Today, water is considered as the heart of an economy of any country and all economic activities depend on it.
However at the national as well as international level, river water disputes are being created because of continuously increasing demand for water, its decreasing availability, and its deteriorating quality.
Rivers flow in their natural form according to geomorphic conditions. They are not controlled by political units.
Flow of water is distributed according to the relief and size of the watershed area. If a country is situated in an uneven relief where a river is in its primary stage, its distribution will not be in proportion though there may be sufficient quantity of water.Instead it would be distributed to the succeeding drainage area in definite proportion.
Geographical descriptions of important national and international river water disputes and agreements are given below:
National River Water Disputes:
Krishna River Water Dispute:
This dispute is linked with the three states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The main basis of the dispute is associated with the Almati Dam constructed on river Krishna in the district Bijapur of Karnataka. Its foundation stone was laid by the then Prime Minister of India, Lai Bahadur Shastri, in 1968.
Thereafter, the Central Water Commission changed it into the form of a multipurpose project having a proposed height of 528 metres. This was objected to by Andhra Pradesh who said that by increasing the height of the dam, the natural water flow of river Krishna would be reduced, resulting in non-availability of water for Jurala, Shri Selam, Nagarjuna Sagar and other projects of Andhra Pradesh.
According to the distribution of water decided by Bachhawat Tribunal, Andhra Pradesh was to get 811 thousand million cubic feet (TMC), Karnataka would use 734 TMC water and Maharashtra could use 656 TMC water, although only 173 TMC feet water had been allotted for the north Krishna project.
Issue of Dispute:
Karnataka wants to raise the height of the dam up to 528 metres. Andhra Pradeshs objection is that with 524.45 metre height, Karnataka would be able to stop 227 TMC feet water, whereas only 173 TMC water has been allotted for north Krishna project. Andhra Pradesh holds that Jurala, Shri Selam, Nagarjuna Sagar and other projects constructed in the Krishna river basin would not be able to get water. This matter is still pending in the Supreme Court.
Cauvery River Water Dispute:
The dispute over Cauvery, famous as the Ganga of South India, is again in the limelight. The problem between Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, the central government and the Supreme Court is at its climax. The origin of river Cauvery is in Brahmgiri hills (1341 m) near Sahyadri (Western ghat) in district Coorg of Karnataka. It flows through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, finally merging into the Bay of Bengal.
Total length of the river is 802 kms. At present, the problem of distribution of water is pending due to the intervention of central government and Supreme Court. In spite of orders of the Supreme Court dated 5 October 2002, the Karnataka government decided not to give water to Tamil Nadu. Hence J. Jayalalitha, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, filed a contempt petition against the decision of Karnataka government in the Supreme Court of India.
The Supreme Court had ordered as per its judgment on 4th November 2002, that Karnataka would release 9000 cusec water daily for Tamil Nadu. Even after the order of the Supreme Court, it was decided in a cabinet meeting under the chairmanship of S. M. Krishna, Chief Minister of Karnataka, not to give water to Tamil Nadu.
This decision was unanimously supported by the all party meeting of Karnataka government. Thereafter J. Jayalalitha, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, approached the Supreme Court under Article 355 and 356 of the Constitution for action against Karnataka government. Although Karnataka government has started releasing 1000 cusec water in view of the stern attitude of the supreme Court, but even then a permanent solution of Cauvery river water dispute is still due.
The dispute regarding the distribution of the water of river Cauvery among Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is a very complex problem. The real dispute started between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in 1889 when Karnataka prepared a plan to construct a dam on river Cauvery.
Looking to the seriousness of the dispute between Mysore State and Madras Presidency, Mysore state entrusted the dispute to the central government in 1892. One member of the Mediation Commission (Justice H.D. Griffin, Allahabad) constituted by the central government, gave its decision dated 12th May 1919, but the Madras Presidency refused to follow it.
Thereby the first effort of the central government failed. Another effort for agreement started on 13th April 1920, which was partly successful on 18th February 1924. Both the states got sanction for construction of one dam each (Krishna Sagar in Karnataka and Mysore dam in Tamil Nadu) as per the agreement.
The agreement was valid for 50 years or up to 1974, and neither state could construct any dam/water reservoir without mutual consent. However, the Karnataka Government presented a plan for construction of three water reservoirs in violation of the agreement and in-spite of opposition from Tamil Nadu. In response, the Farmer’s Union of Tamil Nadu filed a petition in the High Court opposing the plan, which was withdrawn in 1971 after another agreement.
After the agreement, a committee under the Chairmanship of C.C. Patel presented two reports in September and December 1972, but it did not suit any of the Governments. The Farmer’s Union again filed a petition and the dispute continued till 1979.
After termination of the duration of the agreement in 1974, the Chief Ministers of all the three states, in a meeting dated 26th November 1974, temporarily agreed on the “Cauvery Valley Authority”, but it has again got into a dispute due to mutual differences. The issue of water dispute has adopted political dimensions by now by the hide and seek method.
As per the insistence by the Tamil Nadu Government in 1986 under International Water Dispute Act, 1956, the Supreme Court constituted a one-man Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal under the Chairmanship of Justice Chitosh Mukherji on 2 June 1990, with the objective of finding a permanent solution of the dispute among all the four states.
The Tribunal announced its judgment on 25 June 1991, according to which:
1. Karnataka will have to release 205 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic feet) water to Tamil Nadu on monthly and weekly basis for Mysore water reservoir.
2. Karnataka will not extend its Cauvery basin (11.2 Lakh).
But the Karnataka government refused to abide by it, saying that it was a unilateral decision.
The central government then called a meeting of all the four states for common consent for it but without any concrete result. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu went on a hunger strike in July 1993 and the matter again went to the Supreme court. The then Prime Minster Narsimha Rao announced a three point package on 1st June 1996 for solution of this problem.
1. Release of 600 crore cubic feet water to save crops of Tamil Nadu.
2. Constitution of an expert group.
3. Early meeting of Water Resources Council.
A four-point agreement was arrived at among the Chief Ministers of all the four states on 7 August 1998 after long discussions but without a common consent. Treating the above agreement as a formality, the central government issued a notification on 11th August 1998 for implementation of the interim order and other related orders of the Tribunal constituted for solving the Cauvery Water dispute.
According to the Government of India Gazette 675(E), a Cauvery River Water Dispute Authority would be constituted under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister of India with its headquarters at Delhi. Chief ministers of all the four states would be its members. It would prepare its own regulations and a vigilance committee would be constituted for assistance and implementation of decisions of the Authority.
A committee under the chairmanship of the secretary, Central Water Resources, and the Chief Secretaries of all the four states would be its members. In spite of the intervention of the central government and the Supreme Court, the problem of water dispute is still unsolved.
In violation of the orders of the Supreme Court, Karnataka government has decided not to give water to Tamil Nadu from 5 October 2002. As a reaction, Jayalalitha, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, has filed a contempt petition in the Supreme Court. Thus, this problem is still continuing and looking to its history and complexity, there is little possibility of its permanent solution in future.
The main reason is that the Cauvery river water dispute has been strongly politicized. Tamil Nadu believes that Karnataka is intentionally doing the malpractice of withholding Cauvery waters to keep Tamil Nadu as an arid region. Karnataka’s version is that the water of Karnataka is meant for Karnataka and if it is given to Tamil Nadu, scarcity of water would be faced in Karnataka. In such circumstances, any unanimous solution seems a difficult task unless both the states sympathetically follow the decision of the Supreme Court.
The dispute over the waters of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej is mainly between the states of Punjab and Haryana. At the time of partition, an agreement had been signed between India and Pakistan regarding distribution of water of Indus River. According to it, waters of river Indus, Jhelum and Chenab were to go to Pakistan and waters of rivers Sutlej, Ravi and Beas would be for India. India had made a payment of Rs 110 crores to Pakistan in lieu of it.
The dispute started with the division of Punjab. Haryana demanded a share of the waters of their rivers in 1966 and the dispute started from there. A committee was constituted for it in 1970 and according to its recommendation, Haryana was to get 37.8 lakh acre feet water. Immediately after this, The Planning Commission recommended giving 37.8 lakh acre feet water to Haryana, 32.6 lakh acre feet water to Punjab and 2.00 lakh acre feet water to Delhi, but the dispute has not yet been settled.
The Punjab government filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 1976 against this award, while Haryana filed a petition in support of it. A new agreement was signed in 1981, according to which, Rajasthan was also included along with these two states. In 1981, the Rajiv Longowal Agreement was signed, which maintained the quantity of water as already agreed upon.
In 1986, the Ravi-Beas Tribunal (Iradi Commission) recommended the allotment of 37.30 lakh acre feet water to Haryana and 50.00 lakh acre feet water to Punjab, Haryana however challenged the recommendation, demanding 56.00 lakh acre feet water, but the Iradi Commission could not be challenged in the Supreme Court also because the recommendations of tribunals regarding water disputes referred in it, do not fall within the jurisdiction of any court including the Supreme Court according to Section 11 of Inter-State Water Dispute Act, 1956.
The dispute still continues and the Sutlej-Yamuna link Canal has not yet been completed due to the dispute. Thousands of acres of water of Ravi and Beas rivers is going to Pakistan, while the lands of farmers of south Haryana are becoming barren land due to non-completion of the link canal.
Yamuna Water Dispute:
This dispute is connected with five states of north India, i.e., Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh. An agreement regarding Yamuna water was signed between Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in 1954 according to which 77 per cent water of Yamuna was to go to Haryana and 23 per cent to Uttar Pradesh. After 20-25 years, Delhi, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh also started demanding a share in the water of Yamuna.
On 12th May 1994, the then Water Resources Minister Vidya Charan Shukla arranged an agreement among all the five states. According to it, Haryana was to get 47.82 per cent water, Uttar Pradesh was to get 33.65 per cent, Rajasthan to get 9.34 per cent, Delhi 6.24 per cent and Himachal was to get 3.15 per cent. This agreement would continue till 2025. In the agreement it was provided in Section 7(3) that whenever there is water supply in Yamuna, water supply would be given to Delhi on priority.
Dispute arose on this point many times among these states, so on 22nd March 1995, the Upper Yamuna River Board was constituted.
Son-Rihand Water Dispute:
The dispute over the waters of rivers Son and Rihand is between the three states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. In 1973, the Baan Sagar agreement was signed between them for sharing the waters but Bihar accused the other two states later for violating the agreement.
According to this agreement, all the water of river Rihand was allotted to Bihar, but the Central Government Undertaking, National Thermal Power Corporation and Uttar Pradesh Government are all the using water of the river Rihand. Hence, the farmers of Bihar are not able to get water for irrigating crops, which are dyring in 22 lakh acre land.
Mahi Water Dispute:
Agreement for distribution of waters of Mahi River was entered m 1996 between Rajasthan and Gujarat. According to it, part of the water of Kadana dam and all the water of Banswara dam (Mahi Bajaj Sagar) would be released for use of Rajasthan when the area irrigated by Mahi river would be interchanged for the Narmada Project.
However, the Gujarat government is hesitating to fully implement conditions as yet. On insistence from the Government of Rajasthan, the Central Agriculture and Irrigation Minister organized a meeting of chief ministers of both the states on 24 January, 1980 for solving the dispute. Many meetings have been held thereafter at the Ministerial level and official level both at the mutual level as well as under the auspices of the central government. The Chief Minister of Rajasthan addressed the Gujarat Chief Minister on 16 January 1996 also for early disposal of the matter.
According to the final order and decision of Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal, the share of Rajasthan is 0.50 MAF in the waters of river Narmada. This water is proposed to be brought to Rajasthan through a 460 km long canal from the Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat.
This water is proposed to benefit 74 villages of tehsil Sanchore of district Jalore and 1.35 lakh hectare area of tehsil Guda Malani of Barmer district, and also provide drinking water to 124 villages falling near the canal. The estimated cost of the project on 1989-90 price index was Rs 467.53 crores, out of which the cost of works to be carried out in Rajasthan was Rs 187.39 crores and share of cost payable to Gujarat was 280.14 crores. The Planning Commission had sanctioned the expenditure of such cost on 23 January, 1996.
Availability of water on the Rajasthan-Gujarat border would be from the Narmada main canal. The estimated period for its construction in Rajasthan was eight years. Out of the 74 km length of the canal in Rajasthan, earth excavation, bridge construction, regulator construction and other pakka works are in progress in the first 30 km length.
Besides it, earth work of ‘Vaak’ distributory to be dug at 8 km is also in progress. A 30 km long road work along the canal is also in progress. Residential and non-residential houses at Jalore and Sanchore have already been completed. Siphon work on river Sukdi is also proposed to start during this year.
By the end of the year 1995-96, Rs 7,464 lakhs were spent on the project, which includes expenditure on the Sardar Project in Gujarat. The system established by the central government to monitor the work was to set up two committees, namely the Narmada Control Authority and the Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee. During 1996-97, a provision of Rs 13 crores was made for works to be executed by the Rajasthan state government.
Both in January 1955 and December 1981 agreements have been made for distribution of excess water of Ravi-Beas between the states through which they flow.
However, some inter-state disputes are going in relation to the distribution of the waters, which are as follows:
1. Regarding Transfer of Control of Ropad, Harikke and Ferozepur Headworks to Bhakra Beas Management Board according to Punjab Reorganization Act:
According to the provisions of the Punjab Reorganization Act, 1996, control of Ropad, Harikke and Ferozepur Headworks should be with Bhakra Beas Management Board (B.B.M.B). However, since Punjab government has not yet transferred the control of head works to B.B.M.B., hence the central government had to issue directions to the state government in this regard.
In meetings dated 29-30 July and 6 August, 1992 consultations were done by Central Water Resources Minister with the chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan for transfer of control of headwork’s to the Board including headwork in Rajasthan. After these meetings, the Central Water Resources Minister sent a draft of the decision to all the states. According to it, all the states were to be appointed as members of the Board by rotation.
Hence, it would not be necessary to transfer control of head works to B.B.M.B. The Rajasthan government then sent a letter to the Central Water Resources Minister on 23 January, 1993 that transfer of control of head works was included in Punjab Reorganization Act, 1996, hence it was necessary to change it. The issue has not yet been solved and the state government has requested the central government to arrange another meeting for this purpose.
2. Share of State in Power Projects over Ravi-Beas in Punjab:
According to an agreement dated 10 May 1984, the central government has not referred the matter regarding share of Rajasthan and Haryana in 11 power projects at Thein, Anandpur Sahib, Mukeriyan, Shahpur, Kandi and U.B.C.D. etc. to the Supreme Court.
On the frequent insistence of the Rajasthan government, the Central Minister organized meetings on 29-30 July and 6 August 1992. Thereafter, a draft decision was circulated, according to which it was proposed not to refer the matter to the Supreme Court. This proposal however was not agreeable to the Rajasthan government.
3. Implementation of distribution of waters of Ravi-Beas Rivers among participating states:
According to an agreement made in 1981, the share of Rajasthan was 8.6 M.A.F. in the surplus Ravi-Beas water, which is 52.70 per cent. This water has to be distributed among Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. However, by wrong interpretation of articles in agreement of 1981 no decision can be reached. After the meetings held on 29-30 July and 6 August 1992, only 49 per cent water is being given, the Central Minister sent a draft of the decisions to the state governments which were accepted.
International River Water Disputes:
India-Bangladesh Dispute on River Ganga Water:
Ganga water dispute is connected with the Kolkata port. The flow of water of river Ganga from the steep slope of Himalayas is very fast and within the boundaries of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, many companion rivers merge into it. After its entry into Bangladesh, flow of its water becomes slow and it divides into two rivers named Padma and Ganga.
Padma merges into the Brahmaputra and becomes Meghna in Bangadesh. It then falls in the Bay of Bengal. Ganges divides itself into many streams in the delta of Sunderban. In 1974, Farakka barrage was constructed on this flow of water in 1974 to make water available for Kolkata port, so that ships can sail up to the dock even during dry season and the dock remains free of silt.
Bangladesh had objections to this saying that (1) India diverts the whole water during dry season towards Kolkata port, which results in insufficient quantity of water in Meghna-Padma river, and (2) the gates of Farrakka barrage are opened during the rainy season, which results in flood in Bangladesh.
Opposition of Bangladesh:
1. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasni organized a long march to Farakka with three lakh persons on 16 May, 1976.
2. Bangladesh raised this issue in the General Assembly of United Nations Organization on 15 November 1996. Begum Khalida Zia delivered a speech against India but no country supporieil her except China and Pakistan.
A treaty regarding distribution of water of Ganges-Farrakka was entered into between India and Bangladesh on 5 November 1977. According to it, 34,500 cusec out of the distributable 55,000 cusec in Farrakka was allocated for Bangladesh. The remaining 20,500 cusec would remain for Kolkata. In the agreement it was also decided that out of the total water available in Farrakka barrage, 25 per cent would remain stored while 60 per cent would go to Bangladesh and 40 per cent to West Bengal. This treaty continued up to 31 May, 1988.
On 11 December, 1996 River water treaty was again signed. It is valid for 30 years having a clause for review after every five years. It can also be reviewed after one year on unilateral demand.
Among the 12 clauses of the agreement, some important ones are as under:
1. Both the countries would distribute the water on equal basis if water in Farakka remains 70,000 cubic feet.
2. In case water remains between 70,000 to 75,000, Bangladesh would get 35,000, and the balance water would remain with India.
3. If the quantity of water exceeds 75,000, India would get 40,000 and the balance would go to Bangladesh.
According to the treaty, as per formula prepared for five months, during the dry season starting from January, water would be divided between the two countries as per its availability up to 40 years (1949-89). These five months have been divided into 10 fortnights. The share of India would be a maximum of 40,000 cusec and a minimum of 25,992 cusec per day, while the share of Bangladesh would be a maximum of 67,516 cusec and a minimum of 27,633 cusec per day.
Mahakali River Dispute:
This dispute regarding the water of river Mahakali (called Sharda in India) is between India and Nepal. The latest dispute relates to Ranakpur and Pancheshwar projects, but the dispute regarding water of Mahakali stopped after the Nepal visit of the Foreign Minister of India, Pranab Mukherji, in February 1996. In 1998, the Indo-Nepal Sub-Commission was established with the objective of taking action on all the aspects related with the development of water resources.
Indus Valley Treaty:
After the partition of India, an agreement for distribution of waters of river Indus was signed between India and Pakistan. As per the treaty, the waters of rivers Indus, Jhelum and Chenab were earmarked for India. India for which paid Rs 110 crores as a onetime amount to Pakistan. On 19 September 1960, both the countries entered into the Indus Valley Treaty and a permanent Indus Commission of both the countries was constituted which meets every year.
Tulbul Navigation Project Dispute:
This dispute between India and Pakistan relates to the construction of a barrage on Wular Lake by Pakistan. About 20 km route of river Jhelum passing through Wular Lake in Jammu Kashmir to Baramula via Sopor is to be made navigable.
A barrage is proposed to be constructed over the lake so that even during water scarcity 4,000 cusec flow of water is ensured. This will make the river remain navigable in India throughout the year. Work on this project was started by India in 1984 but when Pakistan raised objections in view of the Indus Water Treaty 1960, it was stopped since 1987.
Allegations of Pakistan:
1. Tulbul project is really a water storage project and it would affect the flow of water of river Jhelum towards Pakistan.
2. This project is against the spirit of Indus Water Treaty of 1960, according to which India has no right to store the water of river Jhelum.
3. India cannot create any hindrance in the flow of the water of river Jhelum river water as per terms of the treaty.
Discussions have taken place between India and Pakistan on this issue 21 times, but without any success.