Water Woes

by Megha Sharma (@megha0111)

Are the mechanisms to solve Indian water disputes ambiguous and opaque? 

In economic’s perspective water is a scarce resource which is to be allocated and used efficiently. It does provide the welfare to the citizens as it contributes to health, agriculture, and industries. Since the river crosses the states, the disputes are inevitable. India has been facing the water disputes at both centre-state and inter-state  level. The most prominent of all disputes, being trending in the news these days, is the Cauvery water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The others on the list being Punjab-Haryana over Ravi-Beas waters ,Krishna-Godavari disputes between Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka, Mahadayi water disputes and so forth.

India’s federal structure provides the Union list, the State list and the Concurrent List. The Union List consists of subjects of national importance, the State List consists of subjects of local interest, and the Concurrent List has subjects important to both the Union and the State. River issues hail under the state list but the regulations and development of water come under the union list. State government holds the power to allocate the river water to the riparian states. The inter-state water disputes Act, 1956 was legislated to deal with River conflicts and make laws to adjudicate the disputes. The provision of the establishment of tribunals (when  negotiations do not work) is also included in the act. Tribunals decide over the share of water to be given to different states involved. Which may, in some cases ,lead to the equality-efficiency trade-off. Although sometimes, states refuse for such tribunals and even after the intervention of union government, the water conflicts in some cases are yet left unresolved.

At the inter-state level, Krishna-Godavari dispute has been solved through negotiations and the efforts of the tribunal. The Krishna-Godavari water tribunal  was set up to resolve the conflict. In contrast, there are conflicts (like Cauvery water disputes and Ravi-Beas disputes) which are struggling to get resolved through the negotiations and the tribunal. India’s federal structure tends to ruin when central government fails to mitigate the issues between two states or if the state government goes against the supreme court or the central government.

The Indus-Water Treaty between India and Pakistan and the Ganges treaty between India and Bangladesh are the examples of successful solutions to the disputes. Long back in our history, after the partition, there were conflicts between India and Pakistan over the waters of the Indus river basin. And  the Indus water treaty thus signed, is considered to be one of the most successful water sharing endeavours in the world today. If  such sensitive disputes between India and Pakistan can be solved, why is the inter-state dispute of Cauvery water taking so long to get resolved? The reason being the difference in the negotiation strategies and the causes of failure. The river disputes are handled by the tribunals rather courts to avoid the delays and formalities. But the tribunal does not always succeed in providing the awards at the earliest. Due to the information asymmetry, there is a subsequent delay in decisions which makes the conditions worse and catalyses the conflicts. There is a need of a special authority over tribunal to implement the tribunal’s decisions.

The water issue is not merely a geographical issue, rather a Geopolitical as well as an economic issue. The countries or the states having river water disputes are destined to be together geographically. How about improving their own domestic water management and encouraging low water-intense crops. History witnesses many sensitive issues that were resolved by states getting united and taking decision sitting under one roof. May be it just requires a peace talk.




Author: megha

Wandering and blogging about the one incident that influences me the most in a day...

2 thoughts on “Water Woes”

  1. Good post highlighting water sharing issues of water sharing. Have a look at how Australia tackled a similar issue in the Murray Basin.

    How will the special authority resolve the issue of water scarcity? Is it really a problem of information asymmetry?


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