Inter State Relations – Indian Polity UPSC

In this article, You will read Inter State Relations – Indian Polity (Notes) for UPSC.

Inter State Relations

The successful functioning of the Indian federal system depends not only on the harmonious relations and close cooperation between the Centre and the States but also between States inter se.

Hence Constitution makes the following provisions with regard to inter-state comity or harmony:

  1. Adjudication of inter-state water disputes.
  2. Coordination through inter-state councils.
  3. Mutual recognition of public acts, records, and judicial proceedings.
  4. Freedom of inter-state trade, commerce, and intercourse.

In addition, the zonal councils have been established by the Parliament to promote interstate cooperation and coordination.

Inter-State Water Disputes

Art 262 provides for the adjudication of inter-state water disputes.

Art – 262 makes two provisions:

  1. Parliament may by law provide for the adjudication of any dispute or complaint with respect to the use, distribution, and control of waters of any inter-state river and river valley.
  2. Parliament may also provide that neither the Supreme Court nor any other court is to exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such dispute or complaint.

Therefore, under this provision, Parliament has enacted two laws –

  1. River Boards Act (1956)
  2. Inter-State Water Disputes Act (1956)

1. River Boards Act (1956)

  • River Board Act provides for the establishment of river boards for the regulation and development of Inter-state River and river valleys.
  • A river board is established by the Central government on the request of the state governments concerned to advise them.

2. Inter-State Water Disputes Act (1956)

  • Inter-State Water Disputes Act empowers the Central government to set up an Adhoc tribunal for the adjudication of a dispute between two or more states in relation to the waters of an inter-state river or river valley.
  • The decision of the tribunal would be final and binding on the parties to the dispute. Neither the Supreme Court nor any other court is to have jurisdiction in respect of any water dispute which may be referred to as such a tribunal under this Act.

Why extra-judicial machinery is required for settling inter-state water disputes?

The Supreme Court would indeed have jurisdiction to decide any dispute between states in connection with water supplies if legal rights or interests are concerned.

But the experience of most countries has shown that the main problem with the judicial process – time-consuming (and potentially endless), cases can drag on for decades and even an SC verdict can be challenged in front of a larger bench and still after setting up larger the bench may not reach a satisfactory solution.

The time frame for settling such an issue needs to be small so that the aggrieved population doesn’t suffer due to a long litigation process that may carry on for years at stretch as many of their daily water needs like agriculture, drinking water and economic activities are not affected.

In addition, the concept of “ownership” of an essential natural resource like water is complicated, unlike the usual judicial disputes where things are straightforward.

The legal system works on intricately defined laws, but there is no way to make a strict law regarding all present and future disputes (like for private proprietary interest) regarding rivers since each case is different and requires an ad-hoc approach. A court will not be entirely competent to adjudicate on this matter; however, a perceived injustice in a tribunal order can be appealed in the SC.

A river water distribution scheme between states would have to take into account the population, agricultural/industrial/personal needs, and political/strategic considerations. This kind of dispute straddles the fine line between a legal issue and government policymaking.

The table below shows the name of tribunals and respective years in which they were constituted and the states involved in the dispute:

interstate water disputes tribunal

The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill 2019

The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was recently passed in Lok Sabha. It amends the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956. The Act provides for the adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-state rivers and river valleys.

  • Under the Act, a state government may request the central government to refer an inter-state river dispute to a Tribunal for adjudication. If the central government is of the opinion that the dispute cannot be settled through negotiations, it is required to set up a Water Disputes Tribunal for adjudication of the dispute, within a year of receiving such a complaint. The Bill seeks to replace this mechanism.
  • Disputes Resolution Committee: Under the Bill, when a state puts in a request regarding any water dispute, the central government will set up a Disputes Resolution Committee (DRC), to resolve the dispute amicably. The DRC will comprise of a Chairperson, and experts with at least 15 years of experience in relevant sectors, to be nominated by the central government. It will also comprise one member from each state (at Joint Secretary level), who are party to the dispute, to be nominated by the concerned state government.
  • The DRC will seek to resolve the dispute through negotiations, within one year (extendable by six months), and submit its report to the central government. If the dispute cannot be settled by the DRC, the central government will refer it to the Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal. Such a referral must be made within three months from the receipt of the report from the DRC.
  • Tribunal: The central government will set up an Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal, for the adjudication of water disputes. This Tribunal can have multiple benches. All existing Tribunals will be dissolved, and the water disputes pending adjudication before such existing Tribunals will be transferred to the new Tribunal.
  • Composition of the Tribunal: The Tribunal will consist of a Chairperson, ViceChairperson, three judicial members, and three expert members. They will be appointed by the central government on the recommendation of a Selection Committee. Each Tribunal Bench will consist of a Chairperson or Vice-Chairperson, a judicial member, and an expert member. The central government may also appoint
    two experts serving in the Central Water Engineering Service as assessors to advise the Bench in its proceedings. The assessor should not be from the state which is a party to the dispute.
  • Time frames: Under the Act, the Tribunal must give its decision within three years, which may be extended by two years. Under the Bill, the proposed Tribunal must give its decision on the dispute within two years, which may be extended by another year.
  • Under the Act, if the matter is again referred to the Tribunal by a state for further consideration, the Tribunal must submit its report to the central government within a period of one year. This period can be extended by the central government. The Bill amends this to specify that such extension may be up to a maximum of six months.
  • The decision of the Tribunal: Under the Act, the decision of the Tribunal must be published by the central government in the official gazette. This decision has the same force as that of an order of the Supreme Court. The Bill removes the requirement of such publication. It adds that the decision of the Bench of the
    Tribunal will be final and binding on the parties involved in the dispute. The Act provided that the central government may make a scheme to give effect to the decision of the Tribunal. The Bill is making it mandatory for the central government to make such a scheme.
  • Data bank: Under the Act, the central government maintains a data bank and information system at the national level for each river basin. The Bill provides that the central government will appoint or authorize an agency to maintain such a data bank.

Inter-State Council

The Inter-State Council was established under Article 263 of the Constitution of India through a Presidential Order dated 28th May 1990.

Article 263 establishment of an Inter-State Council to effect coordination between the states and between Centre and states. It is a non-permanent constitutional body.

President can establish such a council if at any time it appears to him that the public interest would be served by its establishment. He can define the nature of duties to be performed by such a council and its organization and procedure.

Even though the president is empowered to define the duties of an inter-state council, Article 263 specifies the duties that can be assigned to it in the following manner:

  • (a) enquiring into and advising upon disputes which may arise between states;
  • (b) investigating and discussing subjects in which the states or the Centre and the states have a common interest; and
  • (c) making recommendations upon any such subject, and particularly for the better coordination of policy and action on it.

The Council consists of:

  • Prime Minister – Chairman
  • Chief Ministers of all States – Members
  • Chief Ministers of Union Territories having a Legislative Assembly and Administrators of UTs not having a Legislative Assembly – Members
  • Six Ministers of Cabinet rank in the Union Council of Ministers to be nominated by the Prime Minister – Members

“The Inter-state council’s function to enquire and advise upon inter-state disputes is complementary to the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction under Article 131 to decide a legal controversy between the governments. The Council can deal with any controversy whether legal or non-legal, but its function is advisory unlike that of the court which gives a binding decision.”

Under the above provisions of Article 263, the president has established the following councils to make recommendations for the better coordination of policy and action in the related subjects:

  • Central Council of Health.
  • Central Council of Local Government and Urban Development.
  • Four Regional Councils for Sales Tax for the Northern, Eastern, Western and Southern Zones.

The Central Council of Indian Medicine and the Central Council of Homoeopathy were set up under the Acts of Parliament.

Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State Relations: for establishment of permanent InterState Council

  • The Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State Relations (1983–87) made a strong case for the establishment of a permanent Inter-State Council under Article 263 of the Constitution.
  • It recommended that in order to differentiate the Inter-State Council from other bodies established under the same Article 263, it must be called the InterGovernmental Council.

The Commission recommended that the Council should be charged with following duties:

a) investigating and discussing subjects in which the states or the Centre and the states have a common interest; and
b) making recommendations upon any such subject, and particularly for the better coordination of policy and action on it.

In pursuance of the above recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission, the Janata Dal Government headed by V. P. Singh established the Inter-State Council in 1990.

The council is a recommendatory body on issues relating to inter-state, Center-state, and Centre–union territories relations. It aims at promoting coordination between them by examining, discussing, and deliberating on such issues.

Zonal Councils

Zonal Councils are the statutory (and not the constitutional) bodies.

They are established by an Act of the Parliament, that is, the States Reorganisation Act of 1956.

The idea of creation of Zonal Councils was mooted by the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1956 when during the course of the debate on the report of the States Re-organisation Commission, he suggested that the States proposed to be reorganized may be grouped into four or five zones having an Advisory Council ‘to develop the habit of cooperative working” among these States.

In the light of the vision of Pandit Nehru, five Zonal Councils were set up vide Part-III of the States Re-organisation Act, 1956. The present composition of each of these Zonal Councils is as under:

  • The Northern Zonal Council, comprising the States of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, National Capital Territory of Delhi and Union Territory of Chandigarh;
  • The Central Zonal Council, comprising the States of Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh;
  • The Eastern Zonal Council, comprising the States of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Sikkim, and West Bengal;
  • The Western Zonal Council, comprising the States of Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra and the Union Territories of Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli;
  • The Southern Zonal Council, comprising the States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and the Union Territory of Puducherry.

North-Eastern Council (in addition to the above Zonal Councils), a North-Eastern Council was created by a separate Act of Parliament-the North-Eastern Council Act of 1971.

  • The home minister of the Central government is the common chairman of all zonal councils. Each chief minister acts as a vice-chairman of the council by rotation, holding office for a period of one year at a time.
  • The zonal councils aim at promoting cooperation and coordination between states, union territories and the Centre. They discuss and make recommendations regarding matters like economic and social planning, linguistic minorities, border disputes, interstate transport, and so on. They are only deliberative and advisory bodies.
  • The five zones were formed considering various factors such as – natural divisions of the country, the river systems and means of communication, the cultural and linguistic affinity, and the requirements of economic development, security, and law and order.

Each zonal council consists of the following members:

a) Home Minister of Central government.
b) Chief Ministers of all the States in the zone.
c) Two other ministers from each state in the zone.
d) Administrator of each union territory in the zone.

The objectives (or the functions) of the zonal councils, in detail, are as follows:

  1. To achieve an emotional integration of the country.
  2. To help in arresting the growth of acute state-consciousness, regionalism, linguism and particularistic trends.
  3. To help in removing the after-effects of separation in some cases so that the process of reorganization, integration, and economic advancement may synchronize.
  4. To enable the Centre and states to cooperate with each other in social and economic matters and exchange ideas and experience in order to evolve uniform policies.
  5. To cooperate with each other in the successful and speedy execution of major development projects.
  6. To secure some kind of political equilibrium between different regions of the country.

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