Odisha-Chhattisgarh Row Over Mahanadi Waters: SC Directs Centre To Constitute Water Disputes Tribunal In 4 Weeks [Read Order]

Odisha-Chhattisgarh Row Over Mahanadi Waters: SC Directs Centre To Constitute Water Disputes Tribunal In 4 Weeks [Read Order]

In a step towards resolving the long-pending dispute between Odisha and Chhattisgarh over water of river Mahanadi, the Supreme Court has directed the Centre to constitute within a month a tribunal for its adjudication.

A bench of Justice SA Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao ordered that the tribunal be constituted under Section 4(1) of the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956.

With this, the suit initiated by Odisha has been returned to be presented before the tribunal.

The Act mandates nomination of the chairman and members of the tribunal by the Chief Justice of India from among the judges of the Supreme Court and high court.

The state of Odisha had moved the apex court seeking grant of an injunction restraining Chhattisgarh from continuing with the construction and operation of the six ongoing industrial barrages, namely Samoda, Seorinarayan, Basantpur, Mirouni, Saradiha and Kalma, pending constitution of the tribunal.

It also sought injunction restraining Chhattisgarh from using water far in excess of its equitable share as Odisha has been claiming for a long time that Chhattisgarh has been constructing dams upstream affecting the flow of the river downstream.

Before the Supreme Court, Odisha submitted its long maintained stand to refer the matter to a Water Disputes Tribunal as it cannot be forced to negotiate on the matter.

It informed the court that such a tribunal has not been constituted so far, while the bench noted that the Centre has been seeking adjournments in the matter to report the stage at which constitution of Water Disputes Tribunal rests.

"We find that no such tribunal is constituted till date by the Central Government," the bench remarked.

Additional Solicitor General Atmaram NS Nadkarni, appearing for the Centre, submitted that the tribunal could not be constituted because one of the disputing states did not come forward to resolve the disputes by negotiations.

He, however, added that the government had not closed the option of resolving the crisis through negotiations.

At this, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for State of Odisha brought to the court's attention a statement made by the Minister of State for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, on the floor of the Rajya Sabha, wherein the ministry had concluded that the dispute cannot be resolved by negotiation and decided to constitute a tribunal for its adjudication.

"It is clear that the statement made by the Minister is with reference to this very dispute and the Ministry has concluded that the disputes cannot be resolved by negotiations.

"We, therefore, have no hesitation in directing that the Central Government shall issue appropriate notification in the Official Gazette and constitute a Water Disputes Tribunal for adjudication of the water dispute between the parties herein within a period of one month from today," ordered the apex court.

The complaint will now be presented before this tribunal.

It is to be noted that the water dispute arose between the lower riparian state of Odisha and upper riparian state of Chhattisgarh. Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand are also part of the basin.

It was after the failure of the inter-state meeting called by then Union Minister for Water Resources Uma Bharati in October 2016, the State of Odisha filed a statutory complaint in November, 2016 alleging that it is prejudicially affected by the planned utilization of 27.22 million acre feet (MAF) by the state of Chhattisgarh.

Odisha has been maintaining that its share of water in Mahanadi is 12.28 MAF whereas that of the upper states, including Chhattisgarh, is not more than 8.33 MAF in the minimum flow of 20.60 MAF (available upto Hirakud dam) shared in 1945 under the mediation of Dr BR Ambedkar, who was the member of the executive council of the Governor General of India.

The state of Odisha had further contended that if Chhattisgarh were to divert 27.22 MAF as admittedly planned, the Hirakud dam would go dry, leading to starvation in Odisha, since 60% of the population depends on Mahanadi for meeting irrigational and drinking water requirement.

It had then moved the Supreme Court seeking ad interim orders against the ongoing construction in the state of Chhattisgarh, particularly the six barrages.

The Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal would be the eighth Tribunal to be constituted for resolution of the inter-State waters.  The other Tribunals are Krishna-1, Godavari, Ravi-Beas, Cauvery, Krishna-2, Vansadhara and Mahadayi.

Read the Order