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Day 77 – Q 4. How are river water sharing conflicts bad for India’s federalism? What steps can be taken to ensure equitable distribution of water in India?

4. How are river water sharing conflicts bad for India’s federalism? What steps can be taken to ensure equitable distribution of water in India?


India has about twenty major river basins running through the nation and many of these traverse more than one state. This leads to conflicts regarding the use and distribution of water posing a serious threat to India’s federal polity such as Cauvery Water dispute, Mahanadi Water dispute etc.


The former head of India’s Central Water Commission warned that “hydro-politics is threatening the very fabric of federalism” in the world’s second most populous country.

River water disputes as challenge to India’s Federalism:

  • These disputes have led to water being used as a political weapon, which State parties use to rally their supporters and attack their neighbours creating rift between states.
  • Political opportunism over water disputes leading to rise of regionalism.
  • Creates tussle between Centre and states as water being state subject but interstate water falls under Centre’s domain which is seen by states as encroachment upon their rights, thus disturbing the federal equilibrium.
  • Undermines credibility of institutions as and when awards are not being implemented on time.
  • Spill over of interstate water disputes can be seen on other areas of cooperation such as interstate trade and commerce etc.

Steps to ensure equitable distribution of water:

  • Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017 which has provision of Single Tribunal, timely resolution, data collection and maintenance of a data bank needs to be implemented to overcome lacunas of Inter State River Water Dispute Act, 1956.
  • Interlinking of rivers- can help in adequate distribution of river water in the basin areas.
  • Scientific mapping of water resources so that effective management of water resources can be done.
  • Water disputes need to be depoliticized and not be made into emotional issues linked with regional pride.
  • Bringing water into concurrent list as recommended by Mihir shah report where central water authority can be constituted to manage rivers.
  • Supply Side Management: water resources should be utilized and harnessed properly through undertaking long-term measures towards saving water and rationalizing its use.
  • Inter-State Council (ISC), GST council etc. can play a useful role in facilitating dialogue and discussion towards resolving conflicts.
  • One model to follow is France’s system of “water parliaments,” which are responsible for managing the country’s rivers, and which reserve a number of seats for non-governmental and environmental organizations.


It is critical for India to keep an eye on efforts to end its internal water wars, which represent one of the least-understood yet most pressing threats to its stability and development. There is a need to practice the concept of the 4Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover) for water management in line to achieve goal 6 (Ensure access to water and sanitation for all) of the SDGs.

Best answer: Point_Nemo

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