In India, during the British rule, the interstate river water disputes were settled by the central government because the irrigation projects were virtually under the control of the Central Government.
The Republic of India upon adopting a Constitution made irrigation a state subject. Accordingly state governments, at present virtually exercise full control on planning, development, regulation, distribution and control of water flowing through their territories. Under Article 262 of the Constitution the Parliament is empowered to provide for the adjudication or control of the water of any interstate river. Under the Voter Dispute Act, 1956 a tribunal consisting of three sitting judges of the Supreme Court or High Court has to be constituted by the central government for the settlement of an interstate water dispute when a request is received from a state government.
According to the Interstate Water Dispute Act, 1968 the Central Government has also been given the responsibility of regulation and development of interstate rivers and river valleys to the extent to which such regulation and development under the control of the Union is declared by the Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest.
The Parliament has also enacted the River Board Act, 1956 which authorizes the central government to constitute river boards in consultation with the state governments for regulation and development of interstate rivers. The Government of India formed rules on June 30, 1959, to settle interstate water disputes.
Among the important interstate water disputes mention may be made of the Kaveri Water dispute between Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu; the Krishna water dispute between Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh; the Tungbhadra river water dispute between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka; the Parambikulam, Aliyar and Bhivani river water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Kerala; the Godavari river water dispute between Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Orissa; the Narmada river water dispute between Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan; the Mahi river water dispute between Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh; the Ravi and Beas river water dispute between Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir; the Yamuna river water dispute between Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi; the Karmanasa river water dispute between Uttar Pradesh and Bihar; and the Barak river water dispute between Assam and Manipur.
Many of these insterstate water disputes have been settled on the basis of equitable apportionment which is the universally acceptad principle (Sukhwal, 1987, pp. 56-76). But still there are some interstate water disputes whose final solution, acceptable to all parties, has not yet been worked out. The Kaveri river water dispute belongs to same categories which besides embittering the relations between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have even threatened the stability of the Central Government.
In a developing country like India, the interstate river water dispute must be resolved quickly so that water resources could be utilized and harnessed properly for economic development. One of the measures could be to declare all the major rivers as national property and national schemes under the central assistance should he launched for the development of their total command area with partial involvement of the concerned states. Separate corporations on the line of the Damodar Valley Corporation may be useful in this direction.
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