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Lok Sabha TV: Insight-Inter- State Water Disputes



Lok Sabha TV: Insight-Inter- State Water Disputes

India is a diverse country where many rivers run connecting two or more states and most of them are swamped with inter-state disputes. Nearly most of the major rivers of the country are inter-state rivers and their waters are pooled by two or more than two states. Most recently, the Supreme Court gave a verdict on Cauvery water issue where it asked the Karnataka Government to live and let live. On December 15th, 2016, the Union Cabinet announced wide range of amendments to the Inter-State Water Disputes Act 1956. It has proposed an agency to collect and maintain water data including those pertaining to rainfall, irrigation and others. The Cabinet also decided to constitute a permanent tribunal to adjudicate on all inter-state water disputes over river water. This will mean doing away with the current practice of having a separate tribunal for every dispute.

This is an issue which has agitated the country and all are aware of the widespread concern over the time taken by various tribunals in giving their verdict. The existing Act does not fix any time limit for resolving river water disputes. The Cauvery Water Tribunal has taken 26 years and 3 months but the matter is still pending before the Supreme Court. Some members of such tribunals are around 90 years old. For the first time, it is being proposed to set a time limit for Dispute Redressal Committees to resolve disputes amicably.

Some of the Inter-State Water Disputes and States Involved:

  1. Narmada Water Dispute- Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan
  2. Mahi River Dispute- Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh
  3. Ravi and Beas Water Dispute- Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi
  4. Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal Dispute- Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan
  5. Yamuna River Water Dispute- Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.
  6. Karmnasa River Water Dispute- Uttar Pradesh and Bihar
  7. Barak River Water Dispute- Assam and Manipur
  8. Cauvery Water Dispute- Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka
  9. Krishna Water Dispute- Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh
  10. Tungabhadra Water Dispute- Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka
  11. Aliyar and Bhivani River Water Dispute- Tamil Nadu and Kerala
  12. Godavari River Water Dispute- Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh

Some facts:

  1. Inter-State River Water Disputes Act 1956 extends to the whole of India.
  2. The Act provides for resolution of water disputes.
  3. Inter-state water disputes are different from other Inter-state disputes.
  4. Constitution bars the jurisdiction of any other court over water disputes.
  5. The disputes are to be adjudicated by ad-hoc, temporary and exclusive tribunals.
  6. The tribunals are dissolved after they give away the awards.
  7. Awards carry the force of a Supreme Court decree and are binding on the states for a period of 25-30 years.
  8. This arrangement has not been effective and suffered from several governance challenges.
  9. When states approach SC, the bar on its jurisdiction puts restrictions on the court.
  10. Supreme Court has had to limit its role to providing clarifications, leaving states discontent.

Causes of Inter-State Water Dispute:

  1. Water is a finite resource and its demand has increased several times in agricultural, industrial and domestic sector than what is available at present as the country is growing and lifestyle is changing such as increased urbanization.
  2. The moment water is accumulated at a large scale, it gives rise to dispute where commissions come into play and this goes on. This is also more of a political issue because when these disputes are used as emotive issues, all parties jump in, several vested interest are created which leads to further problems like bandhs and strikes.
  3. There is a huge debate on development/growth versus environment as well. Problems are also related with the storage of water such as dams, using it for production of electricity etc which lead to disputes.
  4. There is an administrative system at present which is in conflict with what people want.

Possible Solutions:

  1. The first and foremost requirement here is to go to the people who are actually using this water such as farmers and create a kind of larger body or consensus on how water should be used. India has good examples from the history on how water management was being done in the country
  2. Putting water in Concurrent List. Water is a state subject but the regulation and development of inter-state rivers and river valleys in the public interest is on the Union list. However, the Centre has generally taken a back seat, allowing states to dominate.
  3. Preventing destruction of sources of water (catchment areas of Cauvery have been destroyed due to different reasons) in order to meet the demands of people.
  4. Efficient and sustainable use of water resources in cropping patterns, irrigation systems and demand management.
  5. Setting up a single, permanent tribunal to hear all such cases to deal with procedural complexities involving multiple stakeholders across governments and agencies.


A sound and robust institutional framework ensuring transparency to ease state and public buy-in is quite necessary. Without a co-operative approach, India’s water dispute resolution is unlikely to have much improvement.