Inter-State Relations

Inter-State Relations

 Though a federal Constitution involves the sovereignty of the Units within their respective territorial limits, it is not possible for them to remain in complete isolation from each other. Because the smooth operation of any federal system is dependent not only on harmonious relations and close cooperation between the Centre and the states, but also on inter-state cooperation. Like other federal constitutions, the Indian Constitution also makes the following provisions with regard to inter-state comity:

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

In addition to above arrangement, the zonal councils have been established by the Parliament to promote inter-state cooperation and coordination.

Inter-State Water Disputes

Water sharing is one of the most contentious issues in Indian federal political setup which has time and again challenged the principle of cooperative federalism. Article 262 of the Constitution provides for the adjudication of inter-state water disputes. It makes two provisions:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Under this provision, Parliament has enacted two laws: 

  • River Boards Act (1956)- It provides for the establishment of river boards for the regulation and development of inter-state river and river valleys. Such a river board is established by the Central government on the request of the state governments concerned to advise them.
  • Inter-State Water Disputes Act (1956)- It empowers the Central government to set up an ad hoc 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. Moreover, neither the Supreme Court nor any other court is to have jurisdiction in respect of any water dispute which may be referred to such a tribunal under this Act. So far (2018), the Central government has set up nine inter-state water dispute tribunals. The name of the tribunals, the years in which they were constituted and the states involved in the dispute are mentioned in below table.
Tribunal NameEstablishment YearStates Involved
Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal-I1969Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh
Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal1969Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha
Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal1969Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra
Ravi and Beas Water Disputes Tribunal1986Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan
Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal1990Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry
Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal II2004Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh
Vansadhara Water Disputes Tribunal2010Odisha and Andhra Pradesh
Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal2010Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra
Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal2018Odisha and Chhattisgarh

Inter-State Council

Inter-state council is a constitutional body. Article 263 makes provision for the establishment of an Inter-State Council to coordinate between the states and between the Centre and the states. The President of India 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 also define the nature of duties to be performed by such a council and its organisation and procedure. However, Article 263 of the Constitution specifies the duties that can be assigned to it in the following manner:

  • Enquiring into and advising upon disputes which may arise between states.
  • Investigating and discussing subjects in which the states or the Centre and the states have a common interest.
  • Making recommendations upon any such subject, and particularly for the better co-ordination of policy and action on it.

The Inter-State 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. The Council may meet at least thrice in a year. All questions are decided by consensus.

Members of Inter–State Council-

Some of the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission were accepted by the Janata Dal government, headed by V. P. Singh. This government established the Inter-State Council in 1990. It consists of the following members:

  • Prime minister as a chairman
  • Chief ministers of all the states
  • Chief ministers of UTs having legislative assemblies 
  • Administrators of UTs not having legislative assemblies
  • Governors of States under President’s rule
  • The six central cabinet ministers were nominated by the Prime Minister. It includes the home minister.

Five Ministers of Cabinet rank / Minister of State (independent charge) nominated by the Chairman of the Council are permanent invitees to the Council. However, the inter-state council is a recommendatory body on issues relating to inter-state, centre-state and centre-union territories relations.

However, there is also a Standing Committee of the Council. The Standing Committee of the Council was set up in 1996 for continuous consultation and processing of matters for the consideration of the Council. It consists of the following members:

  • Chairman – Union Home minister
  • Five Union Cabinet Ministers
  • Nine Chief Ministers

 The Council is assisted by a secretariat called the Inter-State Council Secretariat. It was set-up in 1991 and is headed by a secretary to the Government of India. Since 2011, it has also been functioning as the secretariat of the Zonal Councils.

Public Acts, Records and Judicial Proceedings

Since the jurisdiction of each state is confined to its own territory. Hence, it is possible that the acts and records of one state might have been refused recognition in another state. To remove any such difficulty, the Constitution contains the “Full Faith and Credit” clause, which lays down the following:

  • Full faith and credit are to be given throughout the territory of India to public acts (both legislative and executive acts), public records (any official book, register, or record made) and judicial proceedings of the Centre and every state.
  • The manner in which and the conditions under which such acts, records, and proceedings are to be proved and their effect determined would be as provided by the laws of Parliament.
  • Final judgements and orders of civil courts in any part of India are capable of execution anywhere within India. The rule only applies to civil judgements and not to criminal judgements.

Inter-State Trade and Commerce

Article 301 to 307 in Part XIII of the Constitution deals with trade, commerce, and intercourse within the territory of India. Article 301 declares that trade, commerce and intercourse throughout the territory of India shall be free. Article 301 is aimed at breaking down the border barriers between the states and creating one unit with a view to encouraging the free flow of trade, commerce and intercourse in the country. The freedom under this provision is not confined to inter-state trade, commerce and intercourse but also extends to intra-state trade, commerce and intercourse. Hence, imposing restrictions at the frontier of any state or at any prior or subsequent stage will amount to a violation of Article 301.

Restrictions imposed on freedom provided under Article 301-

The freedom guaranteed by Article 301 is freedom from all restrictions, except those restrictions which are imposed by other provisions (Articles 302 to 305) of Part XIII of the Constitution itself. These restrictions are:

  • Parliament can impose restrictions on the freedom of trade, commerce and intercourse between the states or within a state in public interest. By virtue of this power, Parliament has made the Essential Commodities Act (1955), which enables the Central government to control the production, supply and distribution of certain essential commodities like petroleum, coal, iron, steel and so on. But Parliament cannot give preference to one state over another or discriminate between the states except in the case of scarcity of goods in any part of India.
  • The legislature of a state can imposes reasonable restrictions on the freedom of trade, commerce and intercourse with that state or within that state in the public interest. Such a bill can be introduced in the legislature only with the previous sanction of the President. Furthermore, the state legislature cannot give preference to one state over another or discriminate between the states.
  • The legislature of state can impose any tax on goods imported from other states or the union territories any tax to which similar goods manufactured in that state are subject. This provision prohibits the imposition of discriminatory taxes by the state.
  •  The freedom guaranteed by Article 301 is subject to the nationalisation laws (laws providing for monopolies in favour of the Centre or the states). Thus, Parliament or the state legislature can make laws for the carrying on by the respective government any trade, business, industry or service, whether to the exclusion, complete or partial, of citizens or otherwise.
  • Parliament can appoint an appropriate authority for carrying out the purposes of the above provisions relating to the freedom of trade, commerce and intercourse and restrictions on it. Parliament can also confer on that authority the necessary powers and duties.

To know about the Article Related to Inter-State Relations, refer to the table

Article No.Subject-matter
261Public acts, records and judicial proceedings
262Adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-state revers or river valleys
263Provisions with respect to an inter-state council
301Freedom of trade, commerce and intercourse
302Power of Parliament to impose restrictions on trade, commerce and intercourse
303Restrictions on the legislative powers of the Union and of the states with regard to trade and commerce
304Restrictions on trade, commerce and intercourse among states
305Saving of existing laws and laws providing for state monopolies
306Power of certain states in Part-B of the First Schedule to impose restrictions on trade and commerce (Repealed)
307Appointment of authority for carrying out the purposes of Articles 301 to 304

Zonal Councils

The Zonal Councils are the statutory (not the constitutional) bodies. Zonal Councils have been established by the States Reorganisation Act, 1956. This act divided the country into five zones (Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western and Central) and provided a zonal council for each zone. The zonal councils aim at promoting cooperation and coordination between states, union territories and the Centre. These councils are only deliberative and advisory bodies, their recommendations are not binding.

Factors Considered during Formation of Zonal Councils-

While forming these zones, several factors have been taken into account which include:

  • Natural divisions of the country
  • River systems
  • Means of communication
  • Cultural and linguistic affinity
  • Requirements of economic development
  • Security
  • Law and order

Composition of Zonal Councils-

Each zonal council consists of the following members:

  • Home minister of Union government.
  • Chief ministers of all the States in the zone.
  • Two other ministers from each state in the zone.
  • Administrator of each union territories in the zone.

Besides, the following persons can be associated with the zonal council as advisors (i.e., without the right to vote in the meetings):

  • A person nominated by the Planning Commission (Now NITI Aayog).
  • Chief secretary of the government of each state in the zone.
  • Development commissioner of each state in the zone.

The union home minister has been nominated to be the common chairman of all the 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.

To know about the Zonal Councils, refer to the table

Zonal CouncilMembersHeadquarters
Northern Zonal CouncilHimachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi, Chandigarh, Jammu and Kashmir and LadakhNew Delhi
Central Zonal CouncilUttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya PradeshPrayagraj
Eastern Zonal CouncilBihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and OdishaKolkata
Western Zonal CouncilGujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and DiuMumbai
Southern Zonal CouncilAndhra Pradesh, Telangana Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry Chennai

North-Eastern Council-

Besides the Zonal Councils, there is a North-Eastern Council, set up under the North-Eastern Council Act of 1971. Its members include Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura and Sikkim. Sikkim was added in 2002 as the eighth member of the North-Eastern Council. Its functions are similar to those of the zonal councils, but with few additions.


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