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india flag image Government of India

Central Water Commission

(Serving the nation since 1945)

Water Disputes Resolution

All the major river basins and some among the medium river basins are of inter-state nature. As the development of projects by one State on an inter-state river may affect the interests of other basin States, inter-state differences arise with regard to use, distribution and control of waters of inter-state river basins.

Constitutional Provisions and Central Water Laws

Article 246 of the Constitution deals with the subject matter of laws to be made by the Parliament and by the Legislatures of the States.The allocation of responsibilities between the Centre and the States in respects of laws to be made fall into three categories –

  1. The Union List (List – I)
  2. The State List (List –II)
  3. The Concurrent List (List –III)

Subject of ‘water’ is a matter at Entry 17 of List –II, i.e. State List.  This Entry is subject to the provisions of Entry 56 of List –I, the Union List.  The specific provisions in this regard are as under:

List - I Union List

"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."

List - II State List

"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."

Article 262 of the Constitution deals with adjudication of water disputes.  The provisions in this regard are:

Article 262 (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, or in, any inter-State river or river valley."

Article 262 (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)."

Four Acts, three under Entry 56 of List –I namely, the “River Boards Act 1956”, “Betwa River Board Act 1976” and “Brahmaputra Board Act 1980” and the fourth one under Article 262, namely, the “Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956” are the legislations so far enacted by the Indian Parliament under the above Constitutional provisions.

Details of Constitutional Provisions and Central Water Laws are available in ‘Legal Instruments on Rivers in India Vol I

Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 as amended upto 2002 is available at ‘Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956

Agreements on inter-State rivers 

Efforts are always made to resolve the dispute through mutual discussions and negotiations between the party States.  Such a settlement is most preferred since it fosters a spirit of involvement for the party States concerned.  As a result of such negotiations, a number of  inter-State agreements have been reached so far (Substantive number of these agreements reached before and after independence have become obsolete/superseded by fresh agreements/decision of Tribunals). The list of such agreements for Ganga, Indus and Brahmaputra basins is   given at Annex-I and in respect of other basins is given at Annex-II. Details of these agreements are available at “Legal Instruments on Rivers in India Vol III’ Part 1 and Part 2 .

Inter-State Water Disputes Tribunals

Nine Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunals were constituted under the Act till date. Details are at Annex-III

At present decisions of the Krishna-I, Godavari, Narmada and Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunals are published in the official gazette and are effective and binding on parties to the disputes under the provisions of Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956. The decision of KWDT-II is not yet effective as the same has not been notified in the Official Gazette. Decisions of these Tribunals are available at ‘Legal Instruments on Rivers in India Vol II’ 

Reports of various inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunals are available here