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Day 7 – Q 2.Inter-state river water disputes have remained a contentious issue post independence. Can you suggest few measures to address those?

2. Inter-state river water disputes have remained a contentious issue post independence. Can you suggest few measures to address those? 

अंतर-राज्यीय नदी जल विवाद स्वतंत्रता के बाद एक विवादास्पद मुद्दा बना हुआ है। क्या आप उन्हें सुलझाने के लिए कुछ उपाय सुझा सकते हैं?


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.


Reasons for inter-state river water disputes becoming a contentious issue post-independence:

  • Limited water supply– With most of the rainfall concentrated in few months, India experience a drought like situation in pre-monsoon season giving rise to river disputes.
  • Inefficient water usage– Growing water intensive crops in dry areas, reduced use of traditional water harvesting mechanisms, free power and enhanced impetus on flood irrigation have created deficiency of water in most areas.
  • Overlapping of subjects– Under Schedule VII, states have power with respect to use of water, however, in case of inter-state rivers, power lies with the Centre which seldom uses it, giving space for conflicts between states.
  • Political opportunism– These disputes are a perfect rallying point for political parties to secure votes and giving fuel to regionalism as in case of Cauvery dispute.
  • Lack of concrete dispute resolution– Under Article 262, Courts have been denied the jurisdiction over river waters, and the tribunals constituted for it have proved inefficient.

The Union Government as per article 262, has enacted two laws i.e. River Boards Act (1956) and the Inter-State Water Disputes Act (1956) for adjudication of such disputes.

Measures to address:

  • 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.
  • Bringing water into concurrent list as recommended by Mihir shah report where central water authority can be constituted to manage rivers.
  • Demand management- There is a need for the basin states to reduce the demand for water by adopting cropping patterns which require less water and drip irrigation and other water-saving techniques.
  • Supply augmentation- Make rainwater harvesting mandatory, use of check dams to increase ground water, creation of additional reservoir to store overflows from a healthy monsoon year to drought year.
  • Urban Planning- Since urbanization has altered both quantity and quality of our water resources, it is important that proper urban and water planning are taken into consideration.
  • The parliament needs to exercise its powers under Entry 56 of Union List effectively. According to National Water Policy, this can be done by setting up of river boards.
  • It is not necessary to exclude Inter-State Water Disputes from the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under article 131 of the Constitution and that such disputes should also be made to fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, especially in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision to adjudicate on award given by Cauvery Tribunal.
  • Water disputes need to be depoliticized and not be made into emotional issues linked with regional pride.
  • 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.


With increasing population and growing stress on limited water resources, needs a multi-pronged approach, involving all stakeholders and resolving both demand and supply side issues to solve its inter-state river water disputes. 

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