To prepare for Indian Polity for any competitive exam, aspirants have to know about the basics of Inter-State Relations. It gives an idea of all the topics important for the IAS Exam and the polity syllabus (GS-II). Inter-State Relations and related topics are extremely important for the UPSC Exam. This is an essential portion of the polity. As IAS aspirants, you should be thorough with the Inter-State Relations. This article will provide you with relevant details about the Inter-State Water Dispute.


  • Water sharing is one of the most contentious issues in Indian federal political setup which has time and again challenged the principle of cooperative federalism. 
  • Water is in the State List, however Central government has the power to regulate and develop inter-state rivers and river valleys.
  • 262 for the adjudication of inter-state water disputes makes two provisions:
    1. Parliament may by law provide for the adjudication of any dispute or complaint with respect to the use, distribution and control of waters of any inter-state river and river valley.
    2. Parliament may also provide that neither the Supreme Court nor any other court is to exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such dispute or complaint.
River Boards Act (1956) Provides for the establishment of river boards for the regulation and development of inter-state river and river valleys.

A river board is established by the Central government on the request of the state governments concerned to advise them.

Inter-State Water Disputes Act (1956) Empowers the Central government to set up an adhoc tribunal for the adjudication of a dispute between two or more states in relation to the waters of an inter-state river or river valley. The decision of the tribunal would be final and binding.

Moreover, neither the Supreme Court nor any other court is to have jurisdiction in respect of any water dispute which may be referred to such a tribunal under this Act.

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.



Constitutional Provisions To Solve Water Disputes


Schedule VII (Art. 246) Statelist (Entry 17) States have power to legislate (under State list) with respect to water (water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power)
Union List (Entry 56) Regulation & development of inter-State rivers and river valleys.


Article 262 Adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-State rivers or river valleys.
Article 263


Establishment of an Inter-State Council to effect coordination between the states and between Centre and states.
Article 131


Provides original jurisdiction to the Supreme Court to resolve dispute between the Union and states and inter-State.



Empowers the Supreme Court to adjudicate on the earlier ruling by the other courts or any other Tribunal can be challenged.



Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal-I 1969 Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh
Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal 1969 Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and  Odisha
Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal 1969 Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra
Ravi and Beas Water Disputes Tribunal 1986 Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan
Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal 1990 Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry
Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal II 2004 Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh
Vansadhara Water Disputes Tribunal 2010 Odisha and Andhra Pradesh
Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal 2010 Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra
Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal 2018 Odisha and Chhattisgarh




  • Demographic factor– Increasing population in the river basin
  • Changes in agriculture patterns as farmers are now shifting towards water-intensive crops such as paddy and sugarcane.
  • Climate and geographical factors – A study in 2011 had predicted that climate change might cause a reduction of up to 50 per cent in the waters of the Cauvery sub-basins by 2080.
  • Uneven distribution of water resources along with increasing Rainfall variability and frequent droughts.
  • Disputes due to bifurcation of states – Once Telangana came into existence in 2014, the Godavari water and the Polavaram project became the bone of contention.
  • Political factors– Regional political forces have grown stronger and assertive with the growing nexus between water and politics have transformed the disputes into turfs of vote bank politics.



  1. Issues in Resolution of Water dispute
    • Historical – The dispute over sharing Cauvery’s water is over a century old. It first cropped up between the princely state of Mysore (now Karnataka) and the Madras Presidency (now Tamil Nadu).
    • 262, bars the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court or any other court over interstate water disputes. However SC using its power of Special Leave Petition (Art. 136) accepts the petitions hence resulting in pending litigations.
    • In the times of coalition politics and assertive regional political forces, the Central government’s mediation for resolution becomes difficult.
    • Non-compliance of tribunal awards by States is the critical weak link in dispute resolution, which may persist even when a permanent tribunal exists.


  1. Issues with the present Inter State River Water Dispute Act, 1956:
    • A separate Tribunal has to be established for each Inter State River Water Dispute.
    • Inordinate delay in securing settlement of such disputes. Tribunals like Cauvery and Ravi-Beas have been in existence for over 26 and 30 years respectively without any award. There is no time limit for adjudication. In fact, delay happens at the stage of constitution of tribunals as well.
    • No provision for an adequate machinery to enforce the award of the Tribunal.
    • Issue of finality – In the event of the Tribunal holding against any Party, that Party is quick to seek redressal in the Supreme Court. Only three out of eight Tribunals have given awards accepted by the States.
    • Control over water is considered a right which has to be jealously guarded. Compromise is considered a weakness which can prove politically fatal.
    • The Act gives no indication of the principles that have to be applied by the tribunal in deciding water disputes.
    • There is no age limit for the chairperson or members of the tribunals.



  • Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) – to be established by the Central Government before referring dispute to the tribunal, to resolve the dispute amicably by negotiations within a period of one year extended by 6 months.
  • Single Tribunal instead of existing multiple tribunals.
  • It provides for the appointment of Assessors to provide technical support to the tribunal. They shall be appointed from amongst experts serving in the Central Water engineering Service not below the rank of Chief Engineer.
  • Timeline – The tribunal should settle a dispute in four-and-a-half years.
  • Finality – The decision of the Tribunal shall be final and binding.
  • Data Collection and maintenance of a data-bank at national level for each river basin by an agency to be appointed and authorized by central government.


Composition of Tribunal– Tribunal shall have one chairperson, one vice-chairperson and not more than six other members. It limits the tenure of the chairperson to five years or till they attain the age of 70, whichever is earlier. The term of office of Vice Chairperson and other member of tribunal shall be co- terminus with the adjudication of the water dispute.


  • Benches of Permanent Tribunals are proposed to be created as and when need arise. Thus it is not clear how these temporary benches will be different from present system.
  • The Supreme Court had said that it can hear appeals against water tribunals set up under ISWDA, thus delaying the judicial proceedings.
  • Institutional mechanism to implement tribunal’s award is still mired in ambiguities and uncertainties.


  • Inter-State Council (ISC) can play a useful role in facilitating dialogue and discussion towards resolving conflicts.
  • River Basin Organization (RBOs) – can be set up under River Boards Act 1956 to regulate and develop inter-state rivers and their basins.
  • Moving towards mediation – Mediation is a flexible and informal process and draws upon the multidisciplinary perspectives of the mediators.
  • Supply Side Management – Many scholars have argued that augmenting the water supply might be one way of dealing with such issues.
  • Declaration of Rivers as National Property – which may reduce the tendency of states which consider controlling of river waters as their right.
  • Bringing water into concurrent list – as recommended by Mihir shah report where central water authority can be constituted to manage rivers. It was also supported by a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources.
  • Institutional Model for inter-state water issues – The challenges of water-sharing in distress years remain because the country lacks institutional models for implementing inter-state river water awards. Thus, there is a need for a permanent mechanism to solve water disputes between states without seeking recourse to the judiciary.
  • Interlinking of rivers – can help in adequate distribution of river water in the basin areas.
  • Following 4Rs – There is a need to practice the concept of the 4Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover) for water management in line to achieve goal 6 (Ensure access to water and sanitation for all) of the SDGs.
  • Complying with National Water Policy – for rational use of water and conservation of water sources must be followed.


  • Under the scheme, the Centre established Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) and the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC).


  • To monitor the storage, apportion shares, supervise operation of reservoirs and regulate and control Cauvery water releases with the assistance of the CWRC.
  • To regulate release of water by Karnataka, at the inter-state contact point at Billigundulu gauge.
  • To determine the total residual storage in the specified reservoirs at the beginning of the water year (June 1 each year).
  • Advise the states to take suitable measures to improve water use efficiency, by promoting micro-irrigation (drip and sprinkler), change in cropping pattern, improved agronomic practices, system deficiency correction and command area development.
  • To take appropriate actions in case any party state defaults, it can also seek the help of the central government for implementation of the award.


  • It is a permanent body under the Union Ministry of Water Resources and its decisions are final and binding on all the party States.
  • The share of each state will be determined on the basis of the flows so assumed together with the available carry-over storage in the reservoirs.

An inter-State river like Cauvery is a ‘national asset’, and no State can claim exclusive ownership of its waters or deprive other States of their equitable share. – Supreme Court in Cauvery water dispute judgement