribunal. After retirement, from 1992 to 2017, that is, for almost 25 years, he continued as a judge of a water disputes tribunal; and this tribunal was functioning, the members being like the part-time members of any tribunal, doing other jobs, arbitration, etc. When they got the time, they looked into the matters before the tribunal. Therefore, there is no doubt that this is a very good proposal that has been brought by this Bill – to constitute a permanent tribunal, and the constitution of the tribunal has also been given here.
According to the speech of the Honourable Minister, the Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal will constitute of a chairman, vice-chairman, three members from the judiciary and three other experts, therefore a total of eight members. Now since power has been given to the tribunal to assign any matter to the benches, two questions arise: one, how many benches can be created, and two, how many members would constitute a bench.
If three members are there, then at least two judicial members should be there, because expert members’ views cannot supercede the views of the judicial members. That is the law of this country and that should be followed. A view coming from an administrative member without knowledge of the law will not be appreciated, and as you know, Sir, in various judgements, the Supreme Court has said that a judicial member’s view needs to be given due weightage. Therefore these are two important questions that I have: how many benches will be and how many members would constitute a bench?
I will speak on only two or three points. Clause 4B(2)(b) says, ‘the Chief Justice of India or a Judge of the Supreme Court nominated by him’. I will request you to keep only ‘Chief Justice of India’ and not ‘a Judge of the Supreme Court nominated by him’. I will make this request. Let the Chief Justice remain in the consultation process although this committee consists of the Honourable Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India or a judge nominated by him, the minister-in-charge, other ministers, etc.
But I have a little request. The views of the Chief Justice should be given the primacy since there is no scope to appoint any Member of Parliament, be it the Leader of the Opposition or from the largest party; there is no scope in this Bill. It is also about having deep respect for the judiciary. Ultimately in our country, democracy has been strengthened because of a number of interventions by the Supreme Court. We must accept that.
Sir, the continuation of the proceeding before the tribunals was not only because of fault on the part of the members of the benches. If we say so then we will not be doing justice to the members. It is a fact that even for minor issues, the parties to a dispute would come to the Supreme Court and fight for its intervention, and matters would remain pending before the Supreme Court for years together. Therefore, the Supreme Court too should take initiatives to decide disputes that are going on for decades together, like that between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, quickly and not entertain interventions at every stage. I find that in cases of water disputes, almost every order passed by the tribunal is taken to the Supreme Court by one of the parties, and the process of resolution of the dispute become staled. This is another important factor to consider.
Sir, so far as the benches of the tribunal are concerned, 4E(2) says, ‘The Benches of the Tribunal shall ordinarily sit at New Delhi or at such other places as the Chairperson may decide.’ Incidentally the Honourable Law Minister is also present here. I seek the intervention both of the Honourable Minister and the Honourable Law Minister. Why should the main offices of all tribunals, the main branches, be in Delhi? Why? Every tribunal’s main office is in Delhi. What is the attraction of Delhi? And that’s the reason fees of lawyers in Delhi are tremendously high. I will request the Law Minister, who is also present here, to reduce the burden of the litigants by making more circuit benches and setting up the head offices of different tribunals in different States. Then you will find that the lawyers’ fees would also come down from unreasonable amounts. And because of the Supreme Court, Delhi lawyers are enjoying. They will do their court-related work upto 4 o’clock and then do their arbitration-related work. Nothing of this sort should be allowed. Arbitration should be a full-time job, not a part-time one. I am taking advantage of the presence of the Law Minister. Please look into this.
Clause 4A(5) says that ‘Any water dispute which cannot be settled by negotiations shall be referred by the Central Government, by notification, to the Tribunal for its adjudication within a period of three months from the date of receipt of the report under sub-section (3).’ Almost on all issues of water dispute, matters come to loggerheads and therefore remain unresolved. If it can help in the resolution, I have a humble suggestion: before making a reference appoint at least one neutral arbitrator to settle the dispute, and this appointment can be made by the Central Government. If the matter is still not resolved, the Central Government can refer it to the tribunal.
Dispute redressal committees never settle any dispute. As an example, in matrimonial matters, if you go to a redressal committee, it will ask for money to settle the dispute. This cannot be the approach. The Delhi High Court rules are there in the Constitution. If you to the councils which have been appointed, the first thing they will say to the wife is how much money does she want to settle the dispute. Should this be the approach in a constitutional proceeding? This should not never be the approach. Regarding mediators, only the Lok Adalats are functioning properly, settling disputes regarding the dues with banks.
I invite your attention to West Bengal. During the rainy season, when there is heavy rainfall, the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) releases water without consulting the State Government, because of which the entire Hooghly, Howrah and East Midnapore districts are flooded. People are affected. I think those who are coming from West Bengal, any Member, irrespective of party, know how the DVC releases water.
I will request the Honourable Minister, since I got this opportunity, to also take care of this issue. Everything should be done in consultation with the State Government. After all ours is a quasi-federal set-up. Before releasing water during the rainy season, why should there be no consultation with the State Government? When you are bringing any Bill, any issue in it that needs the cooperation of both the Centre and the State, the wording in the Bill should be in such a way as to ensure that. My experience is this: in the 17th Lok Sabha, and in fact from the last part of the 16th Lok Sabha, for any subject in the Concurrent List, there has been no consultation with the States. Why is it that the State should not be consulted at every stage? The Central Government does not suffer after all, it is the people of the States who suffer. Therefore the Central Government should consult, an institution like the DVC should consult the State Governments. I am talking about States like West Bengal and other lower riparian States. Why should there be no consultation? Unless you get the money from the income tax from the States you can’t run your ministry. You may take all the credits but all the revenue is coming from the income taxes of the States, that is the reason you are showing your power. Otherwise you are powerless and toothless.