Sarat Chandra IAS Academy

Sarat Chandra IAS Academy UPSC Civils Daily Mains Question 15th July -2021

Assess the effectiveness of the institutional architecture of Indian federalism in settling inter- state disputes.

In a constitutional set-up based on the federal principles, sovereignty is divided between the federation and the units. Division of sovereignty implies the creation of boundaries, and this is bound to raise disputes especially in a country like India, which is characterized by a diversity of culture, language, heritage and customs.

On numerous occasions disputes between two or more states have arisen and led to unwarranted situations. The most long-standing and contentious inter-state issue has been the sharing of river waters. Due to increase in demand for water, a number of interstate disputes over sharing river waters have surfaced. For example, Cauvery water dispute between upstream state (Karnataka) and downstream state (Tamil Nadu), Krishna water dispute between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka etc.

Further, many boundary issues have cropped up between the states as well. For example, Karnataka and Maharashtra’s claim over Belgaum, tensions between Assam and Meghalaya related to Assam Reorganization Act of 1971 etc. Additionally, there have been violent agitations in some states over migrants and job seekers from other states. This has increased bitterness between the states even further which tends to weaken the roots of healthy federalism.

Existing institutional architecture of India federalism in settling inter-state disputes

  • Article 131 confers upon the Supreme Court of India exclusive jurisdiction to deal with disputes between two or more States.
  • Using Article 262, Parliament enacted the Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956 (IRWD Act) for adjudication of any dispute with respect to the use, distribution or control of the waters of, in any inter-State river or river valley.
  • Further, under Article 136 {Special Leave Petition}, Supreme Court, in its discretion, may grant special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree, determination, sentence or order in any cause or matter passed or made by any court or tribunal in the territory of India. It has been used to resolve the grievances of the states.
  • Other institutional setup in this regard are Inter-State Council set up under Article 263, Zonal Councils to discuss matters of common concerns to states in each zone and Finance Commission providing frame work for the distribution of taxes between different states.

The effectiveness of the institutional architecture of India federalism in settling inter-state disputes:

There are nine separate tribunals to adjudicate water disputes. Four of the tribunals took 10 to 28 years to deliver their awards. Currently, there is no definite time frame to adjudicate disputes and as a result, most inter-state river water disputes continue to linger on.

  • Inter-State Council has had just 12 meetings since it was set up in 1990. There was a gap of a decade between the 10th meeting in 2006 and the 11th meeting in 2016, and the council met again in November 2017. Further, the Council does not have the power to investigate issues and there is no compulsion on the government of the day to accept the outcomes of the meetings.
  • Even the meetings of Zonal Councils have been sporadic which reduces their utility as an action-oriented dispute resolution platform.
  • Most of the institutional architecture of Indian federalism is focused on relations between the Union government and the states, and there is far less space to settle inter-state frictions.

Recently, the Union Cabinet approved Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019 wherein timely and expeditious resolution of inter-state river disputes would be ensured by a single tribunal. Even NITI Aayog’s Governing Council has been used as a platform to discuss policies as well as address inter-state disputes. Recently, a state’s Chief Minister called for greater inter-state cooperation to effectively tackle cross-border crimes.

Further, there is an institutional gap in the Indian union right now, which needs to be filled before inter-state frictions get out of control. The Centre would have to play the role of friend, philosopher and guide to the States in facilitating the growth process. It should take the initiative of re- energizing the Constitutionally-approved institutional mechanisms such as the Inter-State Council, so that States get a platform to voice their concerns even more regularly.

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