Ever since the 1956 re-organisation of States, several inter-State disputes have come up before the Supreme Court for adjudication, mostly on water allocation or boundary settlement.

Under the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956, when a dispute arises among two or more State governments and the Central government receives a request under Section 3 from a basin State, it is referred to a tribunal. Despite many such tribunals having been set up, States still bring several issues to the Supreme Court such as the competence of a tribunal to deal with a request for an interim award, as in the case of the Cauvery dispute; non-implementation of a tribunal’s award; or challenging the final award.   

In 1966, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan filed suits and cross-suits on the takeover of the headworks located in Punjab, and challenging provisions of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966. The case was withdrawn and the Eradi tribunal was formed.

When the Cauvery tribunal refused to give any interim relief, the question arose as to whether a tribunal had the jurisdiction to grant an interim award. The Supreme Court intervened at the instance of Tamil Nadu and said tribunals could do so. Since then, the Supreme Court has been flooded with challenges to every interim or final order.

Appeals by Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka in 2007 against the final Cauvery award of February 5, 2007 are also pending adjudication.

According to experts on national water policy, one way to resolve inter-State disputes could be to declare all major rivers national property and national schemes, funded by the Union government, should be launched for development of their total command area with partial involvement of the States concerned.

Another area of concern is the inter-State border dispute. There are long-pending disputes in the Supreme Court relating to Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh; Maharashtra and Karnataka over Belgaum and Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. One reason for the inordinate delay in adjudication is the Centre’s ambivalent stand. The stand is mostly influenced by political reasons, and more often than not the Government of India is not able to take a categorical view one way or the other.