Water Federalism, Tribunalization of Water Justice and Hydro-Politics: India’s Inter-State River Water Disputes Act at 65 Years

Puthucherril, Tony George

India’s water federalism is at a crossroads. It is a unique two-tier system that has the constitutional and enabling provisions for water management and inter-state water dispute resolution as its base. These support the tribunal system that adjudicates inter-state river water disputes and administers water justice. More than six decades have elapsed since its establishment. At the same time, during this period, the per capita water availability has fallen drastically. India is now one of the world’s most water-stressed countries. Water disputes between States are becoming more animated and highly volatile. This article examines water federalism in India in terms of two questions: 1) Should water be transferred from the State List to the Concurrent List? 2) Should India persist with the tribunal system or replace it with the judicial process at the Supreme Court level? The first assumes importance as India persists with the river linking project. The second is relevant because the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act is almost 65 years old. In 2016, India’s Supreme Court re-wrote the law, and, more recently, the Union Government sought to revamp the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act through amendments. All these impel the need to re-look the idea of water federalism as it operates in India in its entirety.

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Columbia Journal of Asian Law

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May 4, 2022


Keywords: Water federalism, Hydro-politics, Cooperative federalism, Competitive federalism, River-linking, Water justice, Tribunalization, Climate change