Inter-State water disputes are a continuing problem to federal water governance in India. They tend to become prolonged water disputes between states that share river basins because they are rooted in historical-geographical, constitutional, and institutional ambiguities. In India, the powers of the legislation dealing with water are divided between the Centre and the states to have maximum utilization while balancing the interests of the states.
There are provisions in the Constitution (Schedule 7 of the Constitution) that distribute the power between the use of water within a state and the purpose of regulating interstate waters. It gives authority to the Central government to exercise the laws and mechanisms for managing interstate rivers while the states retain autonomy regarding water utilization.
Water Disputes in India
There are 25 major river basins in India. Most rivers flowing across states’ river basins of India are shared resources, a coordinated approach between the states. This issue of inter-state water disputes in India is one of the most serious problems today in India. The recent examples of such disputes are the cases of the Cauvery Water Dispute and the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal.
Several Inter-State Water Disputes Tribunals have been established so far, but they are facing their own issues. There are conflicts over control of river water and the possession have continued since the formation of the Indian republic, with a long duration of time in resolution due to some factors such as political, historical, and institutional.
List of Interstate Water Dispute Tribunal
The list of inter-state water dispute tribunals is given below along with the concerned states and their current status.
Process of Interstate River Water Disputes Resolution
The resolution of water disputes is performed by the Interstate Water Dispute Act 1956. This Act states that if a State Government makes a request related to any water conflict and the Union Government is of opinion that the settlement of the water conflict is not resolved by mutual discussion, then a Water Disputes Tribunal is constituted for the settlement of the water dispute. This act was amended to include the major recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission in 2002. The amendments make it compulsory for a one-year time frame to set up the water disputes tribunal and also a 3-year time frame to give a decision.
Issues Related to Inter-State River Disputes Tribunals
Some of the issues related to inter-state river dispute tribunals are given below.
The main issue is the delayed and prolonged proceedings in dispute adjudication. For example, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, the Tribunal gave a decision in 2007 while it was constituted in 1990.
Under Article 136 (Special Leave Petition), the States or individuals can approach the Supreme Court, although the award given by the Tribunals is final and beyond the jurisdiction of the Courts.
The composition of the Tribunal consists of persons only from the judiciary means it is not multidisciplinary. Therefore it is similar to the Supreme Court Bench.
It is difficult to even set up a baseline for adjudication because of the lack of availability of authoritative water data.
There is too much discretion at too many stages of the process because of the complex policies of federal colonial legacy, and procedural complexities involving multiple stakeholders across governments and agencies of India.
The Inter-State River Water Disputes Amendment Bill, 2019 was introduced by the Centre to get the solution of the issues and to provide speed to the whole process of interstate water dispute resolution.
Did You Know?
There are a total of 3 tribunal awards given till now which are notified in the gazette by the Government of India. These disputes are related to Krishna (tribunal 1), Godavari, and Narmada rivers. These tribunal awards cannot be altered by the new tribunals as these were issued before the year 2002.
Rivers are the ultimate source of water. A sound solution must be found in order to deal with the water disputes in India. Tribunals are considering the aspects both between the Centre and states as well as amongst the states but mutual problems have often come in the process of political negotiations such as the case of states governed by parties opposed to the national ruling party. The Union Government should take necessary steps to resolve the issues related to the tribunals.