Friday, March 24, 2017

History of Inter State River Disputes in India and related Constitutional Provisions

The proper functioning and coordination of the Indian Federation system not only depends on the smooth cooperation between the union and the state governments, but among the different state governments as well.

To ensure this kind of coordination, the constitution contains the following provisions which are related to inter-state harmony:

1. Resolution or adjudication of inter-state water conflicts.

2. Coordination between the state governments through the inter-state councils.

3. Mutual recognition and acceptance of public acts, records and judicial verdicts.

4. Freedom of trade, commerce and intercourse among the states.

Apart from these provisions, Zonal Councils have also been established by the Union Government to encourage cooperation and coordination among the state and union governments.

Article 262 of the Indian Constitution has specifically given provisions for the inter-state water disputes.

There are two provisions mentioned in this regard under Article 262 of the Indian Constitution

1. The parliament may pass a judgement regarding any dispute or conflict connected with the use, distribution and control of waters of inter-state rivers and river valleys.

2. The parliament also has a right to pass a motion stating that the Supreme Court or any other court for that matter can execute its jurisdiction over matters related to inter-state water conflicts.

Based on this article, the parliament passed two laws. The River Boards Act of 1956 and the Inter-State Water Disputes Act of 1956.

River Boards Act, 1956

This act makes way for the establishment of river boards for the control, regulation and development of Inter-state River and river valleys.

In other words, a river board is set up by the parliament between the states if and when such a conflict or dispute arises.

This board is set up on the request of the governments of the states concerned.

Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956

This act gives the parliament the power to establish a special tribunal or legal body, set up specifically for the purpose of the concerned dispute.

Such a niche body is known as an ad hoc tribunal.

This tribunal then passes a judgement regarding the conflict which must be obliged by the concerned parties.

This decision of the tribunal is final and binding.

This means that the Supreme Court, or any other court can not have any kind of jurisdiction over the matters regarding inter-state river and river valleys upon which a tribunal has been set up.

Necessity of an extra judicial machinery for the settlement of water disputes -

By the experiences of many different countries, it is evident that legal proceeding take too much time and may drag on for years at end as the parties involved in such inter-state water conflicts are between states which are basically immortal.

The concept of ownership of the natural resources of the country is very complicated.

The laws however, are very niche and specific.

Therefor it didn’t make any sense to leave such inter-state matters to the jurisdiction of the judiciary bodies.

Moreover, even if the Supreme Court passes a judgement in such matters, even then, the states can still challenge this decision in front of a larger bench of judges.

Keep in mind that the states have almost an unlimited supply of resources to keep fighting such legal battles.

There are many factors involved while settling water and river valley disputes such as agriculture, industrial factors, personal and property needs, strategic considerations etc. all these factors are taken into consideration by the special judicial machinery established to resolve exactly these kind of disputes.

So far, there have been six inter-state water dispute tribunals established by the central government.

They are as follows:

Krishna Water Dispute Tribunal

This tribunal was set up in 1969 over the dispute of the water of the river Krishna. Krishna originates in Maharashtra and ends in the Bay of Bengal, passing through the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Godavari Water Dispute Tribunal

This tribunal was set up in 1969 over the dispute of water of the river Godavari. Godavari originates in Maharashtra and ends in the Bay of Bengal, while passing through the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha.

Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal

This tribunal was set up in 1969, over the waters of the river Narmada. Narmada is one of the only two rivers that flow from east to west, the other one being Tapti. Narmada originates in Madhya Pradesh and ends in the Arabian Sea forming estuaries. The river passes through Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Ravi and Beas Water Dispute Tribunal

This tribunal was set up in 1986 over the waters of the river Beas and Ravi. These rivers originate in Himachal Pradesh and the dispute was between the states of Punjab and Haryana.

Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal

This tribunal was set up in 1990 over the waters of the river Cauvery. Cauvery originates in Karnataka while passing through Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The cauvery water dispute is a very old conflict.

In 1924, an agreement was signed according to which 75 percent of the river water was claimed by Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, 23 percent was claimed by Karnataka and the remaining water was to go to Kerala.

In 1972, a special committee was appointed by the Central Government to collect statistics from the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka as to the usage of the water.

The committee found that Tamil Nadu used much more water as compare to Karnataka.

In 2007, the Cauvery Waters Dispute Tribunal gave their final decision and held the agreements of 1924 valid.

It was widely protested in Karnataka and a state wide bandh was observed, especially by the farmers

Second Krishna Water Dispute Tribunal

In 2004, another tribunal was set up to resolve the conflicts between the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telanagna and Andhra Pradesh for the waters of the river Krishna.

It was headed by Justice Brijesh Kumar.

Telangana and Andhra Pradesh sought for the fresh allocation of Krishna water.

The verdict was that the water of Krishna River will not be redistributed among the four states, but only between Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. There will be no change in the water allocated to the other two states.

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