Water Law: Definition and Meaning

"The substance of life and a basic human right" is water. Water is therefore a fundamental component of life on earth, including human life, and as a result, it is a major legal matter. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) correctly highlights the significance of the human right dimension of water from a legal standpoint. But in reality, there are many other components to water law, including problems related to economics, the environment, and agriculture, as well as human rights. The establishment of rules governing access to and control over water has historically been one of the main issues in water law.

Water is directly necessary for human survival. As a crucial input in agriculture, water is also indirectly important. However, the development of formal water law has been comparatively sluggish and sometimes inconsistent, despite the crucial role that water has always played in maintaining life—human lives and human economy. At the domestic level, colonial law first concentrated on controlling water for economic purposes, for example, by developing laws pertaining to irrigation and transportation.

The water legislation in India is composed of many parts. Central and state legislation as well as international agreements govern the water law in India.

What is the meaning of the Water Law?

Any legislation that is connected to water is referred to as water law. Water connects several sectors; hence its legislation applies to all forms of law. Early precedents that established common law on issues like water supply sharing caused different places' water laws to develop in diverse ways. It alludes to the collection of rules and laws that establish behavior and are supported by social institutions. The four main categories of water law are allocation, administration, development, and protection. Every country has its own laws, which differ in certain details but not in their main goals.

Regulations on Water Laws

Water has no political boundaries because it exists everywhere. Water laws may apply to any area of the hydrosphere where water is said to be allotted or preserved for a particular purpose. These include, but are not limited to:

Constitutional Provisions

The division of responsibility for developing water resources between the union government and state governments is outlined in the constitution. Water has been classified as a state subject to central intervention in order to govern the development of interstate rivers and the resolution of interstate water conflicts. These rules provide the basis for the River Boards Act and the Interstate Water Disputes Act. In accordance with laws governing national planning for development, the central government may also take action to conserve the environment, forests, and other natural resources.

Water is largely a state subject according to the Indian Constitution. Water, namely water supply, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage, and water power are all listed in List II Entry 17 of the State List 7th Schedule to the Constitution as "water, subject to the terms of Entry 56 of List I." As a result, states are allowed to adopt the water legislation and develop policies in compliance with this clause.

In reference to the aforementioned, entry 56 of List I (Union List) reads, "regulation and development of interstate rivers and river valleys to the extent that such regulation and development, under the administration of the union, is proclaimed by Parliament by legislation to be expedient in the public interest."

Accountable Institutions

The following are the current responsibilities that various institutions have in the development of water policy by the Union government:

  • The National Water Resources Council: It is responsible for approving water-related policy by forging a consensus.

  • The National Water Board: The Board assists the National Water Resources Council.

  • The Ministry of Water Resources has a key role in setting the National Water Resources Council's agenda.

  • The Central Water Commission: It serves as the National Water Board's secretariat. It creates the foundational paperwork and water policy drafts.

  • The Central Ground Water Board: Its primary duty is to evaluate groundwater through geo-hydrological surveys and research, including the drilling of exploratory tube wells to aid in such studies. The Central Ground Water Board's groundwater evaluation data is used in a variety of ways by banks to examine the legitimacy of loan requests for the building of wells and tube wells.

  • The Central Ground Water Authority has the legal authority to control groundwater extraction in order to prevent environmental harm from excessive groundwater use. As already said, the Union uses its remaining authority to protect the environment. Thus, the central groundwater agency lacks broad authority to control groundwater use.

  • The National Committees: These committees took part in discussions on a range of specialist topics, including hydrology, irrigation and drainage, hydraulic research, etc. to choose study fields and develop a professional agreement on the issues and potential solutions.

  • The Specialized National Institutions: These institutes, which are part of the ministry of water resources, do research on problems that have an impact on policy, such as the function of forests in hydrology and the amount of return flows from irrigation.

  • Various Water Dispute Tribunals: To decide water disputes in accordance with the guidelines the government has established to create the awards. The case law that has developed in this way, as well as the award's spirit, will have a significant impact on how water policy will change in the future.

  • The Judiciary: Court appeals cannot be used to change the water dispute tribunal's rulings. However, before a tribunal is established, the offended states can and do seek redress via the judiciary. For instance, people petitioned the Supreme Court for help with the Delhi Yamuna River's water quantity and quality issues. In a similar manner, NGOs asked the Supreme Court for instructions to stop raising the Narmada dam. Water policies are impacted by the case law that developed along the way. The interventions that the research emphasized were documented.


For India to thrive economically, ecologically, and socially, the water legislation has to be changed. The current legal system, which was mostly left over from the colonial era, requires significant reform and democratization, and suitable alternatives are urgently needed. The socio-legal elements of the administration of the water system in India, however, have been woefully ignored up until now. The regime of water law, in terms of rights and obligations, developed in civil society and is not something produced by the state after analyzing the policy and legal environment.

Therefore, future research in water law must develop an alternative socio-legal discourse and practice where the relevant authorities take both scientific and organic knowledge of managing water resources seriously and work to take into account the rights-seeking nature of people's struggles for water resource management.


Q1. What are the laws related to water?

Ans. An institutional framework for preventing and reducing water pollution is established by the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act. It sets effluent and water quality standards. Industries that produce pollution must get approval before disposing of garbage in sewage systems.

Q2. What is the Clean Water Act?

Ans. The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the principle law governing pollution control and water quality in the nation's waterways.

Q3. What violates the Clean Water Act?

Ans. According to the Clean Water Act, anybody whose carelessness results in a point source's release of pollutants into American waterways is susceptible to criminal prosecution, a fine of up to 25,000 per day of violation, and a year in jail.

Q4. What is the Water Quality Act of 1987?

Ans. The Water Quality Act of 1987 prohibits the discharge of a pollutant into saline estuarine waters whose quality is below acceptable standards or that do not support fish and wildlife.

Updated on: 01-Feb-2023


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