“Water is an elixir of life” – water is a very important natural resource required for every life activity. It is known as an elixir of life, needed by every organism to survive. Water is a major resource for sustaining life on earth. Water contributes to welfare in several ways like health, agriculture, industry, etc. This extraordinary demand for water in diverse fields has resulted in its scarcity. Moreover, availability of water is highly uneven in both space and time as it is dependent upon varying seasons of rainfall and capacity of storage. India is served by two great river systems, the Great Himalayan River system and Peninsular River network. It has 14 major rivers that are inter-state rivers and 44 medium rivers of which 9 are inter-State rivers. Since India is a federal democratic system, and because rivers cross state boundaries, constructing proficient and equitable mechanisms for allocating river flows has long been a significant legal and constitutional question. The Inter-State River Water Disputes are one of the most contentious issues in the Indian federalism today. The recent cases of the Cauvery Water Dispute and the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal are some examples. Various tribunals have been constituted so far, but they had their own problems.
Why have these disputes occurred?
Water as a natural resource has always been central to human culture and civilisation. All historical civilisation like that of Indus Valley civilisation and Mesopotamia originated along with water sources. The Indian culture treats water as a sacred resource and all the major rivers have been elevated to the status of ‘goddesses’. With increased commercialisation and industrialisation in the 21st century, water is evolving as a precious natural resource over which states want to exert monopoly. No state wants to do away with control over water and this has become a source of conflict within the Indian federation.
The 3 reasons why the disputes have become aggravated are:
·Federalism - The Schedule VII of the Indian Constitution confers power on the states to decide on the use of water for various purposes like water supply, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage, and water power. Interestingly, despite the fact that ‘interstate water’ has been explicitly mentioned in the Union List, there is no such acknowledgement in the State List. This allows the states to delineate the ‘user rights’ over waters in ways deemed best by them. To avoid controversies, the Union Government has generally avoided any proactive approach concerning the issue, and has confined its role in setting up Tribunals under exigencies of interstate water disputes.
·Policies and regimes - wrong delineation of our food security by reducing its definition to producing and procuring high water-consuming paddy and wheat. It all began with the Green Revolution in the late 1960s, continued with the introduction of a minimum support price (MSP) mechanism in the late 1970s, and eventually the governmental procurement policies through the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and state procurement agencies. The Green Revolution was not only successful in increasing the yield and production of food grains, but also helped in bringing more areas under cultivation of irrigated paddy and wheat. These largely happened at the cost of lower water-consuming millets like Ragi and Sorghum which were displaced in many areas. In this process, the phenomenon of minimum support prices (MSP) played an important role too. While irrigation in India is largely groundwater-dependent, the integrity of water systems and hydrological cycles: groundwater and surface flows are linked and feed on each other. It is groundwater depletion that has created pressure on surface flows, and vice-versa.
·Lack of coherent approach - water governance architecture in India is based on a fragmented piecemeal approach, rather than integrated basin approach that takes a holistic view of the land-water-food nexus.
In the draft constitution the original provisions on the subject, Articles 239 to 242 were drafted, however a subsequent amendment replaced these provisions and Article 262 was added. Article 262 states: Parliament may by law provide for the adjudication of any dispute or complaint with respect to the use, distribution or control of the waters of, or in, any inter-state river or river valley. Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, Parliament may by law provide that neither the Supreme Court nor any other court shall exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such dispute or complaint as is referred to in clause (1).
The Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956 (IRWD Act) is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted under Article 262 of Constitution of India on the eve of reorganisation of states on linguistic basis to resolve the water disputes that would arise in the use, control and distribution of an interstate river or river valley:
·According to its provisions, if a State Government makes a request regarding any water dispute and the Central Government is of opinion that the water dispute cannot be settled by negotiations, then a Water Disputes Tribunal is constituted for the adjudication of the water dispute.
·The act was amended in 2002, to include the major recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission.
Besides this, National Water Policy of 1987 also dealt with distribution of water amongst the states. Water being a State subject, it is necessary that the initiative and responsibility for development of inter-state rivers and river valleys should primarily rest on the State government. Experience has, however, shown that the river valley projects have been considerably hampered in the past by the conflict of interests among different state governments.
In order to further streamline the adjudication of inter-State river water disputes, the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2017 was introduced in Lok Sabha in March 2017 by amending the existing ISRWD Act, 1956. The Bill envisages to constitute a standalone Tribunal with permanent establishment and permanent office space and infrastructure so as to obviate the need to set up a separate Tribunal for each water dispute which is invariably a time consuming process.
The negotiation through agreements has been one of the paramount ways to solve inter-state river water disputes in India. Over 130 agreements have been evolved on the sharing of Inter-State river waters or on specific projects.
·THE KRISHNA RIVER WATER DISPUTE - The Krishna River begins in the Western Ghats and drains parts of three States: Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. As the basin population grew, the States signed water allocation agreements with each other, first in 1892 and again in 1933, 1944 and 1946. In 1951- three of the States signed a new water allocation agreement. But the fourth State, Mysore, refused to ratify the agreement, and the interstate disputes lingered. In 1969, in an answer to a petition from three States, the Central Government invoked the Inter-State Water Disputes Act and created the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal.
·There are many other such ongoing disputes in the country like:
Ravi and Beas between Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan
Narmada between Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan
Godavari between Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha
Periyar between Tamil Nadu and Kerala
The composition of the tribunal is not multidisciplinary and it consists of persons only from the judiciary. The absence of authoritative water data that is acceptable to all parties currently makes it difficult to even set up a baseline for adjudication. The shift in tribunals’ approach, from deliberative to adversarial, aids extended litigation and politicisation of water-sharing disputes. The growing nexus between water and politics have transformed the disputes into turfs of vote bank politics.
India doesn’t suffer from this problem alone, as most nations have water disputes. Throughout the world, people have been at loggerheads as seen in protest of Egypt against Ethiopia building the renaissance dam or Iraq on the Turkish Ilisu Dam on Tigris River. India has 2.4% of the World’s land, 18% of the planet population but only 4% of the renewable water resource. If sufficient steps aren’t taken, the uneven water distribution will increase the likelihood of water conflicts. This calls for our immediate attention to shift to sustainable practices such as rainwater harvesting, investing in research, adopting a scientific method of irrigation, installing sewage treatment plants, stringent laws to curb discharge of effluents in water bodies, and judicious use of water.
(Sources: Wikipedia.com / core.ac.uk / oforonline.com)