- Inter-State Water Disputes in India arise due to disagreements over the use, distribution, and control of inter-state river basin waters. It is one of the most contentious issues in Indian federalism today.
- To resolve water disputes between states, the Indian Parliament passed the Inter-State River Water Disputes (ISRWD) Act in 1956, and various Inter-State Water Dispute Tribunals were
- Despite having 18% of the world’s population composition, India possesses only 4% of the global renewable water resources. Interstate water disputesarise when multiple states disagree on the utilization, allocation, and management of rivers that traverse their boundaries.
- Many of India’s significant river basins, including some medium-sized ones, are shared between multiple states. Consequently, the development of projects by one state on an interstate river can affect the interests of other basin states.
- States frequently have differing views on the equitable distribution of water resources within the country and the appropriate river water allocation among them.
Mechanism for Resolution of Inter-State River Water Disputes
- The Inter-State River Water Disputes Act of 1956 governs the resolution of water disputes.
- Under this act, if a State Government requests the resolution of a water dispute and the Central Government determines that negotiations are insufficient, a Water Disputes Tribunal is established to adjudicate the matter.
- In 2002, the act was amended to incorporate key recommendations from the Sarkaria Commission.
- These amendments introduced a one-year timeframe for establishing water disputes tribunals and a three-year timeframe for reaching a decision.
Agreements on Inter-State rivers
- The first step to resolving inter-state water disputes in mutual discussions and negotiations. The states or parties involved can mutually negotiate on the terms and conditions and form an agreement.
- In case, these negotiations do not work out, the next initiative is taken by the government, under the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956. Then comes the Inter-state Water Disputes Tribunals in Indiainto force. The active tribunals in the country include:
List of Inter-State Water Disputes
States in Dispute
Year of Tribunal Formation
Ravi and Beas
Ravi & Beas Water Tribunal
· Andhra Pradesh
Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal II
· Andhra Pradesh
Vansadhara Water Disputes Tribunal
Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal
Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal
Other Major Inter-State Water Disputes in India
States in Dispute
Year of Tribunal formation
· Madhya Pradesh
· Andhra Pradesh
Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal
The verdict was given in July 1980.
· Madhya Pradesh
Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal
The verdict was given in July 1979.
· Tamil Nadu and Puducherry
Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal
The report and decision were issued in February 2007.
As a result of a Special Leave Petition (SLP) filed by the party states in the Hon’ble Supreme Court, the matter is currently under consideration.
Constitutional Provisions for Inter-state Water Disputes
- Article 246 of the Constitution deals with the subject matter of laws to be made by the Parliament and by the Legislatures of the States.
- Given below are the laws and the provisions under the Indian Constitutionfor inter-state water disputes:
Entry 17 of State List
- Issues related to water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power are mentioned under this list.
Entry 56 of the Union List
- The regulation and development of inter-State rivers and river valleys for the interest of the public falls under this list. This provision empowers the Union government.
Article 262 (1)
- Parliament may, by law, provide for the adjudication of any dispute or complaint with respect to the use, distribution or control of the waters of, or in, any inter-State river or river valley.
Article 262 (2)
- Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, Parliament may, by law, provide that neither the Supreme Court nor any other court shall exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such dispute or complaint as is referred to in clause (1).
Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956
- The Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956 was enacted under Article 262 of the Constitution of India to resolve the water disputes that would arise in the use, control and distribution of an interstate river or river valley.
- Over the years many amendments have been made in this Act to further simplify and ease out the agreements and settlements between the related states.
- Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019:
- The latest amendment to this Act was introduced in Lok Sabhaon July 25, 2019.
- It will further streamline the adjudication of inter-State river water disputes.
- The Bill seeks to amend the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 with a view to streamline the adjudication of inter-state river water disputes and make the present institutional architecture robust.
Issues with Interstate Water Dispute Tribunals
- Protracted proceedings and extreme delays in dispute resolution. Water disputes such as the Godavari and Cauvery disputes in India have faced long delays in resolution.
- Opacity in the institutional framework and guidelines that define these proceedings; and ensuring compliance.
- The composition of the tribunal is not multidisciplinary and it consists of persons only from the judiciary.
- The absence of water data that is acceptable to all parties currently makes it difficult to even set up a baseline for adjudication.
- The growing nexus between water and politics has transformed the disputes into turfs of vote bank politics.
- This politicisation has led to increasing defiance by states, extended litigations and subversion of resolution mechanisms.
Measures to Resolve Water Disputes
- Bring Inter-state water disputes under interstate council constructed by the president under article 263 and need for consensus-based decision making.
- States must be motivated for water use efficiency in every domain and water harvesting and water recharging to reduce the demand on river water and in situ water source.
- Need of a single water management agency for both ground and surface water on scientific basis and also for technical advice on union, river basin, state and district level for water conservation and water management.
- Tribunals must be fast track, technical and also have a verdict enforceable mechanism in a time bound manner.
- A central repository of water data is necessary for informed decision making. It is important for the central government to take a more active role in resolving inter-state water disputes.
- The Centre’s proposal to set up a single, permanent tribunal to adjudicate on inter-state river water disputes could be a major step towards streamlining the dispute redressal mechanism.
- However, this alone will not be able to address the different kinds of problems—legal, administrative, constitutional and political—that plague the overall framework.
- Centre’s proposal to set up an agency alongside the tribunal that will collect and process data on river waters can be a right step in this direction.
- To strengthen the cooperative federalism, parochial mindset making regional issues superior to national issues should not be allowed.
- So disputes must be resolved by dialogue and talks and the political opportunism must be avoided.
- A robust and transparent institutional framework with cooperative approach is need of the hour.
- All these measures will streamline the process of resolving such inter-state water disputes in the country.
Inter-state river water disputes hinder the cooperative federalism of our nation and provide parochial mindset making regional issues superior to national issues. One should realise that our nation is a family in which all states are its members.