The Supreme Court and interstate river water disputes

The Article 262 of India’s Constitution provides for barring the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over interstate river water disputes. Accordingly, the Interstate River Water Disputes Act 1956 bars the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court or any other court over interstate river water disputes. Yet, the Supreme Court has had to engage with interstate river water disputes on several occasions.

The research, supported by the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India explores the contours of this engagement of Supreme Court in interstate river water disputes resolution towards a definitive narrative about the underlying rationale of the jurisdictional bar. The courts’ jurisdictional bar over interstate river water disputes is also an important means to engage deeply with the dynamics of transboundary river water sharing, the political ecology of which limits the effectiveness of law and courts in resolving the disputes.

The research seeks to address the vexing policy question about how the Supreme Court has to be located in resolving interstate river water disputes. It is guided by the following hypothesis. The Supreme Court, though forced to engage with the subject, it has always been with an intent to interpret or give effect to tribunal awards. This appears to be true until the unprecedented Cauvery decision in the February 2018, in which the Court modified the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal award. With this decision clearing way for an invariable escalation of the disputes to the Supreme Court, the research aims to inform the policy discourse towards improved interstate river water disputes resolution.