Interstate River Water Dispute Act and Mahanadi River Water Dispute explained

March 13, 2018

Interstate river water disputes have been a bone of contention between states and have inflicted severe damage to Indian federalism. Indian Constitution has looked at Interstate river water disputes categorically and has thus empowered Central Government to resolve them through Article 262 of the Indian Constitution. Union Government had enacted Interstate River Water Dispute Act, 1956 to enforce Article 262 of the Constitution. Let us look at the Act and Mahanadi River water dispute for better understanding of the disputes.


Interstate River Water Dispute:


As per Interstate River Disputes Act, 1956, water dispute means any dispute or difference between two or more State Government with respect to -

  • the use, distribution or control of the waters of, or in, any interstate river or river valley; or

  • the interpretation of the terms of any agreement relating to the use, distribution or control of such waters or the implementation of such waters or the implementation of such agreements; or

  • the levy of any water rate in contravention of the prohibition contained under section 7 of the act (discussed below).

 Prohibitions under section 7 : Prohibition of levy of any fees or seigniorage:

  • No state shall levy any fees or seigniorage, by reason, only that only of the fact that any works for the conservation, regulation or utilisation of water resources of an inter-State river have been constructed within the limits of the State, impose, or authorise the imposition of, any seigniorage or additional rate or fee (by whatever name called) in respect of the use of such water by any other State or the inhabitants thereof.

  • Any application of water rate in contravention of the prohibition contained in the above point.

Complaint redressal procedure under Interstate River Water Dispute Act, 1956:


Organisation of Tribunal:

  1. Tribunal shall consist of a Chairman and two other members nominated in this behalf by the Chief Justice of India from among the persons who at the time of such nominations are Judges of the Supreme Court or of a High Court.

  2. Central Government may, in consultation with the Tribunal, appoint  two or more persons as assessors to advise the Tribunal in the proceedings before it.

Powers of Tribunal: 

  1. Tribunal will have same powers as vested in a civil court under Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 in respect of the following matters, namely - 

    • summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person and examining him on oath;

    • Requiring the discovery and production of documents and material objects;

    • requisitioning of any data, as may be required by it

    • Issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses or for local investigation;

    • Any other matter which may be prescribed. 

  2. Tribunal may direct the State Government to carry out, or to permit to be carried out, such surveys and investigations as may be considered necessary for the adjudication of any water dispute pending before it.

  3. Subject to the provisions of this act and any rules that may be made there under, the Tribunal may, by order, regulate its practice and procedure. 

Data Bank and Information:

  1. Central Government shall maintain a data bank and information system at the national level for each river basin which shall include data regarding water resources, land, agriculture etc.

Jurisdiction of Supreme Court:

  1. Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, neither the Supreme Court nor any other Court shall have or exercise jurisdiction in respect of any water dispute which may be referred to a Tribunal under this Act.

Issues with Resolution of Interstate River Water Disputes in India:

  1. These disputes have proved to be less about water and more political. These issues have escalated when two different political parties are in the two contending states.

  2. There is absence of proper data about the water in river at any given time which has led to adoption of unscientific methods in solving the dispute.

  3. There has been large time lag in both constitution of the tribunal and giving of judgment by the tribunal.

Mahanadi River Water Dispute:


Context of Mahanadi River Water Dispute:

  1. SC directed centre to constitute a water dispute tribunal in 4 weeks.

  2. Today (13 March 2018) Union Government constituted a Mahanadi River Water Dispute tribunal.



Mahanadi River Water Dispute:

  1. The dispute is between the lower riparian state of Odisha and upper riparian state of Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, MP and Jharkhand.

  2. Odisha has been maintaining that its share of water in Mahanadi is 12.28 MAF whereas that of the upper states, including Chhattisgarh, is not more than 8.33 MAF in the minimum flow of 20.60 MAF (available upto Hirakud dam) as per the 1957 agreement agreed to by Madhya Pradesh and Odisha on commissioning of Hirakud dam.

  3. Odisha had moved to SC seeking grant of an injunction restraining Chattisgarh from continuing with the construction and operation of the six ongoing industrial barrages namely

    1. Samoda

    2. Seorinarayan

    3. Basantpur

    4. Mirouni

    5. Saradiha and Kalma pending constitution of the tribunal.

  4. It also moved to SC seeking injunction restraining Chattisgarh from using water far in excess of its equitable share.

  5. Centre failed to constitute a tribunal even after repeated requests by Odisha. Centre's stand is to resolve the dispute as per the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Madhya Pradesh and Odisha in 1983 which seeks to create a joint control board to review and plan interstate irrigation projects on the river basin. The board has not been formed till date and thus it needs to be formed.


Implications if Odisha's allegations are true:

  1. The state of Odisha had further contended that if Chhattisgarh were to divert 27.22 MAF as admittedly planned, the Hirakud dam would go dry, leading to starvation in Odisha, since 60% of the population depends on Mahanadi for meeting irrigational and drinking water requirement.

Tribunals in India:

  1. The Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal would be the eighth Tribunal to be constituted for resolution of the inter-State waters.  The other Tribunals are Krishna-1, Godavari, Ravi-Beas, Cauvery, Krishna-2, Vansadhara and Mahadayi. 

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