All You Need To Know About Inter State Water Disputes


For the purpose of resolving conflicts involving the waters of interstate rivers and their river valleys, the Parliament passed the Inter-State River Water Disputes (ISRWD) Act in 1956. Two recent examples are the Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal and the Cauvery Water Conflict. 

Water Conflicts Between States: A Historical Background

•    Increased urban and rural demand for freshwater, growing water shortages, and complex political dynamics have all contributed to the problem's recent escalation.
•    Since the government first suggested the action plan for interstate river water, or connecting all the rivers in the nation, many years have passed. But since then, it has developed into the Indian federalism problem with the biggest ramifications.
•    Federal water governance in India continues to be hampered by interstate (river) water disputes (ISWDs).
•    They frequently develop into protracted confrontations between the governments that share river basins because they are rooted in institutional, historical-geographical, and constitutional uncertainties.
•    India has 25 significant river basins, the majority of which traverse multiple states. Due to the fact that river basins are shared resources, a coordinated strategy between the states is required for the preservation, fair distribution, and sustainable use of river water. 

Constitutional Provisions In Relation To Inter-State Water Conflicts:

1.    The Constitution has various clauses that deal with water and related topics. According to the Indian Constitution, "water" is a matter for the states, and the federal government may only get involved in disputes over interstate rivers when the Parliament deems it to be in the public interest.
2.    The subject of the legislation that must be made by Parliament and the state legislatures is covered in Article 246 of the Constitution. The division of labor between the Center and the States with regard to the creation of laws falls into three categories:
a.    The Union List (List I) 
b.    The State List (List II)
c.    The Concurrent List (ListIII)

Section 262 (1)

•    The usage, distribution, or control of any interstate river's or river valley's waters may be the subject of disputes or complaints, which Parliament may address by law.

Section 262 (2)

All You Need To Know About Inter State Water Disputes
•    Despite anything in this Constitution, Parliament may pass legislation stating that no court, including the Supreme Court, has the authority to hear any dispute or complaint mentioned in clause (1). The topic of "water" is a topic at Entry 17 of List II, often known as the State List. The terms of Entry 56 of List I, the Union List, apply to this entry.
•    Water sources, irrigation and canals, drainage and oak, reservoirs and hydropower are all listed in entry 17 of the State List. Transnational rivers are covered by the provisions for water supply, irrigation, or electricity.
•    In accordance with the scope that Parliament has determined to be necessary and in the public interest, Entry 56 of the Union List gives the Union Government authority to regulate and develop interstate rivers and river valleys.
•    In some instances, governments have invoked Articles 131 and 136 of the Constitution to resolve disagreements over shared river basins.
•    For instance, Tamil Nadu complained informally about Article 131 in 2001, claiming that the provision did not adequately regulate temporary measures.
•    Disturbed by the Cauvery Water Conflict Tribunal's ruling in 2007, the States of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala have requested a special authorization under Article 136. 
Water Disputes Tribunals


States Concerned

Date of Constitution

Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal

Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa

April 1969

Krishna Water
Disputes Tribunal – I

Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka,

April 1969

Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal

Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra

October 1969

Ravi & Beas Water Tribunal

Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan

April 1986

Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal

Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry

June 1990

Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal -II

Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana

April 2004

Vansadhara Water Disputes Tribunal

Andhra Pradesh, Odisha

February 2010

Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal

Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra

November 2010

Mahanadi Water
Disputes Tribunal

Chhattisgarh, Odisha

March 2018


Actions Done By The Parliament To Resolve Water Conflicts Between States:

The 1956 Inter-State Water Dispute Act

•    It gave the Central Government the authority to create an ad hoc tribunal to settle disputes over interstate rivers or water between two or more states.
•    In order to incorporate the main recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission, the statute was revised in 2002.
•    The modifications stipulated a one-year setup period for the water disputes tribunal as well as a three-year decision-making period.
•    Village panchayats are permitted to establish a water committee under Section 92 of the Panchayati Raj law in order to ensure appropriate water management, equitable distribution, tax collection, and the protection of water resources.
•    Three bills were recently introduced in parliament by the Center:
•    The River Water Disputes Bill, 2019, proposes a dispute resolution committee (DRC), the Dam Safety Authority Bill, 2019, transfers the rights and authority of the states over rivers to the Centre, and the River Basin Management Bill, 2019, which proposes 13 river basin authorities for various river basins.

Interstate River Water Dispute Act (Amendment) Bill of 2019 

•    Introduced: based on the report of the Sarkaria Commission.
•    If passed, it would require the Center to create a tribunal at the request of states or on its own initiative.
•    The DRC must be established by the Center in order to negotiate an amicable solution to the problem within a year. If the DRC is unable to resolve the conflict, the Center has three months to send it to the interstate tribunal.
•    It specifies deadlines and suggests creating a permanent tribunal when all current tribunals have been dissolved.
•    A selection committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, and ministers from the Law and Justice, and Jal Shakti (water) ministries will recommend the tribunal's appointment.
•    The tribunal might wind up serving as a parking lot for retired judges and government employees. The amendment undermines federalism and only strengthens the authority of the Central.

The 2019 River Basin Management Bill

•    It provides Central bureaucrats additional control over interstate river basins.
•    The chief ministers of the 13 states that make up the interstate river basins will provide advice, public representatives will serve as consultants to their body known as the "council," and a body of public servants known as the "authority" will make decisions about how to develop, conserve, and distribute the resources in these basins.
•    Under this Law, the Centre appears to be putting into practice the suggestions of the National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development (NCIWRD) and Second Administrative Reforms Commission.
•    Yet, both papers recommended a broadly based democratic structure and operation.

The 2019 Dam Safety Bill

•    Given that the Center has suggested a new authority for dam safety, it might revoke the states' autonomy on the significant irrigation dams in their respective areas.
•    Due to the National Dam Safety Authority's decision-making authority over safety and all other matters, the Center would gain enormous influence as a result.
•    The National Dam Safety Authority would be run by a second secretary in the Central Water Commission, and the states would be required to abide by its directives in order to avoid penalties. States would not be able to object or appeal. 

Advantages of Inter-State River Water

•    Waterways are the most affordable form of transportation, and by linking rivers and creating national waterways, the nation will see greater growth and development.
•    Natural disasters like droughts and floods will be easier to deal with.
•    Increase farming since more people will have access to irrigation.
•    This will meet the need for electricity (hydropower plants).
•    Every person of the nation has access to water.

Inter-State Water - Problems/Challenges

•    The river's natural route changes every 100 years, making it impractical in the long run.
•    The project is expensive to complete.
•    Strong deforestation is necessary.
•    The flow of rivers will be impacted by dam construction.
All You Need To Know About Inter State Water Disputes
•    Thousands of people will be uprooted, and recent years have seen an increase in environmental expenses. The Supreme Court is consulted where there is no provision for the tribunals handling these cases. Several delays result from this.
•    The federal government's delay in creating tribunals.
•    For instance, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunals request has been on hold since 1970, and the tribunals were established in 1990. The IWD Modification Act of 2000 closed this gap by requiring the formation of tribunals within a year and the rendering of final decisions by tribunals within a three-year period.
•    River board advice is not legally binding.
•    The rising relationship between politics and water has turned the conflicts into battlegrounds for vote-bank politics. IWDA tribunals are ad hoc organizations established at the center's discretion in response to a state's request. This causes the conflicts to become more political. Consider the inter-water conflict between Delhi, Haryana, and Punjab.
•    Lack of expertise: Tribunals only have judicial members, who are untrained in technical matters.


•    By aiming to provide a permanent forum for continued discussion over interstate rivers by the basin states for cooperation and coordinated action, the Center has made a significant step.
•    Such disagreements urgently require swift resolution through a long-lasting institutional system.
•    Five interstate water dispute tribunals for the Krishna, Godavari, Narmada, Cauvery, and Ravi-Beas rivers have been established since 1956.
•    Although there is a five-year deadline, Ravi-Beas took 33 years, Cauvery took 29 years, and the other tribunals each took about ten years to complete.
•    The reports may be published at any time, and the states have little recourse. 


India only has 4% of the world's renewable water resources despite having 18% of the world's people and 2.4% of its territory. The urgent necessity is to take the appropriate action to make sure that the uneven distribution of water does not raise the likelihood of water conflicts in the near future. Inter-state river water disputes frequently impede India's cooperative federalism, which reinforces the country's provincial tendency towards prioritizing regional over national issues.
The people of India should understand that their country should be viewed as a single, large family, with each of its states being treated equally. In order to successfully resolve conflicts and prevent political opportunism, excellent communication is crucial. The inter-state council can offer an excellent forum for swift resolution of these problems, further promoting high levels of interstate cooperation.

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