Current Affairs



Some of the interstate river water disputes in India

  • Cauvery water dispute between Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
  • The Krishna water dispute between Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
  • The Tungabhadra water dispute between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
  • The Aliyar and Bhivani river water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
  • The Godavari river water dispute between Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Karnataka.
  • The Narmada water dispute between Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
  • The Mahi river dispute between Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
  • The Ravi and Beas river water dispute between Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi.
  • The Satluj-Yamuna Link canal dispute between Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.
  • The Yamuna river water dispute between Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.
  • The Karmanasa river water dispute between Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
  • The Barak river water dispute between Assam and Manipur.

Settlement mechanism

Constitution Provisions

Article 262 provides for adjudication of disputes relating to water. These clauses essentially confers exclusive authority on the Parliament and Union Govt to resolve interstate river – water disputes. It also makes it very clear that in the matter of inter-state river water disputes, the legislative power is superior to the judiciary .

In addition to the above constitutional provision, there are also two entries in the seventh schedule of the Constitution.

Union List: Entry 56

Regulation and development of inter-state rivers and river valleys to the extent to which such regulation and development under the control of the Union is declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest.

State List: Entry 17

Water that is to say, water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power subject to provisions of Entry 56 of the Union List.

The legislative competence of the State Governments under Entry 17 of the State List remains unfettered only because Parliament has not made much use of the powers vested in it by Entry 56 of the Union list.

Inter states water disputes act, 1956

Salient Features

  • Constitution of the tribunal
  • The Tribunal shall have the same powers as are vested in a civil court,
  • Power to make schemes for implementing decisions of tribunal,
  • Dissolution of Tribunal and power to make rules.
  • Adjudication of water disputes,
  • Maintenance of data bank and information,
  • Bar of jurisdiction of Supreme Court and other Courts,
  • Implementing Agencies
  • The Central Government is empowered to constitute a Tribunal, on a complaint received from a State Government that a water dispute has arisen or is likely to arise.
  • It facilitates settlement between the State(s) thereby reaching a midway or a solution which will benefit both the States.

Appeal and Dispute Settlement

Tribunal shall investigate the matters referred to it and forward to the Central Government a report setting out the facts as found by it and giving its decision on the matters referred to it within a period of three years, provided that if the decision cannot be given for unavoidable reasons, within a period of three years, the Central Government may extend the period for a further period not exceeding two years.

The Tribunal consists of a Chairman and two other members, nominated in this behalf by the Chief justice of India, from judges of the Supreme Court or of a High Court.

The decision of the Tribunal is final and binding on the parties. The parties must give effect to it.

The River Boards Act, 1956

Salient Features:-

  • It can acquire, hold and dispose both movable and immovable
  • It undertake preliminary investigation or surveys
  • Power of Inspection of any works undertaken by any Government interested concerning the regulation or development of the inter-State river or river valley
  • It can conduct and co-ordinate research on various aspects of the conservation, regulation or utilization of water resources
  • It can publish statistics or other information relating to the regulation or development of the inter-State river or river valley

Appeal and Dispute Settlement:-

If the matter covered by this Act or touching or arising out of it, any of the Governments interested may, in such form and in such manner as may be prescribed, refer the matter in dispute to arbitration.

The decision of the arbitrator shall be final and binding on the parties to the dispute and shall be given effect to by them.

Criticism against resolution mechanism

The Interstate Water Disputes Act, 1956, is essentially a reworked arrangement proposed in the draft Constitution, which in turn derived from Articles 130-134 of the Government of India Act 1935. The Constituent Assembly rejected these arrangements, calling for a more permanent arrangement for dispute resolution at the time of introduction, although later accepted.

Inefficiency in interstate water dispute resolutions extends to factors beyond the functioning of the tribunals. These are linked to legal ambiguities, an institutional vacuum for implementing awards, noncompliant States, politicisation and so on. Yet, at the core of the entanglement is the Gordian knot of the constitutional anomaly, or the exception to the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.

The Tribunal can only give an award but cannot enforce its implementation. It has not been clothed with powers of punishment for ‘contempt’. In the event of non-implementation of an ISWD Tribunal’s award by a state government, the central government can (failing persuasion) issue a direction to the erring state and then invoke Article 356, but that seems an extreme step.

There are always inordinate delays in the setting up of tribunals and deciding the award. The right to have a dispute referred to a tribunal under IWSDA is dependent on the opinion of the Central Government that the matter cannot be settled by negotiations.

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