Inter-State River Water Disputes(with Mindmap)


  • The demand of water has been soaring with increasing population and their needs.
  • This has given rise to many inter-state river disputes over sharing of river water between multiple states .
  • Recently, the Cauvery River Water Dispute resurfaced over the question of distribution of water of the river.



  • Increasing population–> thus, an increase in demand of water for agriculture, industrial, domestic purposes among others.
  • One state may check/regulate/control the flow of river water to its advantage thus harming the needs of the other state. For eg. Karnataka may through gates/check dams regulate the water of Cauvery river harming Tamil Nadu.
  • River Water harnessing falls under the State list of Schedule 7(related to the distribution of powers between centre and state)—> leads to assertiveness over ownership of river water.
  • Political reasons: Populism to woo farmers and middle class.

Institutional Mechanisms:

— union government can make laws on regulation and development of inter-State rivers and river valleys à in the public interest (entry 56 of union list, Schedule 7 of Indian Constitution)

—Article 262:

  • Article 262 of the Indian Constitution provides a role for the Central government in adjudicating conflicts surrounding inter-state rivers(only if it is in public interest) that arise among the state/regional governments.

—Acts passed by the Parliament taking cue out of this:

  • Inter-State River Water Disputes (IRWD)Act, 1956à resolve the water disputes that would arise in the use, control and distribution of an interstate river or river valleys
  • River Boards Act, 1956à  for the regulation and development of inter-State rivers and river valleys

—Tribunals:  section 4 of IRWD Act provides dispute resolution process in the form of Tribunal(a kind of court for adjudicating specific purposes)

Why it still persists?:

  • Non-compliance to the awards of tribunals.
  • Present mechanisms are not leveraged upon well.
  • Populism and demagogy overshadows the intellectual efforts.

Issues and Concerns:

  • Law and order issues.
  • Economic losses due to halt of business.
  • Inter-state rivalry which disrupts the federal spirit and unity in diversity.
  • Virtually suspends the Fundamental rights, like, right to move freely throughout the country(Article 19(1)(d)).
  • Regionalism , that is, state before nation, rises.
  • Burden on judiciary (despite presence of tribunals).
  • Agricultural losses to the state which depends on the other state for river water release. This may in turn has grave impacts on food security and health.
  • Ambitious projects of the government like Inter-linking of rivers may suffer a setback .

Way Ahead:

  • Consensus building through existing mechanisms like Zonal councils*, Inter-state councils* and NITI Aayog *.
  • Including experts like geologists, irrigation experts erc. to find a  practical and technical solution.
  • Negotiations between all the stakeholders including farmers, leaders among others.

*Zonal Councils:Statutory body(setup through an act) to advise on matters of common interest.

*Inter-state Councils: Constitutional body(Article 263) to resolve common problems and disputes among the states.

*NITI Aayog: an executive body which replaced the Planning Commission to inculcate a spirit of “co-operative federalism” in Indian polity.

Following is the Mindmap of the above topic. This helps you to recollect the whole topic at a glance.







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