[Answered] Analyze the recurring nature of inter-state water disputes in India, taking the Cauvery waters dispute as a case study. What are the underlying causes and challenges in resolving such disputes?

Introduction: Give context to the question.

Body: What are the underlying causes and challenges in resolving such disputes?

Conclusion: Way forward

The recurring nature of inter-state water disputes in India, exemplified by the Cauvery waters dispute, can be attributed to a combination of historical, geographical, political, and legal factors.

What are the underlying causes of such disputes?

  • Geographical factors: India’s diverse geography, with multiple states sharing river basins, often leads to conflicts over water allocation. The Cauvery River, for instance, flows through Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry, creating competition for its waters. Other factors like erratic & variable rainfall, rapidly depleting groundwater, land use modification & water-intensive cropping patterns are intensifying the disputes.
  • Historical Agreements: Historical agreements and agreements signed during the pre-independence era have laid the foundation for water-sharing arrangements. These agreements, often outdated, can become contentious when interpreted differently by the states. Eg, The Sutlej-Yamuna Link dispute started in 1966, when the Punjab Reorganisation Act divided erstwhile Punjab into the states of Punjab and Haryana.
  • Political Factors: Political interests and regional rivalries can influence state governments’ stance on water-sharing disputes. The pursuit of electoral gains and local political considerations can impede negotiations. The sharing of Krishna River water between Karnataka and Maharashtra has witnessed political considerations and protests from various stakeholders.
  • Legal factors: A big limiting factor is the lack of effective authority for enforcing the orders of tribunals. The Tribunal can only make an award and cannot make it binding.

What are the challenges in resolving such disputes?

  • Lack of Adjudicative Bodies: India has set up various tribunals, like the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, to address such disputes. However, these bodies often face delays in adjudication due to legal complexities and resource constraints.
  • Federal Structure: India’s federal structure gives significant autonomy to states, making it challenging for the central government to intervene effectively in state-level water disputes. this approach of imprecise distribution of power between the Union and the States has created a Federal-Jurisdictional ambiguity.
  • Public sentiments: Public sentiment in riparian states can be inflamed during water disputes, making it politically risky for governments to compromise.
  • Jurisdictional overlap: The institutional ambiguity regarding the jurisdiction of Supreme courts and tribunals has further complicated the issue where appeals are filed against the order of the tribunal leading to a lack of effective implementation.


Resolving inter-state water disputes in India requires a multifaceted approach that combines legal, political, technical, and environmental considerations to ensure sustainable and equitable water management.

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