Competitive Exams: Inter-state River Water Dispute Tribunal

  • Owing to the various inter-State flowing rivers, inter-State friction is a common with regard to the distribution of the water for irrigation and power generation. Keeping in view this problem of unending river water disputes, the Constitution framers vested the power to deal with it, exclusively in the Parliament. Therefore, Art 262 (1) of the Constitution lays down that the 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) further states that neither the Supreme Court nor any other court shall exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such dispute or complaint…

  • Following this, the Parliament enacted the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956, according to which tribunals are set up for adjudication of water disputes referred to them. And, Section II of the Act excludes the jurisdiction of the SupremeCourt in respect of a water dispute referred to the Tribunal.

  • In the Indian Constitution, water related issues within a State have been listed in the State List, while the issues related to the inter-State water have been kept in the Union List.

Inter-State Tribunals

So far, the Union Government has set up five Inter-State Tribunals for Narmada, Krishna, Godavari, Cauvery, and Ravi-Beas.

  1. The Narmada Water Tribunal. Constituted in 1969 after a complaint by Gujarat. The riparian States involved are Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The Tribunal gave the Award in 1978 and the publication in the Official Gazette took place in 1979. It must be remembered that without the publication in the official Gazette the implementation cannot take place.

  2. The Krishna Water Tribunal. It was set up in 1969. The Award was given in 1973 and the publication took place in 1976. The riparian States are Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.

  3. The Godavari Water Tribunal. The States involved are the same as in the Krishna Water Tribunal and the background that led to the establishment of the Tribunal is also the same.

  4. The Cauveri River Water Tribunal. The history of the disputes concerning the Cauvery River Water is very old. The cause of the dispute is the breach of the agreement reached in 1920s between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu by the former i.e.. the upper Riparian State, by exploiting more water resources than the due amount and, in the process, subjected Tamil Nadu to great loss.

The Union Government set up the Tribunal in 1991, and in the Interim Award given by the Tribunal in mid 1991, it ordered that 205 tmc ft of water be annually given to Tamil Nadu. Violating the Interim Award, the Karnataka Government legislated with regard to the use of water from the Cauvery. Then the President sought the advice of the Supreme Court under Art. 143. The Court opined that the Award was legal and should be published in the Official Gazette, which was done soon after: