Inter-State Water Disputes Tribunals in India

In this article, you can read about inter-state water disputes and inter-state water disputes tribunals in India for the UPSC exam. This is a topic that is frequently seen in the newspapers and hence, is important for the IAS exam.

India has 18% of the world’s population but only 4% of its renewable water resources. There is uneven water distribution in the country and states are frequently at loggerheads over the distribution of rivers in the country. There are seven major rivers in India. They are as follows:

  1. Rivers flowing into the Arabian Sea:
    1. Narmada
    2. Tapti
    3. Sabarmati
    4. Purna
  2. Rivers flowing into the Bay of Bengal:
    1. Ganga
    2. Yamuna
    3. Brahmaputra
    4. Meghna
    5. Mahanadi
    6. Krishna
    7. Godavari

They all have many tributaries as well.

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Water in the Indian Constitution

  • Water is in the State List. It is Entry 17 of the list and hence, states can legislate with respect to rivers.
  • Entry 56 of the Union List, however, gives the Central government the power to regulate and develop inter-state rivers and river valleys.
  • Article 262 also states that the Parliament may 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.
  • As per Article 262, the Parliament has enacted the following:
    • River Board Act, 1956: This empowered the GOI to establish Boards for Interstate Rivers and river valleys in consultation with State Governments. Till date, no river board has been created.
    • Inter-State Water Dispute Act, 1956: Under this act, if a state government or governments approach the Centre for the constitution of a tribunal, the government may form a tribunal after trying to resolve the dispute through consultations.

River Water Tribunal Composition

The tribunal consists of the Chief Justice of India, a sitting judge from the Supreme Court, and two other judges who are from either the SC or a High Court.

Inter-State River Water Disputes

Currently in India, water disputes resolution is governed by the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956. As per this law, the state governments can approach the centre for a tribunal for the resolution of a water dispute. The decision of the tribunal is final.

Active inter-state river water disputes tribunals

Tribunal Year of formation States involved
Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal II 2004 Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana & Karnataka
Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal 2018 Chhattisgarh & Odisha
Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal 2010 Karnataka, Goa & Maharashtra
Ravi & Beas Water Tribunal 1986 Rajasthan, Haryana & Punjab
Vansadhara Water Disputes Tribunal 2010 Odisha & Andhra Pradesh

The Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal was dissolved in July 2018.

Related Links
Inter State Water Disputes UPSC Infographic Teesta Water-Sharing Agreement
National Water Informatics Centre (NWIC) Indus Water Treaty
National Water Framework Bill 2016 Central Water Commission (CWC)

River Water Disputes Tribunals History

The very first inter-state water disputes tribunal was the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal formed in 1969. The states involved were Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. It was chaired by R.S. Bachawat and it gave its verdict in 1973. However, decades later, the concerned states wanted a review and the second Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal was formed in 2004. It gave a verdict in 2010 which was reexamined on the behest of Andhra Pradesh. Meanwhile, when Telangana was formed, it also became the fourth party to the dispute. This case is pending in the Supreme Court.

Amendment to the 1956 Act

Delays in the settlement and execution of the resolutions have been problems with the tribunal method of dispute resolution.

An amendment was enacted to the Inter-State Water Disputes Act in 2002 which brought about a few changes such as:

  1. The tribunal has to be constituted within one year of the request.
  2. The tribunal should give the award within 3 years and in some exceptional cases, within 5 years.
  3. If the award is not immediately implemented, the concerned parties can seek clarification within three months.
  4. The tribunal award will have the same force as an order or decree of the Supreme Court. The award is final and above the SC’s jurisdiction.
    1. However, the states could still approach SC through Article 136 (Special Leave Petition)
    2. Private persons could approach the SC under violation of Article 21 (Right to Life).

Inter-State Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017

This bill proposes that a single permanent tribunal be set up for the purpose of such disputes. It proposes a transparent data collection system at the national level for each river basin and a single agency to maintain data bank and information system. The government will also set up a Dispute Resolution Committee comprising of experts from concerned fields. The committee will try to resolve the dispute within one year. The tribunal will be approached only if the committee fails to resolve the dispute.

A Glimpse at All Inter-State Water Disputes Tribunal - Civil Services Examination 2021

Frequently Asked Questions on Inter-State Water Disputes Tribunal in India


Q 1. What are Interstate water disputes?

Ans. When two or more state Governments sharing water bodies or resources, face disputes or disagreements regarding the use and consumption of water bodies, it is called Interstate Water Dispute. To know in detail about the Inter-State Water Disputes in India, visit the linked article.

Q 2. What is the difference between a court and a tribunal?

Ans. A court hears cases related to any issue and cannot be a concerned party related to the case. However, a tribunal is formed to deal with specific matters and can be a party to the dispute.

Q 3. What are the causes of Inter-state Water Dispute?

Ans. There may be multiple reasons for Inter-state Water Disputes. These include:

  • Initial allocation of property right over water
  • More Water scarce areas in a particular state
  • Political reasons
  • Historical causes
  • If the existing rules are not followed by water resource sharing states

Q 4. Which states are involved in the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal?

Ans. Karnataka, Goa & Maharashtra are involved in the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal.
Other Related Links
National Water Mission List of Government Schemes in India Tribunals in India
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