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Time for Acceptance

Time for Acceptance The declaration of the final order of the Cauvery Tribunal after 17 years of proceedings is a matter for enormous relief, and a further relief is that it has been an unanimous order, dispelling earlier apprehensions of a divided verdict.

The adjudication process can be criticised on many grounds: adjudication is not the best way to settle such disputes; it is adversarial and divisive; it is dilatory; it leaves one or more parties dissatisfied; the allocation of “shares” to the riparian states is not the best means of dealing with a river system which is an integrated whole; tribunals set up under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act 1956 (ISWD Act) tend to confine themselves to dealing with the river, ignoring groundwater; and so on. Undoubtedly, surface water and groundwater are related, but dealing with the totality of water resources is an enormously complicated task that an ISWD Tribunal cannot undertake: it must be left to a national commission, and we had one in 1996-99. However, disputes do arise over river waters and they need to be dealt with; that is what an ISWD Tribunal does. When protracted negotiations over the sharing of river waters fail, as they did in this case, the dispute still needs to be resolved and Article 262 of the Constitution and the ISWD Act provide a last resort means of doing this: this is an important feature of Indian federalism.

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