State PCS

Edit Template
Edit Template

Inter-State Water Disputes in India

Inter-State Water Disputes in India

India has 18% of the world’s population but only 4% of its renewable water resources. There is uneven water distribution in the country and states are frequently at loggerheads over the distribution of rivers in the country. These are the major rivers in India.

  • Rivers flowing into the Arabian Sea:
    1. Narmada
    2. Tapti
    3. Sabarmati
    4. Purna
  • Rivers flowing into the Bay of Bengal:
    1. Ganga
    2. Yamuna
    3. Brahmaputra
    4. Meghna
    5. Mahanadi
    6. Krishna
    7. Godavari
  • The Inter-State River Water Disputes are one of the most contentious issues in the Indian federalism today.
  • The recent cases of the Cauvery Water Dispute and the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal are some examples.
  • Various Inter-State Water Disputes Tribunals have been constituted so far, but they had their own problems.
Inter-State Water Disputes in India

Reasons for The Several Inter-State River Water Disputes in India

  • Water Scarcity: India is a water-stressed country with uneven distribution of water resources. As a result, states with limited water resources often engage in disputes to secure their fair share.
    • For example, the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have been involved in a long-standing dispute over the sharing of Cauvery River water due to water scarcity in the region.
  • Competing Water Demands: Different states have competing demands for water, including agricultural irrigation, and industrial use, leading to conflicts as states vie for their respective requirements.
    • For instance, the Krishna River dispute between Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh is centered around the allocation of water for irrigation and drinking purposes.
  • Historical Agreements and Treaties: Many inter-state water disputes have their roots in historical agreements and treaties that were formulated during the colonial period or post-independence.
    • An example is the Ravi-Beas river dispute between Punjab and Haryana, which arose due to the construction of dams and canals after the reorganization of states in 1966.
  • Infrastructure Development: The construction of dams, barrages, and irrigation projects on rivers can impact the flow of water downstream, leading to disputes over water allocation.
    • Mahanadi River dispute between Odisha and Chhattisgarh is an example where the construction of dams by Chhattisgarh has resulted in reduced water flow to Odisha.
  • Political Considerations: Water disputes in India are often influenced by political factors, including regional aspirations, electoral considerations, and states’ perception of their rights over water resources.
    • The sharing of Krishna River water between Karnataka and Maharashtra has witnessed political considerations and protests from various stakeholders.
The Inter-State River Water Disputes are one of the most contentious issues in the Indian federalism today.

The recent cases of the Cauvery Water Dispute and the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal are some examples.

What are the arrangements to settle Inter-State Water Disputes?

Constitutional Arrangements

  • Schedule 7 of the Constitution: It distinguishes between the use of water within a State and the purpose of regulating interstate waters.
    • Union List: Entry 56, It gives the Union Parliament the power to formulate laws and mechanisms for regulating Interstate rivers. 
    • State List: Entry 17, States retain autonomy regarding water utilisation for purposes such as water supply, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power subject to provisions of Entry 56 of List 1 (Union List).
  • Article 262: In case of disputes relating to waters, Parliament may by law provide for the adjudication of any dispute or complaint with respect to the use, distribution or control of the waters of, or in, any inter-State rivers. Parliament may, by law also provide that neither the Supreme Court nor any other court shall exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such dispute or complaint as mentioned

Statutory Arrangements

  • River Board Act, 1956: The river Boards are suppose to advise on the Inter-state basin to prepare development scheme and to prevent the emergence of conflicts. Till date, no River Board has been created.
  • Inter-State Water Dispute Act, 1956: If a particular State or States approach the Union Government for the constitution of the tribunal: 

(a) Central Government should try to resolve the matter by consultation among the aggrieved States; 

(b) In case, consultation does not work, then the Union Government may constitute the tribunal.

Inter-State Water Dispute (Amendment) Bill 2019

  • Introduced: On the basis of Sarkaria Commission’s report.
  • If enacted, it would make it mandatory for the Centre to constitute a tribunal on states’ request or suo motu.
  • It binds the Centre to set up the DRC to amicably resolve the issue by negotiations in one year. If the DRC cannot settle the dispute, the Centre must refer it to the interstate tribunal within three months.
  • The court sets timelines and suggests a permanent multi-bench tribunal after dissolving existing ones in inter-state water disputes.
  • The tribunal would be appointed on the recommendation of a selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and ministers from the Law and Justice, and Jal Shakti (water) ministries.
  • Criticism: The tribunal could also become a parking slot for judges and civil servants at the end of their service. The amendment is against federalism and only increases the Centre’s power.

Issues with IRWD Act

  • Centre’s dilemma: Since river water falls within the ambit of State Subjects, its governance remains confined to the limits of the state political discourse.
  • Interference of Judiciary: The apex court focuses tribunals on water allocation, while its role is interpreting awards and agreements in inter-state water disputes.
  • Colonial award: Colonial legacy fosters state disparities, contributing to current water conflicts rooted in imperial power dynamics.
  • Structural issues: Various operational characteristics of the tribunals as problematic, since they do not adhere to any established system.
  • Operational issues: Sittings are irregular, functioning occurs outside regular courts, and hearings are infrequent in inter-state water dispute tribunals.

Need for the IWRD Act

  • Major inter-state river basins: India has 25 major river basins, with most rivers flowing across states.
  • Equitable distribution of water: As river basins are shared resources, a coordinated approach between the states is necessary for the preservation, equitable distribution and sustainable utilization of river water.
  • Hydro-politics:Interstate river conflicts rise from property rights disputes and flawed food security economic measures.
  • Sustainability: Resulted in fragmented water management due to lacking ecosystem integration and reliance on reductionist hydrology.

Active tribunals in India

  • Ravi & Beas Water Tribunal (1986) – Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan
  • Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal II (2004) – Karnataka, Telangana, Andra Pradesh, Maharashtra
  • Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal (2010) – Goa,Karnataka, Maharashtra
  • Vansadhara Water Disputes Tribunal (2010) – Andra Pradesh & Odisha
  • Mahanadi Water Disputes Tribunal (2018) – Odisha & Chattisgarh

Why this has become a sensitive topic?

  • Associated ethnicity: River water at state level tied to “regional sharing of resources,” impacting state’s cultural identity.
  • Matter of autonomy: River disputes tied to regional rights; water sharing viewed as compromise on state autonomy.
  • Identity politics: Hence, the political narrative around the river disputes jumps to a larger scale of identity politics.

Way forward

  • For such dispute resolution, all other recourses such as mediation and conciliation must remain viable options.
  • These should operate simultaneously along with adjudication and political consensus among the riparian states.
  • Directly approaching the Supreme Court may result in adversarial outcomes, with the conflict reaching a point of no return.

Inter-State Water Disputes in India , Inter-State Water Disputes in India

Read Also: Recommendations On Centre-State Relations

Demo Class/Enquiries

blog form

More Links
What's New
IAS NEXT is a topmost Coaching Institute offering guidance for Civil & Judicial services like UPSC, State PCS, PCS-J exams since more than 10 years.
Contact Us
Social Icon

Copyright ©  C S NEXT EDUCATION. All Rights Reserved