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    Explained: Inter-State Water Sharing Disputes in India

    Inter-State Water Sharing Disputes in India arise over the use, distribution, and control of waters of inter-state river basins. This article sheds light on water sharing issues, constitutional provisions and water laws to adjudicate such disputes.
    Created On: Jul 23, 2021 14:13 IST
    Modified On: Jul 23, 2021 15:47 IST
     Inter-State Water Sharing Disputes in India
    Inter-State Water Sharing Disputes in India

    The Inter-State River Water Disputes are one of the most important issues in India. They arise over the use, distribution, and control of waters of inter-state river basins. The Indian Parliament enacted the Inter-State River Water Disputes (ISRWD) Act, 1956 and various Inter-State Water Dispute Tribunals have also been set up to adjudicate the disputes. 

    Constitutional Provisions and Water Laws

    1- Entry 17 of State List: It deals with water-- water supply, irrigation, canal, drainage, embankments, water storage and water power.

    2- Entry 56 of Union List: It empowers the Central Government for the regulation and development of inter-state rivers and river valleys to the extent declared by Parliament to be expedient in the public interest.

    Article 262 of the Indian Constitution

    In case of disputes related to waters, Parliament may by law provide: 

    1- For the adjudication of any dispute or complaint concerning the use, distribution or control of the waters of, or in, any inter-State river or river valley.

    2- That neither the Supreme Court nor any other court shall exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such dispute or complaint as mentioned above.

    Parliament enacted the below-mentioned Acts according to Article 262 of the Indian Constitution: 

    1- River Board Act, 1956: The Act empowered the Central Government to establish boards for Interstate Rivers and river valleys in consultation with State Governments. However, no board has been created to date. 

    2- Inter-State Water Dispute Act, 1956: If State Government(s) approach the Central Government for the constitution of the Tribunal, the Centre may form a Tribunal after trying to resolve the dispute through consultations. It is to be noted that Supreme Court shall not question the Award or formula given by the Tribunal but it can question the working of the Tribunal.  

    Composition of River Water Tribunals in India

    1- Chief Justice of India
    2- Sitting Judge from Supreme Court
    3- Two other Judges who are either from SC or HC

    Inter-State River Disputes Tribunals

    1- Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal

    States involved: Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa

    Date of Constitution: April 1969    

    Present Status: Report and Decision given in July 1980

     

    2- Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal-I

    States involved: Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka

    Date of Constitution: April 1969    

    Present Status: Report and Decision given in May 1976

     

    3- Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal

    States involved: Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat

    Date of Constitution: October 1969

    Present Status: Report and Decision given in December 1979. Narmada Control Authority (NCA) was constituted to give effect to the decision. 

     

    4- Ravi and Beas Water Tribunal

    States involved: Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan

    Date of Constitution: April 1986

    Present Status: Report and Decision given in April 1987. Further Report is pending.

     

    5- Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal

    States involved: Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry

    Date of Constitution: June 1990

    Present Status: Report and Decision given in February 2007 which was slightly modified by the Supreme Court. Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) and Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC) were constituted to give effect to the decision of CWDT as modified by SC. 

    Note: Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal was dissolved in 2018. 

     

    6- Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal-II

    States involved: Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka

    Date of Constitution: April 2004

    Present Status: Report and Decision given in December 2010. SLPs filed pending in the Court. The term of the Tribunal has been extended after the bifurcation of the united Andhra Pradesh State. The matter is therefore under adjudication in the Tribunal. 

     

    7- Vansadhara Water Disputes Tribunal

    States involved: Andhra Pradesh and Odisha

    Date of Constitution: February 2010

    Present Status: Report and Decision submitted in September 2017. Further Report is pending.

     

    8- Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal

    States involved: Goa, Karnataka, and Maharashtra

    Date of Constitution: November 2010

    Present Status: Report and Decision submitted in August 2018. Further Report is pending.

     

    9- Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal

    States involved: Chhattisgarh and Odisha

    Date of Constitution: March 2018

    Present Status: Under Adjudication by the Tribunal. Report and Decision are awaited. 

     

    Tribunal Date of Constitution States Involved
    Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal April 1969  Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa
    Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal-I April 1969  Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka
    Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal

    October 1969

    Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat
    Ravi and Beas Water Tribunal April 1986 Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan
    Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal June 1990 Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry
    Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal-II April 2004 Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka
    Vansadhara Water Disputes Tribunal February 2010 Andhra Pradesh and Odisha
    Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal November 2010 Goa, Karnataka, and Maharashtra
    Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal March 2018 Chhattisgarh and Odisha

    Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956

    Inter-State River Water Disputes Act of 1956 governs the adjudication of water disputes in India. It was amended in 2002 to include recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission. The amendments are as follows:

    1- The Tribunal has to be constituted within a year of getting the request.

    2- Tribunal must give the award within 3 years. However, two more years can be given in certain situations. Thus, the Tribunal must give the award within the maximum period of 5 years. 

    3- The Tribunal award is not immediately implemented and the concerned parties may seek clarification within 3 months of the award.

    4- Tribunal Awards will have the same force as the order or decree of the Supreme Court. The award is final and beyond the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

    Issues with Inter-State River Disputes Tribunals

    1- Prolonged proceedings and delays in dispute adjudication. For instance, Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal. The Tribunal which was constituted in 1990 gave its award in 2007. 

    2- Although the award given by the Tribunals is final and beyond the jurisdiction of the Courts, the States or individuals can approach the Supreme Court under Article 136 (Special Leave Petition) and Article 32 by linking the dispute with the violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees Right to Life. 

    3- The composition of the Tribunal is not multidisciplinary as it consists of persons only from the judiciary. Thus, there is not much difference between the Tribunal and Supreme Court Bench.

    4- Due to the lack of availability of authoritative water data, it is difficult to even set up a baseline for adjudication.

    5- The shift in Tribunals' approach aids extended litigation and politicisation of water-sharing disputes.

    6- With the growing nexus between water and politics, the disputes have been transferred into turfs of vote bank politics. It has led to increasing defiance by states, extended litigations and subversion of resolution mechanisms. For instance, Ravi-Beas Tribunal. 

    7- Due to India's complicated federal polity, colonial legacy, and procedural complexities involving multiple stakeholders across governments and agencies, there is too much discretion at too many stages of the process. 

    To solve the aforementioned issues and speed up the interstate water dispute resolution, the Inter-State River Water Disputes Amendment Bill, 2019 was introduced by the Centre. 

    Inter-State River Water Disputes Amendment Bill, 2019 

    On 25th July 2019, the Inter-State River Water Disputes Amendment Bill was introduced by the Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. The Bill provides for the adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-state rivers and river valleys.

    The Act states that the State Government may request the Central Government to refer an inter-state river dispute to a Tribunal for adjudication. If the Central Government believes that the dispute cannot be settled through negotiations, it sets up a Water Disputes Tribunal for adjudication of the dispute, within a year of receiving such a complaint. The Bill seeks to replace this mechanism. 

    1- Disputes Resolution Committee (DRC): When a state puts in a request regarding any water dispute, the Central Government will set up a Disputes Resolution Committee (DRC) to resolve it. The DRC will comprise of a Chairperson, and experts with at least 15 years of experience in relevant sectors, to be nominated by the central government. It will also comprise one member from each state (at Joint Secretary level), who are party to the dispute, to be nominated by the concerned state government. 
     
    The DRC will seek to resolve the dispute through negotiations, within one year (extendable by six months), and submit its report to the Central Government. If DRC is unable to solve a dispute, the Central Government will refer it to the Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal.  Such referral must be made within three months from the receipt of the report from the DRC. 
     
    2- Tribunal: The Central Government will set up an Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal for the adjudication of water disputes. This Tribunal can have multiple benches. All existing Tribunals will be dissolved, and the water disputes pending adjudication before such existing Tribunals will be transferred to the new Tribunal. 
     
    3- Composition of the Tribunal: The Tribunal will consist of a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, three judicial members, and three expert members, to be appointed by the Central Government on the recommendation of a Selection Committee.  Each Tribunal Bench will consist of a Chairperson or Vice-Chairperson, a judicial member, and an expert member.  The Central Government may also appoint two experts serving in the Central Water Engineering Service as assessors to advise the Bench in its proceedings.  The assessor should not be from the state which is a party to the dispute.
     
    4- Time frames: The proposed Tribunal must give its decision on the dispute within two years, which may be extended by another year. Under the Act, if the matter is again referred to the Tribunal by a state for further consideration, the Tribunal must submit its report to the Central Government within a period of one year. This period can be extended by the Central Government. The Bill amends this to specify that such extension may be up to a maximum of six months.
     
    5- Decision of the Tribunal: The decision of the Tribunal must be published by the central government in the official gazette.  This decision has the same force as that of an order of the Supreme Court.  The Bill removes the requirement of such publication. It adds that the decision of the Bench of the Tribunal will be final and binding on the parties involved in the dispute.  The Act provided that the central government may make a scheme to give effect to the decision of the Tribunal. The Bill is making it mandatory for the central government to make such a scheme.  
     
    6- Data bank: Under the Act, the central government maintains a data bank and information system at the national level for each river basin.  The Bill provides that the central government will appoint or authorise an agency to maintain such a data bank.

    It is to be noted that India has only 4% of the renewable water resource and 18% of the world's population. There is uneven water distribution in India and states are frequently at loggerheads over the distribution of rivers in the country. Therefore, efforts are always made to resolve the dispute through mutual discussions and negotiations between the party States.

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