Everything You Need To Know About Inter-State Relations

Inter-State Relations

The success of the Indian federal system rests not only on cordial relations and close collaboration between the Center and the states but also on the interrelationships of the states.

In India, interstate relations are characterised by both conflict and collaboration. There are disputes among Indian states over sharing water and territorial boundaries. The disputes have resulted in violent clashes between states on several occasions; a recent example is violence that happened over the Assam-Meghalaya border dispute.

However, the interrelationship of the states is also about collaboration and coordination, which was evident in the successful GST rollout, in the establishment of The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas, and above all, in the management of Covid-19 pandemic.

By envisaging such circumstances, the framers of the Constitution made the provisions of inter-state relations to strengthen mutual coordination between states. The Constitution has provided for the following provisions in matters of inter-state relations:

  1. Mutual recognition of public acts, records and judicial proceedings (Article 261)
  2. Adjudication of inter-state water dispute (Article 262)
  3. Coordination through inter-state Councils (Article 263)
  4. Freedom of inter-state trade and commerce (Article 301-307)Inter-State Relations

Inter-State Water Disputes

Water comes under the purview of states under entry 17 of the state list, which includes water supply, water storage, irrigation, canals, embankments, drainage and hydropower.

In matters of interstate rivers and valleys, the Centre is empowered to legislate under entry 56 of the Union List, which includes regulation and development of interstate rivers and river valleys.

Further, Article 262 empowers the Parliament in the matters of adjudication of Inter-water disputes. It provides the following provisions:

  1. Parliament will adjudicate complaints on any dispute associated with water use, distribution and management of inter-state rivers and river valleys by enacting legislation.
  2. Parliament can even make arrangements that neither the Supreme Court nor any other court will have jurisdiction in such a dispute.

Under this provision, the Parliament has legislated two laws:

  1. River Boards Act, 1956 – formed using the power given in entry 56 of the Union list.
  2. Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956 – formed under Article 262.

River Boards Act 1956: The Act provides for establishing river boards to regulate and develop inter-state rivers and river valleys. The Central government sets up a river board at the request of the concerned states to advise them.

Inter-State Water Disputes Act 1956: The Act provides for adjudication of disputes involving interstate rivers and river valleys.

  1. Formation of Tribunal: When any request under this Act is received from any State Government involving any water dispute on the inter-state rivers and the Union Government is of the opinion that negotiations cannot settle the water dispute, the Union Government sets up a Water Disputes Tribunal for the adjudication of the water dispute.
  2. Membership of the Tribunal: The tribunal consists of a Chairman and two other members, nominated on this behalf by the Chief Justice of India, from judges of the Supreme Court or of a High Court.
  3. The decision of the tribunal is final and binding on the parties. The parties must give effect to it.
  4. The Act bars the jurisdiction of other courts.

So far, nine inter-state river water dispute tribunals have been constituted, of which five are active.

Inter-State Water Tribunals
Tribunal Year States Involved
Krishna Water dispute tribunal-I 1969 Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh
Godavari water dispute


1969 Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha
Narmada water dispute tribunal 1969 Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra
Ravi & Beas water dispute tribunal 1986 Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan
Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal 1990 Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry
Krishna Water Dispute tribunal-II 2004 Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh
Vansadhara water dispute tribunal 2010 Odisha and Andhra Pradesh
Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal 2010 Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra
Mahanadi Water Dispute Tribunal 2018 Odisha, Chhattisgarh


* Those highlighted in green are active ones

Why was an extra-judicial mechanism necessitated in the case of inter-state river disputes?

Article 262 of the Indian Constitution bars the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court or any others for the following reasons:

  1. These types of disputes are political in nature and involve the sentiments of people; hence, it is important to approach such issues with extreme sensitivity. Only a political solution can satisfy the demands of the concerned parties.
  2. To avoid delay and complexities involved in a litigation process.
  3. To ensure speedy and amicable decisions through a quasi-judicial body.
  4. To avoid conflicting judgments on the same issue by different courts.
  5. To respect the autonomy of states in managing their own water resources.
  6. The tribunals are equipped with the requisite expertise and data to deal with such complicated issues; this may not be available in the case of courts.

However, the Supreme Court has asserted its jurisdiction over inter-state river water disputes by invoking its rights under Article 136 (special leave petition) and Article 142 (enforcement of decrees and orders for doing complete justice). The Court held that it could review the tribunal’s decision on the grounds of manifest error, perversity and violation of fundamental rights.

Inter-State River Water Disputes Amendment Bill, 2019
Context: To deal with the shortcomings of the existing Act, such as long-festering delays and lack of transparency in the framework and guidelines of the working of tribunals, the government brought an amendment to the current Act. The key features of this bill are:

  • The bill seeks to establish a central tribunal against numerous tribunals existing currently.
  •   The bill fixes a strict timeline for the adjudication; the tribunal must give its decision within two years, which may be extended to one more year.
  • The bill removes the requirement of publishing the decision in the official gazette.
  •  The bill makes it mandatory for the Central government to make a scheme for the implementation of awards.


Inter-State Councils

Article 263 of the Indian Constitution provides for an inter-State Council to be established by the President to resolve the mutual disputes between states and promote a sense of cooperation among them.

The Constitutional provisions under Article 263 empower the President to define the duties of the council. The Article mentions duties that can be assigned to the council:Article 263

Interrelation between Article 263 and Article 131
  • Article 131: It provides exclusive jurisdiction to the Supreme Court to adjudicate in dispute between two states or between the Union and state/s.
  • The Inter-State Council’s function to enquire and advise in matters of inter-state dispute is complementary to the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction under Article 131.
  • While the council can deal with any issue related to inter-state issues, its recommendations are advisory in nature. They cannot be enforced, unlike the Court’s ruling, which is binding in nature.

Existing Councils: Under the provisions of Article 263, the President has set up the following councils dealing with inter-state issues:

  1. Central Council of Local Government
  2. Central Council of Health and Family Welfare
  3. Four Regional Councils for Sales Tax 

Establishment of a Permanent Inter-State Council

The Sarkaria Commission made a strong case for the establishment of the Inter-State Council under Article 263. The Commission recommended that the council be entrusted with the duties mentioned in clauses (b) and (c) of Article 263. It also recommended that to differentiate between the existing councils created under Article 263, it must be called an Inter-Governmental Council.

To give effect to the recommendations of the Commission, the Jantata Government, under the leadership of VP Singh, established the Inter-State Council in 1990.

Structure of the Council

The council consists of five members:

  1. Prime Minister as the Chairman
  2. Chief Minister of all states
  3. Chief Ministers of union territories with legislative assemblies
  4. Administrators of union territories without legislative assemblies
  5. Six central cabinet ministers, including the home minister, are to be nominated by the Prime minister.

Besides the members mentioned above, 5 cabinet ministers/ministers of state (independent charge) are nominated by the Prime Minister as the permanent invitees to the council.

  • Functions performed by the Council: The Council deliberates on the issues relating to inter-state, Centre-state and Centre-union territory relations. It performs the following duties:
    1. Discussing and investigating such subjects on which states and Union have common interests.
    2. Providing recommendations upon any such subject for improved policy coordination and action on it.
    3. Deliberation on any such other matters of general interest to the state, on the reference of the chairman.
  • Proceedings of the Council: The Council may meet at least thrice a year. The questions are decided by consensus. Since its inception, there have been 11 meetings of the council; the last meeting was held in 2016.
  • Standing committee: In its second meeting in 1996, the council decided to set up a standing committee under the chairmanship of the Home Minister for continuous consultation and processing of the matters to be discussed in the council.
  • Secretariat: The meetings of the council are held in the Inter-State Council Secretariat, headed by a secretary to the Government of India. Since 2011, it has been serving as the secretariat of Zonal councils as well since 2011.

Zonal Councils

Unlike the Inter-State Council, which is a Constitutional body, Zonal Councils are statutory bodies. The proposition of establishing zonal councils came from Prime Minister Nehru to mitigate the linguistic hostilities caused by the reorganisation of states and to create healthy centre-state and inter-state relations, solving inter-state problems and supporting balanced socio-economic development in the respective regions.

  • The Parliament established them under the State Reorganisation Act 1956.
  • The Act categorised all the states into five zones (Northern, Southern, Central, Eastern and Western) and created Zonal Councils for each of them.Zonal Councils

Criteria of division: Several factors were considered, such as natural geography, linguistic and cultural similarities, means of communication and status of economic development, security and law and order issues.

Structure of Zonal Councils

Each of the Councils has the following members:

  1. Union Home Minister (Acts as Chairperson of each of Council)
  2. Chief Ministers of all states that are included in the respective zones (They act as Vice-Chairman on a rotation basis)
  3. Two other ministers from each state in the zone.
  4. Administrators of the Union territories included.

Members who can be invited as advisors but do not have the right to vote:

  1. A person nominated by the Planning Commission (Now Niti Ayog) for each council.
  2. The chief secretary of the state of each zone
  3. Union ministers can also be invited to the meeting if necessary.

Objectives of the Zonal Councils

The Zonal Councils provide an excellent platform for the resolution of inter-state and Centre-state disputes and contentions through free and open discussion and consultation. A special feature of this forum is that it takes up specific issues of respective regions with a national perspective.

The key objectives of the Zonal Councils are:

  1. Facilitation of cooperation and the exchange of ideas and experiences between the Center and the States;
  2. To check acute sub-national consciousness, regionalism and particularistic tendencies and promote national integration.
  3. Fostering an atmosphere of cooperation among the States to ensure the effective and speedy completion of development initiatives.


Zonal Councils and member states

Councils Member States Headquarter
Northern Zonal Council Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi, Chandigarh, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh New Delhi
Central Zonal Council Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh Allahabad
Eastern Zonal Council Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha Kolkata
Western Zonal Council Gujarat, Maharashtra, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu and Goa Mumbai
Southern Zonal Council Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry Chennai

 North-Eastern Council

The Northeastern states, including Sikkim, were not included in the Zonal Councils. A separate North East Council Act of 1971 was enacted to look after the unique issues of North-Eastern states.

  • Member States: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura.
  • Structure: Its members include the Governor and Chief Minister of all eight states. The President nominates the Chairperson and three other members.
  • Functions: Functions are similar to the Zonal council but with a special emphasis on maintaining security and law and order in the region.

Public Acts, Records and Judicial Proceedings

In a federal polity in which the territorial and administrative jurisdiction of each state is defined, there can be situations in which one state may not recognise the acts and records of another state.

To avoid such situations, the Constitution has, in Article 261, made certain provisions which have been discussed below:

  1. Public legislation, records, and judicial proceedings of the Union and of each state must be accorded full faith and credit across India.
    • Here, the term ‘public acts’ includes both legislative and executive acts of the government.
    • The term ‘public record’ includes any official book, register or record made by a government servant in his official capacity.
  2. The Parliament is empowered to make laws to provide the manner in which these records will be proved and their effect be determined.
  3. Judgements and orders of a civil court anywhere in India can be executed in any part of the country. This rule does not apply to criminal judgements. It means a state is not required to enforce the penal laws of another state.

Inter-State Trade and Commerce

Article 301 to 307 of the Constitution deals with freedom of trade, commerce and intercourse within the territory of India. Similarly, Article 19 (1) (g) also provides freedom to carry out trade and business.

The freedom of trade, commerce and intercourse, both intra-state and inter-state, is a necessary pre-requisite for ensuring economic unity, stability and prosperity in a federal polity.

  • Power of Parliament to impose restrictions on trade and Commerce: Article 302 empowers the Parliament to put restrictions, by law, on the freedom of trade, commerce and intercourse between states or within any part of the territory of India in the public interest (such as in case of scarcity of goods in one region). But, this power cannot be used by Parliament to make any law that discriminates between one state and another or gives preference to one state over another.
  • Power of state legislature to Impose restrictions: The state legislatures can also impose restrictions on trade and commerce, both intra-state and inter-state, in the public interest, but such law can only be introduced with the prior sanction of the President. Besides that, states cannot favour or discriminate against one state over another. (Article 304 (b))
  • Power of states to impose a tax on imported goods: The state legislatures are empowered to impose any tax on imported good from another state or union territory to which similar goods manufactured in the state is subject to. However, this provision does not allow the imposition of discriminatory tax. (Article 304 (a))
  • Saving of laws providing for state monopolies: Article 305 provides for the saving of laws, which allows the nationalisation of business, trade and, services and industries. It means the Parliament is empowered to restrict and exclude citizens from engaging in certain sectors.Inter-State Trade And Commerce
Inter-State Boundary Disputes
Like inter-water disputes, inter-state relations are also affected by boundary disputes. A recent example is the Assam-Meghalaya border dispute, which led to an agitation, causing the death of several people. Similarly, the Karnataka-Maharashtra border dispute on Belgaum is also in the news. 

  • Colonial legacy: The issues of border disputes can be traced back to colonial rule. British Indian government primarily focused on administrative ease rather than linguistic and cultural factors while organising political units.
  • Resolution of disputes: There can be multiple ways to solve such issues, such as:
  •   Inter-state Council/Zonal Councils: These institutions provide a forum for free and open deliberation between the states and the Centre and among states for resolving such conflicts.
  • ·Through Parliament: Under Article 3, the Parliament is empowered to alter the boundaries of states.
  • Judicial redressal: The Supreme Court, under Article 131, has exclusive jurisdiction to hear matters between states.


Explore additional significant articles on Indian Constitution listed in the table below:

What is a Constitution? Evolution of Indian Constitution
The Crown Rule Features of Indian Constitution
The Making of the Constitution Sources of the Indian Constitution
The Preamble of Indian Constitution Union and Its territory
Citizenship Fundamental Rights
DPSP Fundamental Duties
Amendment of the Indian Constitution The Doctrine of Basic Structure
Parliamentary System Federal System
Centre-State Relations Reforms in Centre State Relations
Emergency Provisions Polity

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