Inter-State Water Dispute

Inter-State Water Dispute: Legal Provisions and Judicial Decisions

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The government framed the Inter-state river water disputes act, 1956under the command of article 262. The Constitution of India lays the foundation of an ever-evolving modern India. The most lengthy and bulkiest constitution is a cherished document of rights to the citizens bestowing them every right they ever dreamed of. The constitution provides the Fundamental Rights for the universal development of the human self, future governing principles in the form of directive principles for the state to comply with certain compliances to be accountable, and the mechanism for the enforcement of laws. The Constitution of India is certainly a few documents in the world that explicitly mentions certain norms towards the protection of the environment and mechanism of resolution of environmental issues. Over the years of evolution, the demand for resources has been considerably increased which aroused conflicts between the states. With the increasing conflicts there arises the necessity of enacting legislation that would resolve such matters efficiently and effectively within a specific time frame.

Water is the second most essential after “air” for the existence of life and thus the apex court’s pronouncements enumerated the right to water under article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Supreme court also in cases like in Bandhua Mukti Morcha V. Union of India had emphasized that the citizen has the right to clean water as a fundamental right under article 21. 

The Supreme Court had imposed an obligation on the state to be duty-bound to ensure the citizens that they can exercise their right to water and access to clean water along with the protection of water sources free from pollution and encroachment. The court also marked the future line that any act of the State that allows pollution of the water body ‘must be treated as arbitrary and contrary to the public interest and in violation of the right to clean water under Article 21.

Constitutional and Statutory Provisions Regarding Inter-State Water Dispute

ARTICLE 39 of the Constitution of India: –

Certain principles of policy to be followed by the State.—The The state shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing—

(b) that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good;

(c) that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment;

Article 39 commands the government to follow certain guidelines laid in framing the policies so as to ensure that there is the best possible proportion of resources herein water available to the state which shall subserve the common good. The article has killed all future possibilities of the cultivation of unrecognizable policies that could have been framed to favour any particular. In Spite of such command, the conflicts have aroused regarding interstate rivers in which states claim their stake on the water and try to prohibit others from using the resource.  

Schedule 7 of the Constitution of India:

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 are 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 the provisions of entry 56 of List I

The constitution through entry 56 in union list and entry 17 in state list has given the power in the hands of both Parliament and state legislature to look after in the public interests the development and regulation of inter-state rivers. But in the current scenario, the state is more likely to prevail over the matter of inter-state rivers as a state under entry 17 of the list 2 tries to showcase the claim on the resource first of the people of the state from which it flows rather than other and so schemes and development policies are framed by the state itself.  

A very interesting conflict has been triggered among the states on one side and union on the other apart from between the states itself. Though the centre has been conferred power under entry 56 of list 1 yet the centre has so far become incompetent to make and further fails to implement the law in the subject matter of inter-state rivers due to massive protest of the states. One can clearly see that the central framed the Rivers Boards Act, 1956 but fails to set up any river board so far.(Inter-State Water Dispute)

Article 262 of the Constitution of India: –

Adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-State rivers or river valleys:

(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, in any inter-State river or river valley.

(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).

The government framed the Inter-state river water disputes act, 1956under the command of article 262. The government creates the tribunal on the request of the contending parties before which the prerequisite needs to be fulfilled i.e. the resolution of the dispute through negotiations. The tribunal’s decision will be regarded as the order passed by the supreme court and the report has to be furnished to the central government.

The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019

The bill determines to erase some drawbacks of the existing act as: –

  1. The bill seeks to replace the old mechanism which constitutes that if the central government is of the opinion that the matter is incapable of resolving through negotiations then it would set up a tribunal for the adjudication of the matter. Instead, the Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) will be constituted if a state puts up the request comprising a Chairperson having at least 15 years of experience and one member each from a disputed state (at joint secretary level) to resolve the matter without the adjudication of the tribunal. The DRC is set to resolve the matter through negotiations.
  1. One of the most important steps taken in the regard of resolution of matters is to set the time frame in which the proceedings have to be completed and judgment has to be pronounced. Under the existing act, the duration was of 3 years for the tribunal to pronounce the decision which is extendable by another 2 years. But under the bill, it is 2 years and extendable by another 1 year. The step is significant as it minimizes the chilling effect which one has to bear due to prolonged time for the order to prevail. Even if the same matter is again referred for consideration after the tribunal’s order then there can be only a maximum of 6 months’ time frame to submit the report again which earlier was 1 year. This speeds up the adjudication.(Inter-State Water Dispute)
  2. The bill seeks to set up a permanent Inter-state river water disputes tribunal which will comprise multiple benches and all pending matters will be transferred to the new tribunal thereby existing tribunals will be dissolved.
  1. The bill calls for a transparent data collection system for each river basin and a single agency to maintain data collection and information at the national level.

Inter-State Water Dispute Aroused and Judicial Decisions: –

Ravi and BeasPunjab, Haryana, Rajasthan
NarmadaMadhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan
KrishnaMaharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana
Vamsadhara Andhra Pradesh & Odisha
CauveryKerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry
GodavariMaharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha
MahanadiChhattisgarh, Odisha
MahadayiGoa, Maharashtra, Karnataka
PeriyarTamil Nadu, Kerala

Cauvery Dispute: 

It is the inter-state water dispute which even after the Supreme court’s orders have seen widespread violent protest by the people of Karnataka. The Cauvery flows from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu where food production and livelihood depend on it. Around 21 trilateral meetings were held among the government of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Union of India after which it seems with the Supreme Court’s order that the matter is resolved. Tamil Nadu Cauvery Neer Pasana Vilaiporulgal Vivasayigal Nala Urimai Pathukappu Sangam v. Union of India and Others the Supreme court order to the government of Karnataka to release and share water with Tamil Nadu. The Karnataka government’s dissatisfaction with the decision insisted the Government to refer the case to the Supreme Court and a Cauvery River Authority was also set up.

The Supreme Court in Re Cauvery water Disputes tribunal where a Cauvery Management Board was set up in 2013 and in 2016 the conflicts were so tense over Cauvery dispute that violent protests took place. The hearing in the matter is still on where the central government has played a significant role as a negotiator.

Further on the analysis of judicial decisions in State of Orissa v. Government of India and Another and State Of Haryana vs State Of Punjab And Anr. the issues which state pertinently rises to issue a writ of mandamus to direct the party in a dispute to execute its a duty that they are legally obliged to do and secondly to direct the central government to set up Inter-state river water dispute tribunal under section 4 of the Inter-state river water disputes act, 1956.  

In the case of State of Tamil Nadu v. the State of Kerala and Another The Supreme Court emphasized that the tributaries would be a part of the inter-state river and that the respective government should comply with established norms in formulating any policies or development plans so that there may not arise any dispute and the benefit should subserve the common good.


The above elaboration demarcates that the constitution has explicitly through article 262 has commanded the Parliament to enact certain norms for the adjudication of disputes relating to water. Over the years the disputes have been politicized by different parties and made it a stepping stone to come to power over disruptive promises assured to the people. These promises became the reason behind the origination of disputes as to when steps were taken for fulfilment. It needs to be reiterated that the Parliament has been incapable of over the origination of river boards under the river boards act, 1956. This failure and absence of a national and central policy and board have disrupted a number of disputes in the nation over the water. The demand of the time is to end the agitating disputes across the nation among states by central policy and ensure that there occurs no violent protest as seen in Karnataka where one person died and 4 others were seriously injured. Water is life and everyone has an inalienable right over it and Parliament should ensure that each state receives an adequate amount of water.


  1. Bandhua Mukti Morcha V. Union of India 1984 AIR 802, 1984 SCR (2) 67
  2. Tamil Nadu Cauvery Neer Pasana Vilaiporulgal Vivasayigal Nala Urimai Pathukappu Sangam v. Union of India and Others (1990) 3 SCC 440
  3. State of Orissa v. Government of India and Another (2009) 5 SCC 492
  4. State Of Haryana vs State Of Punjab And Another (2004) 12 SCC 673
  5. State of Tamil Nadu v. State of Kerala and Another (2014) 12 SCC 696

Madhav Gupta

Student, Galgotias University

Passionate law student and research analyst, acquiring skills in corporate law. For any Clarifications, feedback, and suggestion, you can reach him at

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