• Legis Scriptor

Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill 2019

Authored by Harsh Mangal

Key Words: Dispute, Water Related Issues, Federalism, Tribunals, Inter-State Conflicts, Development


India occupies around only 4% of renewable water resources of the world, with around 18% of world’s total population. This uneven distribution gives rise to a possibility of water related dispute. If states are in conflict with each other on such issues, then it becomes a threat to India’s unity, and also challenges India’s federalism as this might become an issue of distress between the central government and the state government.

This article delves into the subject of river water dispute, and how The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill 2019 [1] is the much needed step towards resolving disputes related to sharing of river water.


Sharing of river water and issues related to it, has been of great concern not only for Indian states but also internationally. We have seen earlier, when honorable Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi commented on Indus Water Treaty[2], the mere comment put the Government of Pakistan on back foot, and it gained attention of the whole world.

When it comes to states, water disputes are a serious threat to the unity of India as a whole, that is why it becomes very important to resolve this issue effectively and taking into consideration requirements of each and every state. Many steps have been taken by the government earlier also, but those steps did not solved the problem as required.

That is why it became important to introduce The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill 2019, which is an amendment to The Inter-State Water Dispute Act 1956[3]. It was introduced by the Minister of Jal Shakti, Mr. Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in the lower house of the parliament on 25th July 2019[4].

The Parent Act

As mentioned above the parent act of this amendment bill was The Inter-State Water Dispute Act 1956. This act was passed by the parliament in accordance with the provisions of Article 262[5] of the Indian Constitution. This act provided for the mechanism which could be used by the states in case of a dispute regarding the sharing of river water. According to this act in case of a conflict, states can go to the central government and then the matter could be referred to the tribunals.

But formulation of tribunals did not proved to be an effective solution for these problems, as it was a time consuming process and was often delayed, as we have seen in cases of Godavari water dispute[6] and Cauvery water dispute[7]. Though this act was amended in 2002 and recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission[8] were included. According to this amendment it became mandatory to constitute the tribunal within one year of filing of the dispute, and it was mandatory for the tribunals to give their decision within the time frame of five years.

Even after this amendment, there were some loopholes, as there was no transparency in the working of the tribunals, these disputes were politicized due to lengthy procedure of tribunals, and there was no evident difference between a tribunal and a Supreme Court bench, as all the members of the tribunals were from judiciary. The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was a much needed step to address these drawbacks and make the process of resolving issues related to river sharing smooth.

Proposed Changes

According to the proposed amendment bill of 2019, the central government can set up a Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) to solve the dispute between states related to water sharing effectively and timely. The DRC will submit its report to the central government, after resolving the issue by the way of negations within one year, this may be further extended to six months. This committee will include one member from the concerned states, and also the experts on the concerned sectors.

Further, if DRC is not able to solve the dispute within the given time frame, then the issue would be referred to the Inter-State Water Dispute Tribunal by the central government within three months.

This tribunal includes the member other than from judiciary, unlike the previous tribunals. Other than three members from judiciary, this tribunal will consist of a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and three experts from the relevant fields. This bill, bounds the tribunal to give the final decision within the time period of two years, which could be further extended to one year.


It is the duty of the states to resolve the conflict between them in order to ensure the development of India. Political parties should refrain from making disputes related to water sharing, between states a political issue for their vote bank. We need an effective system to resolve the river sharing disputes, especially when the world is facing the problems of water scarcity. The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is a much needed step towards resolving the disputes between state, and we hope that in future all the states will work as a team ensuring cooperative federalism and this will help India in the race of becoming a developed nation.

Foot Notes [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]