Interstate River Water Dispute

Inter state water Sharing disputes


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Entry 56 of the Union List

Mains level: Paper 2- Challenges to water governance

The article highlights the issue of challenges facing the water governance in India, how need for more coordination between the Centre and the States.

Objectives of the two bills

  • Interstate River Water Disputes Amendment Bill 2019 and the Dam Safety Bill 2019 were passed by Lok Sabha and awaits Rajya Sabha nod.
  • The Interstate River Water Disputes Amendment Bill 2019 seeks to improve the inter-state water disputes resolution by setting up a permanent tribunal.
  • The Dam Safety Bill 2019 aims to deal with the risks of India’s ageing dams, with the help of a comprehensive federal institutional framework comprising.
  • The other pending bills also propose corresponding institutional structures and processes.

Challenges to the federal water governance

  • The agenda of future federal water governance is not limited to the above cited issues.
  • These include emerging concerns of long-term national water security and sustainability, the risks of climate change, and the growing environmental challenges, including river pollution.
  • These challenges need systematic federal response where the Centre and the states need to work in a partnership mode.
  • Greater Centre-states coordination is also crucial for pursuing the current national projects — whether Ganga river rejuvenation or inland navigation or inter-basin transfers.

Challenges to water governance

  • Water governance is perceived and practiced as the states’ exclusive domain, even though their powers are subject to those of the Union under the Entry 56 about inter-state river water governance.
  • The River Boards Act 1956 legislated under the Entry 56 has been in disuse.
  • No river board was ever created under the law.
  • The Centre’s role is largely limited to resolving inter-state river water disputes by setting up tribunals for their adjudication.
  • Combined with the states’ dominant executive power, these conditions create challenges for federal water governance.
  • This state of affairs puts the proposed bills at a disadvantage.

Bridging the water governance gap

  • Each bill proposes their own institutional mechanisms and processes leaning on closer Centre-state coordination and deliberation.
  • The disputes resolution committee and dam safety authority rely on active Centre-states participation.
  • Segmented and fragmented mechanisms bear the risks of the federal water governance gap.

Way forward

  • The massive central assistance (Rs 3.6 lakh crore- Centre and states together) through  Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), is an opportunity to open a dialogue with the states to address this governance gap.
  • Globally, federated systems with comparable organisation of powers have used similar investments to usher key water sector reforms.
  • The symbiotic phase of implementing JJM can be productively used to engage in a dialogue with the states about the larger water resources management agenda, beyond the mission’s goals.
  • The Centre can work with the states in building a credible institutional architecture for gathering data and producing knowledge about water resources.

Consider the question “Water governance in the country requires greater Centre-State coordination to deal with the current issues as well as future challenges. In light of this, examine the challenges and suggest the strategies to deal with it.”


Bridging the governance gap between the Centre and State and creation of institutional framework is at the heart of addressing the future challenges to the federal water governance in the country.

Back2Basics: River Board Act 1956

  • The act to provide for the establishment of River Boards for the regulation and development of inter-state rivers and river valleys.
  • It empowers the Central Government, on a request received in this behalf from a State Government to establish a River Board for advising the Governments on regulation or development of an inter-State river or river valley or any specified part thereof.

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