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River dispute rolls on

india Updated: Jan 31, 2010 00:24 IST
Pawan Sharma
Pawan Sharma
Hindustan Times
Justice Liberhan Commission

If you think the Justice Liberhan Commission took a long time (17 years) to probe the demolition of the Babri Masjid, then consider this: The Justice Eradi Commission, adjudicating on disputes between Haryana and Punjab over river waters, is yet to submit its final report — after 24 years, a record.

The total cost so far: more than Rs 7 crore. The government currently spends Rs 60 lakh per year on this commission.

It has had to pay the salary and expenses bills of the panel and its support staff even during the eight years, from 1989 to 1996 (both years included), when the three-member Ravi-Beas Waters Commission, headed by Justice V. Balakrishna Eradi, did not hold a single hearing.

The same was the case during the 1999-2003 period.

“The (commission) is costing Rs 60 lakh a year (currently),” said Vijay Kumar, deputy director general (Indus Wing) of the Union ministry of water resources.

According to the ministry, there is no provision in law to empower the government “to dissolve” the commission. Its staff comprises 24 members.

Justice Eradi, 88, draws a monthly emolument of Rs 1.29 lakh at present. His monthly remuneration on his appointment was Rs 9,000 and other benefits applicable to a serving Supreme Court Judge.

The Centre revised the remuneration and perks of Justice Eradi after the Fifth and Sixth Pay Commission reports were submitted in 1997 and 2008, respectively. At present, Justice Eradi gets Rs 90,000 as basic pay, Rs 24,300 as dearness allowance and Rs 15,000 as sumptuary allowance.

Eradi was a Supreme Court judge when the panel was set up in 1986 by the Centre following the Punjab accord signed by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Akali leader Harchand Singh Longowal in 1985.

Eradi retired from the Supreme Court in 1987 and continues as chairperson of the commission to date.

After nearly 25 years and 83 sittings, the panel is nowhere near a verdict on the Ravi-Beas water-sharing tussle between the two states.

In 1986, the panel held 53 hearings. But in the subsequent 22 years until the end of 2008, the commission held 30 hearings.

The three-member panel submitted an interim report on January 30, 1987, mentioning that the Sutlej-Yamuna link (SYL) canal was the lifeline of the farmers of Haryana and unless it was completed, Haryana would not be in a position to utilise its full amount of water allocated to it.

Punjab contested the interim award in 1987 at the Supreme Court.

After this, the Centre, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan made a reference to the commission in August 1987, seeking guidance on certain points in the report. Subsequently, the period for submitting the final report by the commission was extended to February 5, 2008.

The number of annual hearings by the commission has come down because of a presidential reference on July 22, 2004, before the apex court to examine whether Punjab’s termination in the early part of the same year of all agreements related to the Ravi-Beas waters was valid.

The panel is awaiting the outcome of the presidential reference.

The composition of the commission has changed over the years. A member of the commission resigned in March 1989 after he was elevated as a Supreme Court judge. The vacant post was filled in November 1996.

In January 1999, U.C. Banerjee, a member of the commission, left after he became a Supreme Court judge. This vacant post was filled in 2003, after which the hearings resumed again.

The panel held two hearings in 1997, three in 1998, four in 2004, three in 2005, two in 2006 and one each in 2007 and 2008.

In 1986-87, when it held the highest number of hearings, the annual expenditure of the commission was Rs 23 lakh.