The government has decided to set up a single tribunal to help examine and resolve all inter-state water-sharing disputes quickly. Secretary of the Water Resources Ministry Shashi Shekhar said this permanent tribunal will be headed by a retired Supreme Court justice. Separate benches of judges will also be formed when disputes crop up and dissolved when cases are settled, The Times of India reported.

The benches will be established as per an amendment to the Inter-State Water Dispute Act, 1956, which was approved at a Union Cabinet meeting last week. The amendment – likely to be introduced in Parliament during the next session – also proposes the establishment of a Dispute Resolution Committee, which will be set up at the request of states whenever water-sharing rows surface.

“We expect most disputes to get resolved at the DRC level itself,” Shekhar said. “But if a state is not satisfied [with the committee’s ruling], it can approach the tribunal.” The panel will include experts and policymakers.

Earlier, the Water Ministry secretary had emphasised that the tribunal will settle disputes within three years, compared with current authorities that “took ages” to pronounce their final verdict. It is also proposed that the tribunal’s final verdict will get notified immediately, amending the current process of the government notifying a verdict, which leads to a delay in its implementation.

The decision comes as the Cauvery water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka has been in the news. While Karnataka has been arguing that the drinking water needs of its citizens amid a drought require priority, Tamil Nadu has been fighting for its farmers’ need for irrigation water. Currently, there are eight tribunals in India examining the water disputes involving the rivers Cauvery, Ravi, Beas, Mahadayi, Krishna and Vansadhara.

Water management experts, however, have expressed skepticism over the decision to set up a single tribunal, according to The New Indian Express. “When even the independent tribunals could not deliver in time, how can you expect a single tribunal to deliver in three years? All awards, even if delivered in time, will land up in the Supreme Court,” said Dr S Janakarajan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies. “It is also unjustifiable to include all existing disputes in the new scheme.”