Resolution of Inter-state disputes and recent developments in Inter-state relations in India


Judicial and extrajudicial mechanisms:

The Constitution of India contemplates a variety of mechanisms for the settlement of inter-State disputes – taking the word “dispute” in a wide and comprehensive sense, so as to cover not only disputes that come up before the judiciary, but also disputes for whose resolution an extra-judicial machinery is contemplated by the Constitution.

The principal provision creating the judicial mechanism for dealing with inter-State disputes involving a legal right is article 131 of the Constitution. It confers, on the Supreme Court of India, exclusive jurisdiction to deal with disputes involving legal rights.

  Disputes relating to water

Under article 262 of the Constitution, it is permissible for Parliament, by law, to provide for the adjudication of disputes relating to inter-State rivers or river-valleys. The law so enacted can exclude the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and other courts.

Inter-State Council

Finally, in article 263 of the Constitution, there is provision for the formation of an inter-State Council. Although this Council has several functions, it is also competent to tender advice regarding the resolution of inter-State disputes.


Original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court

The principal provision in the Constitution, that is relevant to the subject under discussion is contained in article 131 of the Constitution, quoted below.

The provison itself was amended by the Constitution (7th Amendment) Act, 1956. The article (in its present form) reads as under :-

“131. Original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. – Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Supreme Court shall, to the exclusion of any other court, have original jurisdiction in any dispute –

(a)                 between the Government of India and one or more States; or

(b)                 between the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more other States on the other; or

(c)                 between two or more States,

if and in so far as the dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends:

Provided that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to a dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, covenant, engagement, sanad or other similar instrument which, having been entered into or executed before the commencement of this Constitution, continues in operation after such commencement, or which provides, that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to such a dispute.”.



1.Inter-State Water disputes:

Criticisms against existing arrangements

The main points of criticism against the existing arrangements are:

1.Under 1956 Act, a separate Tribunal has to be established for each Inter State River Water Dispute.

2.They involve 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.

3.There is no provision for an adequate machinery to enforce the award of the Tribunal.

4.Issue of finality. In the event 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.

5.Control over water is considered a right which has to be zealously guarded. Compromise is considered a weakness which can prove politically fatal.

Considering these criticisms of existing arrangement in general and 1956 act in particular, Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation introduced InterState River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017 in Lok Sabha. It proposes to streamline the adjudication of inter-state river water disputes and make the present legal and institutional architecture robust.


1.Single Tribunal – Bill proposes a Single Standing Tribunal (with multiple benches), one Chairperson, one Vice-Chairperson and not more than six other Members, instead of existing multiple tribunals.

  1. 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,

3.Single Tribunal – Bill proposes a Single Standing Tribunal (with multiple benches), one Chairperson, one Vice-Chairperson and not more than six other Members, instead of existing multiple tribunals.

  1. Age and tenure of members- The term of office of the Chairperson is five year or till he attains the age of 70 years, 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.

5.Timeline:  The tribunal should settle a dispute in fourand-a-half years.

6.Finality – The decision of the Tribunal shall be final and binding.

  1. 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
  2. Technical Support: 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.
  3. 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 recently has 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


There has been total shutdown in Darjeeling and instances of violence over demand for creation of Gorkhaland.


1)    Around 1780, the Gorkhas invaded  Sikkim and captured most part of it which includes Darjeeling with Siliguri. They administer ed it for 35 years when finally after the British-Nepal war,  Nepal ceded its territory to the British

The ceded territory included Darjeeling, Siliguri, the entire terai, Simla, Nainital, Garwhal hills, Kumaon upto the Sutlej., i.e., the entire region from Teesta to Sutlej.

2)      Lepchas were nomadic tribes and were engaged in zoom (shifting ) cultivation. They used to hang around the hills from one region to another-sometimes they  in Nepal and sometimes in Sikkim.

3)      When the British started tea cultivation in 1865 and the narrow gauge railway line in Darjeeling, a lot of people came here and started residing permanently. One should keep in mind that –

  1. a) these people did not have the modern concept of international borders,
  2. b) they understood that the land was under the possession of their king and when they came to work under British enterprise as laborers ,they thought they were actually following  the orders of the Gorkha King and,
  3. c) they always understood that they were in their own land.

4)      When these events were happening, India, as we know today, was still not formed and all these people were British subjects, be it a Gorkha or a Bengali.

5)      But after 1947, India entered into an infamous treaty with Nepal in 1950- The Treaty of Peace and Friendship. The Article 7 of this Treaty reads: “The Government of India and Nepal agree to grant on a reciprocal basis to the national of one country in the territory of another the same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of properties, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of similar nature”.


Immediate cause: Bengali language being made mandatory upto class 9th by the state government. The Gorkhas, whose native language is Nepali, has taken it as a threat to their identity.

Long-term cause: problems in functioning of GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration). The leaders have accused state govt. of interference and not devolving enough financial resources to GTA.


1.Differences in language and culture.

2.Aspiration of Indian Gorkha identity: Since creation of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988 and GTA in 2012 did not fulfill this aspiration, they failed.

3.Relative Economic deprivation

4.Alleged maltreatment by Bengalis and lack of voice in Kolkata.

 Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA):

GTA created in 2012 through a tripartite agreement signed by GoI, Govt. of West Bengal and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), replaced the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. It is a semi-autonomous administrative body. It has administrative, executive and financial powers but no legislative powers. GTA presently has three hill subdivisions Darjeeling, Kurseong and Mirik and some areas of Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling district and the whole of Kalimpong district under its authority.


Lack of legislative powers means that the people of the region have no control over laws to govern by themselves

Dooars again has been left out and instead a verification team has been set to identify “Gorkha majority” areas in the Dooars.


Why in News?

Recently, the eleventh meeting of the Inter-State Council (ISC) was held after a gap of 10 years.

What is ISC?

Article 263 provides the establishment of an Inter-State Council to effect coordination between the states and between Centre and states.

It is not a permanent constitutional body. It can be established ‘at any time’ if it appears to the President that the public interests would be served by the establishment of such a Council.

First time it was set up on the recommendation of the Sarkaria Commission and established the ISC by a presidential ordinance on May 28, 1990.

The ISC is proposed to meet thrice a year, but in 26 years, it has met only 11 times.


Why in news?

The 22nd meeting of the Western Zonal Council was held in October, 2016 under the Chairmanship of Union Home Minister.

The Zonal Councils are mandated to discuss and make recommendations on economy and social planning, border disputes, inter-State transport and linguistic minorities related issues.

About Zonal Council

The idea of zonal councils emerged during the course of debate on the report of the States Re-organisation Commission 1956.

In the light of the vision of Pandit Nehru, five Zonal Councils were set up under the States Re-organisation Act, 1956. (Zonal councils are not constitutional bodies, they are statutory bodies)  The Northern Zonal Council

The Central Zonal Council

The Eastern Zonal Counci

The Western Zonal Council

The Southern Zonal Council


The North Eastern States i.e. (i) Assam (ii) Arunachal Pradesh (iii) Manipur (iv) Tripura (v) Mizoram (vi) Meghalaya and (vii) Nagaland (viii) Sikkim are not included in the Zonal Councils and their special problems are looked after by the North Eastern Council, set up under the North Eastern Council Act, 1972.


The Ken-Betwa river linking project aims to irrigate the drought-ravaged Bundelkhand region.

It involves building a 288-metre Daudhan dam, and transfer of surplus water from the Ken river basin to the Betwa basin.

This will submerge nearly 400 of the 4,300 hectares of the Panna tiger reserve.

Experts suggest that the result could be drastic for the tiger population, as they have to adjust to the changes.

Impact area will be far greater with associated activities related to construction, power houses etc.



Odisha government has rejected the Centre’s negotiation committee on Mahanadi river water dispute with Chhattisgarh and instead demanded constitution of a Tribunal for adjudication.

River dispute

The 858 km long Mahanadi River is almost equally divided between Chhattisgarh (53.9 per cent) and Odisha (45.73 per cent).

River Mahanadi, with Hirakud dam on it, is lifeline of Odisha state and critical for development of the region

Dispute is majorly about six water storage structures/ barrages, being constructed by Chhattisgarh government, on Mahanadi River. These barrages might leave insufficient water to the Hirakud dam.




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