Inter State Water Dispute

India is a country where several rivers run connecting multiple states and many of them are infested with inter-state disputes, specifically the Inter State Water Dispute. Recently, the Honourable Supreme Court gave a verdict on Cauvery water dispute where it asked the Government of Karnataka to ‘live and let live’.

Last year on 15th of December, the Union Cabinet announced wide range of amendments to the Inter-State Water Disputes Act 1956.

Inter State Water Dispute | Amendments proposed

  • The Cabinet has proposed an agency to gather and retain water data including those pertaining to irrigation, rainfall and others.
  • Ithas also decided to establish a permanent tribunal to adjudicate on all inter-state water disputes prevalent in the country. It would mean doing away with the current practice of having a separate tribunal for every inter-state water

Inter State Water Dispute | Background

  • Inter-State River Water Disputes Act 1956 extends to the whole of India and provides for adjudication of water disputes.
  • Inter-state water disputes are different from other Inter-state disputes in the term that Constitution bars the jurisdiction of any other court over water disputes. These disputes are to be adjudicated by temporary, ad-hoc and exclusive tribunals as the tribunals are dissolved after they give away the awards. Awards carry the force of a Supreme Court decree and are legally binding on the states for a period of 25-30
  • This arrangement has been ineffective and suffered from several governance challenges. When states approach the Supreme Court, the bar on its jurisdiction puts restrictions on the court. SC has had to limit its role to providing clarifications, leaving states discontented.

Inter State Water Dispute | Shortcomings of the existing provisions

  • The existing Inter-State Water Disputes Act of 1956 does not fix any time limit for resolving river water disputes.
  • It should be noted that the Cauvery Water Tribunal has taken almost 26 years and 3 months but the issue is still pending before the Supreme Court.
  • Therefore, it is being proposed to set a time limit for Dispute Redressal Committees to resolve disputes cordially.

Inter State Water Dispute | Causes of Inter-State Water Dispute

  • Water is a limited resource and the demand of it has increased numerous times in agricultural, industrial and domestic sector as compared to its current availability. The country is developing and lifestyle changes such as increased urbanization has put a strain on our natural resources.
  • The moment water is amassed at a large scale, it paves the way for a dispute where commissions come into play and this goes on and on. Honestly. this is more of a political issue than a regional one because these disputes are used as emotive issues by all the parties during elections and several vested interest are created that leads to more serious issues like bandhs, strikes and riot like situations.
  • There is an ongoing debate on development/growth imperative on our environment and ecology. Issues are also related with the storage of water such as dams and subsequent usage of it for production of electricity and other uses, which lead to disputes among the states.
  • Quite seriously, there is an administrative system which is in conflict with what people want. The supply side incapability of the administration is neutralised through changing the nature of demand by the administration.

Inter State Water Dispute | Solutions

  • Primary requirement in this case is to involve the people who are actually using the river water such as farmers and create a broader consensus on how water should be used. India has ample examples from the history on water management techniques and taking a leaf out of the pages of history is significant both politically and ecologically.
  • Although water is a state subject (Entry 17), the regulation and development of inter-state rivers and river valleys in the public interest is in the Union list (Entry 56). However, the Centre has generally taken a back seat, allowing states to take control over such critical issues. It would be prudent to shift Entry 17 of State List to the Concurrent List.
  • It is very important to prevent the destruction of sources of water (catchment areas of Cauvery river have been destroyed due to multiple reasons) to meet the demands of people during critical times.
  • Optimum utilisation and sustainable use of water resources in cropping patterns, irrigation systems and demand management.
  • Establishment of a single, permanent tribunal to hear all inter-state water dispute cases to deal with procedural complexities involving numerous stakeholders across governments and agencies.

Inter State Water Dispute | Conclusion

A robust institutional framework to ensure transparency and cooperation is necessary to adjudicate inter-state water disputes in letter and spirit. Political situations should be dealt politically and legal safeguards should be seldom applied in order to enhance the spirit of cooperative federalism.

NOTE For Prelims

Examples of Inter State Water Dispute in India

  • Narmada Water Dispute- Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan
  • Mahi River Dispute- Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh
  • Ravi and Beas Water Dispute- Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi
  • Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal Dispute- Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan
  • Yamuna River Water Dispute- Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.
  • Karmnasa River Water Dispute- Uttar Pradesh and Bihar
  • Barak River Water Dispute- Assam and Manipur
  • Cauvery Water Dispute- Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka
  • Krishna Water Dispute- Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh
  • Tungabhadra Water Dispute- Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka
  • Aliyar and Bhivani River Water Dispute- Tamil Nadu and Kerala
  • Godavari River Water Dispute- Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh

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