Explained: The New Water Bills

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Several water bills are waiting for approval by both the Houses of Parliament. These bills will be extremely important in shaping laws relating to water and water laws within the country.


The monsoon session of the Parliament was supposed to clear two bills. They are the Interstate River Water Disputes Amendment Bill 2019 and the Dam Safety Bill 2019. The bills got cleared in the Lok Sabha and were scheduled to clear in the Rajya Sabha too when the session got cut short. Both the bills follow a common course of redefining Centre-State relations. The bills endeavour to develop new ways in which the Centre can work with the State to ensure that the water laws are up to date. New issues relating to the governance of water resources between the State and the Centre and also inter-state water issues will be dealt with here.

A CSS (Centrally Sponsored Scheme) has been introduced known as the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM). Their main mission is to facilitate access to free drinking water to the rural areas which lack them. In this scheme, drinking water will be available to all these homes via pipes by 2024. That is the main goal of the Jal Jeevan Mission. The Jal Jeevan Mission will become integral in the future of water laws within the country. The mission plans to open a dialogue between the Centre and the State. This would prove to be beneficial in maintaining amicable relations between the Centre and State. 

The Water Bills 

The Interstate River Water Disputes Amendment Bill suggests the setting up of a tribunal that would be permanent. This tribunal would be integral in all interstate water disputes. A dispute resolution mechanism would be set up within the tribunal. This would be integral in enabling proper communication between the States to ease into a proper dispute resolution.

The second bill in consideration, the Dam Safety Bill brings the question of India’s dams. Their structural integrity owing to the age of the dams is also brought up. The bill proposes the setting up of a federal institution that consists of a framework of authorities who are experts on dam safety. Such authorities will be set up at the national and state levels. All the proposed amendments come under this umbrella. The need for federal involvement in the issue of the water bodies of the country has been a long-debated issue.

The water security of our national bodies, the sustainability of our rivers, and climate change are some of the growing concerns which these bills promise to tackle. Such issues need a coordinated effort between the Centre and State. Here, both would work together to create a solution amicable for all. This will happen while making sure to respect the authority and the powers bestowed upon both the parties. Major projects which involve water bodies such as the cleaning of the rivers, the creation of proper irrigation facilities, and other projects related to water bodies require proper coordination between the Centre and State, which the bills and the Jal Jeevan Mission hope to achieve. 

Governing of Water Bodies 

Entry 56 of the Union List gives Parliament to legislate on issues relating to interstate rivers and the river valleys. But the State has only the power to legislate on certain inland waterways as specified in the State List. But the State has been legislating on the issue of water bodies, and the practice of water governance. This is an issue for the Centre as it falls in the Union List. But the State has been legislating on water governance. The river board established under the River Boards Act, 1956 has not been used properly.

A river board has not been set up, thus making the act obsolete and thus making the way for a legislative power vacuum that has been filled by the State. The role of the Centre in water governance was reduced to that of a mere mediator for interstate disputes. The Centre only engages in water governance when a conflict between the States arises. Thus, there exists a huge power gap between the State and the Centre on the issue of adjudication of water laws. 

Both the bills and the subsequent bills awaiting approval from Parliament rely on a close partnership between the Centre and State to tackle the various issues pertaining to our water bodies throughout the country. The processes through which each bill goes through differ and each process requires proper federal involvement. Without a strong framework wherein both the Centre and the State are involved, the changes suggested by the bills will be extremely hard to implement. 

The Role of the Jal Jeevan Mission

The JJM is an important centrally assisted program. It aims at creating a proper channel to facilitate proper centre-state relations. This would become imperative in dealing with the issues of water governance throughout India. The JJM would help in creating a Centre-State relation which would help in creating a comprehensive framework. This would become imperative in the data exchange on water issues between the Centre and the State. A system of communication like those set up in other countries would become important in facilitating the creation of a channel of information exchange between the Centre and the State on issues relating to water management. The setting up of proper guidelines and the combined effort of both the powers of a federal government would ease the creation of a symbiotic relationship which would prove beneficial in the long run. 


Water is an important issue within the country which would require a lot of cooperation between the Centre and State. Only by acknowledging the powers of both the Centre and State can a proper channel of communication be created. This is to facilitate the needs of both the governmental systems to ensure that the best possible scenario is created for preserving our water bodies.

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