The Author of this blog is Mr. Jitesh Kadian of Faculty of Law, JNU, Haryana-NCR

The term “Riparian” means whoever is near the water resource can use the water. To further elaborate this term, it basically refers to “personal natural right incidental to land right”.

“Riparianism is considered to be the organising principle of water rights”.


1.      Traditional Water Rights: Refers to land-based and is focussed on individual use. So traditionally, the situation was heavily dependent on the fact that the water rights were limited to the person who used to have a clear area of water in their territory.

2.      Emergence of State Control: Eminent Domain. The second stage happened to be the involvement of the State taking control over the water rights.

3.      Modern Water Rights: State allocation and market control. As mentioned earlier, the economic aspects of the same were being highlighted. The idea of delinking of water rights from land rights comes into play. It has also been argued that the concept of tradable water rights entitlement concept should be made available in this scenario. For example, A got “x” amount of water, A saved 10% of “x” and traded the same to someone else. The best way to protect the environment is to basically put a price tag on it, this is similar to the economic logic like that of electricity usage.

4.      Community Rights based on Human Rights and environmental considerations: This is what is known as the most suitable form of handling groundwater issues. Given the present day scenario where there is enough water-related disputes, the idea of pulling together an entire community for the sake of protecting their own rights is a practical solution. For example, the tank based system in the State of Tamil Nadu.

Another related case law regarding this would be, “Jitendra Singh v. Ministry of Environment”, it talked about the protection of village commons which becomes significant to protect the fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India under Part-3.

If we look at the very famous, “Plachimada Case”, also known as the “Coca Cola” Case, the said company was located beside a river and thus, it ended up claiming riparian rights over the river. But, the government had other views on this. It basically restricted the rights.


       Fair distribution of water: Lack of access towards clean drinking water is already an on-going problem and thus, this needs to be addressed by all means.

       Resolution of conflicts: There are an endless number of conflicts which only keep growing regarding the water-related disputes between states and countries sharing a common source of water. This remains an important criterion to take hold of the situation and resolve it amicably.

       Protection of Resources: Environment is already degraded; the last thing would be to waste the minimal available resources in the name of development. Thus, this also forms an important goal of water laws.

Now, the laws have to be made and implemented keeping in view the above-mentioned objectives.

Coming to the “Indian Easements Act, 1882”, u/s 7 (g) (h), “Riparian Doctrine” has been mentioned which says that it is applicable only to “defined channel” because of proper regulation of water. Riparian rights are a Common Law right by virtue of “the Indian Easements Act, 1882”. The “shifting riparian” contradicts “perpetual rights” due to the change in the river course. This becomes significant for groundwater.

The question arises, what kind of restrictions can be applied on riparian rights? By all means, such restrictions have to be reasonable enough.

Similarly, in the case of “Kamal Nath-SCI, 1996”, the concept of Public Trust Doctrine redefined the entire spectrum of government control.


The rights can be classified into 2 types – Natural Right and Statutory Right.

The riparian tight is basically the natural right inherited by the person who has ownership of land on the bank of the river. The rights are equal for the upper riparian and lower riparian, they both enjoy equal statuses for it. If there is prevailing the custom or some people are using the right for a long term then we cannot block their riparian right. Even in the normal course, the people start using the river water, it can be traced as the riparian right.

“More than the period, it is the residence, uses of water and the need for use of water by the riparian that confers on him the status of a riparian tinted with riparian rights”.

Indian courts in this regard always favoured to accept and maintain the riparian rights. All conventional land-based ways to deal with water rights, including rights to groundwater, never again give a sound premise to the economical the board and utilization of water assets. Subsequently, the need to better oversee water assets is typically the fundamental motivation behind why present-day water rights routines are presented. The way that water rights are property rights, or semi property rights, implies that essential enactment is normally important for division change and the presentation of current water rights. The main formal advance during the time spent acquainting present-day water rights is with spot water under state proprietorship or control through such enactment. New institutional game plans are important for the organization of present-day water rights. Such courses of action, as a water organization, ought to incorporate systems for partner investment.

A water organization may have ability all through the pertinent purview. It might, on the other hand, be built up explicitly to deal with a given aquifer or water body. Obviously it is important to present the fitting forces and legitimate obligations on such an element on the off chance that it is to be ready to work successfully. As to their substance, present-day water rights commonly determine the volume of water that might be disconnected. This might be communicated as a fixed sum or as an extent of the accessible water.

There is a pattern towards constraining the term of water rights as this makes future redistribution conceivable even at the cost of security for rights holders. Moreover, present-day water rights are commonly subject to a scope of general and explicit conditions, including a condition requiring the instalment of water expenses or charges. Rupture of such conditions can prompt the privilege being lost. In an expanding number of purviews, water rights might be exchanged. Water rights exchanges are, in any case, by and large rather deliberately directed by the water organization to limit negative effects on outsiders and the condition.

Most exchanges water rights have included rights identifying with surface water. In any case exchanges rights to groundwater have occurred in various wards. The

proof proposes that transferable water rights can prompt the financially increasingly

effective utilization of water assets. Leaving aside contentions over the proficiency of

business sectors for water rights, the certainty remains that gave that exchanges are

uninhibitedly gone into and seen as advantageous by the two gatherings they do eventually offer a generally uncontentious method for re-doling out water from low an incentive to high esteem employment.

Albeit worldwide experience seems to point to an extensively regular way to deal with present-day water rights, in light of a common arrangement of suspicions and results, it must be obviously stressed that there is no a solitary best practice display. As of late noted by the Australian Productivity Commission, the "selection of game

plans depends, to some degree, on the monetary qualities of water, the one of a kind

highlights of every ward, including its lawful systems and existing hierarchical courses of action catchment hydrology inside purviews". So, in the end, I want to say that we should shift and opt for the new water legislation rather than focusing upon the old riparian rights.


To conclude it can be said that, water scenario is starkly different from electricity and putting the economic logic may not help the situation of the crisis. Also, the very concept of “Riparianism” doesn’t help sort the issues in the present world scenario when it comes to water-related disputes. It is a common law concept and has to be changed and modified as per the current times. Scarcity of water looms large on us, given the COVID-19 situation doing the rounds; the Riparianism concept doesn’t look sustainable enough.  The solution to this issue doesn’t limit to one form of authority, but that of various parties. If the community rights-based approach is followed along with the State regulation with a balanced form of practical legislation regarding the same, then the things can be taken care of to a great extent.


1.      Water Law in India: An Introduction to Legal Instruments Hardcover by Sujith Koonan Cullet, Philippe 

2.      Water and the Laws in India- Ramaswamy R. Iyer