New Delhi: Even as the process of resolution at Mahanadi Water Dispute Tribunal is running at snail’s pace owing to Covid-19 pandemic, officials from both the states –Odisha and Chhattisgarh– opine that the Centre needs to grant extension of the tribunal for time lapse due to the pandemic.
The tribunal, constituted in 2018, has completed three years March 12, 2021 and is now on the statutory extension of two years. The officials of both the states opined that the Union government should grant extension to the tribunal for the period lapsed due to Covid-19 pandemic as two-year extension is not enough. For, it is unpredictable as to how long the pandemic would last.
An Odisha government official said that the tribunal, through its 20 sittings held so far, has completed only 20 per cent of the work while 80 per cent is still pending. The tribunal had to cancel many hearings due to the pandemic in 2020 and it has again cancelled the April 10 hearing following a letter from Chhattisgarh government wherein the state has expressed its inability to appear in the tribunal as many areas were declared containment zones there.
“Both the states need to depose a number of witnesses before the tribunal. The witnesses are national-level experts in different fields like hydrological and others. But it appears to be a Herculean task to depose witnesses before the tribunal in the time of pandemic,” an official said.
The tribunal has been holding virtual hearings and the lawyers and officials of both states have been appearing before it.
The tribunal had asked both the states to prepare a common format of data related to Mahanadi basin and water use. While state governments have collected the data for the same, the Union government had shown reluctance in sharing the data, an official said on the condition of anonymity. “Central departments like Central Water Commission, Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Jal Shakti took long time to share the documents even after the order of the tribunal. Still some documents are yet to be shared by the Central agencies,” the official said.
Notably, Odisha had filed a petition before the Mahanadi Water Dispute Tribunal against Chhattisgarh over construction of several barrages on Mahanadi river resulting in obstruction of the river water to the state. Odisha also pleaded the tribunal to direct Chhattisgarh to maintain specific flow of water during the non-monsoon months and close the construction as well as operation of barrages in its territory.
STORY SO FAR
March 12, 2018: Mahanadi tribunal was constituted for 3 years with two years of statutory extension
April 17, 2018: Union government refers Odisha’s plea (Reference 1) to the tribunal for adjudication of the water dispute
Oct 10, 2018: Odisha files interlocutory application (IA) for interim relief
Oct 13, 2018: Tribunal holds its first sitting, parties asked to file statement of claims
Dec 15, 2018: Tribunal hears Odisha’s IA for interim relief
Feb 9, 2019: Judgement in IA reserved, both states allowed to hold talks for amicable solution
March 30, 2019: Chhattisgarh files complaint against Odisha over Mahanadi issue (Reference 2)
August 3, 2019: Tribunal defers pronouncement of order in IA, more time given for amicable solutions. Technical and legal teams of both states meet each other on several occasions for amicable solution in interim relief application
Sept 29, 2019: Pleadings in Odisha’s complaint (Reference 1) completed
July 11, 2020: Tribunal hears the case on virtual mode
August 6, 2020: Odisha files IA for production of Documents by Central agencies
August 8, 2020: Tribunal directs states to prepare Common Format to provide necessary data
Jan 1, 2021: Tribunal asks Registry to issue notice to Central departments to provide documents sought by the 2 states
March 13, 2021: States agree to Common Format prepared by the Assessor
April 10, 2021: 21st hearing cancelled due to Covid-19