Setting up of common water disputes settlement tribunal


India is facing a lot of inter-state water disputes. Most of the tribunals that have been set up have failed to arrive at a solution. Will this new mechanism solve the problem? This is important from context of GS-2.


In view of the ongoing water disputes in the country, Union Cabinet has proposed to have a permanent tribunal that will subsume existing tribunals and is expected to provide for speedier adjudication.

Constitutional provisions related to water

  1. Water is a State subject as per entry 17 of State List and thus states are empowered to enact legislation on water.
  2. Entry 17 of State List deals with water i.e. water supply, irrigation, canal, drainage, embankments, water storage and water power.
  3. Entry 56 of Union List gives power to the Union Government for the regulation and development of interstate rivers and river valleys to the extent declared by Parliament to be expedient in the public interest.

Constitutional provision related to water disputes

  1. In the case of disputes relating to waters, Article 262 provides:
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. At present, the resolution of water dispute is governed by the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956. According to its provisions, a state government can approach the Centre to refer the dispute to a tribunal, whose decision is considered final.

What are the problems in present set-up?

  1. With increasing demand for water, inter-state river water disputes are on the rise.
  2. Under the present Act, a separate Tribunal has to be established for each dispute and there is no time limit for adjudication or publication of reports.
  3. Only three of the eight tribunals have actually given awards accepted by the states. Tribunals like those on the Cauvery and Ravi Beas have been in existence for over 26 and 30 years respectively without any award.

Features of new structure

  1. A single, permanent tribunal subsuming all the existing tribunals is proposed to be established to resolve grievances of states with speed and efficiency.
  2. The proposed tribunal is expected to deliver its verdict within a span of three years.
  3. In addition, the proposed tribunal is expected to have more teeth as its verdict will get automatically notified. Until now, the verdicts of the tribunals were notified by the government. This practice was causing delays in the implementation of the orders of the tribunals.
  4. Along with the tribunal, the amendment has also proposed to set up Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) to handle disputes prior to the tribunal.
  5. It calls for the transparent data collection system at the national level for each river basin and a single agency to maintain data bank and information system.

Present Inter-State river water disputes under the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act (ISRWD), 1956

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Analysis of the new setup


  1. A permanent tribunal to adjudicate river water disputes between States will undoubtedly be a vast improvement over the present system of setting up ad hoc tribunals as it is expected to provide for speedier adjudication.
  2. An expert agency to collect data on rainfall, irrigation and surface water flows acquires importance and looks like an ideal mechanism to apportion water because party-States have a tendency to fiercely question data provided by the other side.
  3. The Dispute Resolution Committee, an expert body that will seek to resolve inter-State differences before a tribunal is approached will discourage for needless litigation.
  4. Water disputes are highly politicised and a strong public opinion forms around these issues. A single tribunal would address this issue as it would not be questioned for being politically biased.


  1. Given the number of ongoing inter-State disputes and those likely to arise in future, it may be difficult for a single institution with a former Supreme Court judge as its chairperson to give its ruling within three years.
  2. The finality and enforcement of a tribunal’s award may remain elusive as its interlocutory orders as well as final award are likely to be challenged in the Supreme Court. .
  3. The benches of the permanent tribunal are going to be created to look into disputes as and when they arise. It is not clear in what way these temporary benches would be different from the present tribunals.
  4. There is a severe lack of comprehensive data that looks at hydrology, meteorology, ecology and economy in an integrated fashion. Without having that data backbone, it will be difficult for a state-level tribunal or a central body to solve any issue.
  5. The new tribunal does not address the problem of non-compliance by state governments like in the recent Beas-Satluj Tribunal award.


  1. Having an institutional mechanism is one thing, but infusing a sense of responsibility in State governments is quite another. Water disputes have humanitarian dimensions, including agrarian problems worsened by drought and monsoon failures.
  2. The Centre’s proposal to set up a single, permanent tribunal, subsuming all existing ad hoc tribunals, to adjudicate on inter-state river water disputes could be a major step towards streamlining the dispute redressal mechanism. But it alone will not be able to address the different kinds of problems—legal, administrative, constitutional and political—that plague the overall framework. Institutional mechanisms should be backed by the political will to make them work.



Q.1) The Centre’s proposal to set up a single, permanent tribunal to solve inter-state river water disputes could be a major step towards streamlining the dispute redressal mechanism. Examine.

Q.2) What are the existing constitutional and legal provisions regarding water? Discuss the pros and cons of setting up a common tribunal to solve inter-state water disputes?

Q.3) Discuss the pros and cons of having permanent river water tribunal in India where there is significant number of such disputes.

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