Institutional Responses for Mitigating Inter-State River Water Disputes

Inter-State River Water Disputes

Context: Resolution of dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu can pave the way for addressing interstate river water conflicts.


  • There exists a water dispute regarding the Inter-State river Cauvery and the river valley among the States of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Union territory of Puducherry.
  • To adjudicate upon this issue, the Central Government had constituted the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) under Section 4 of the Inter-State River Water Disputes (IRWD) Act, 1956.
  • The CWDT investigated the matters referred to it and forwarded its report to the Central Government. 
  • The party States filed Special Leave Petitions in the Supreme Court against this report.
  • The Supreme Court pronounced its judgement and directed the Central Government to frame a scheme to implement the CWDT Award as modified by the Supreme Court in 2018.

Cauvery Water Management Scheme

  • The Central Government notified the Cauvery Water Management Scheme under Section 6A of the IRWD Act, 1956.
  • This scheme provided for establishment of two institutions :
    • Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) 
    • Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC) 
  • These bodies help implement the decision of the CWDT as modified by the Supreme Court.

Impact of Cauvery Water Management Scheme

  • The ongoing Cauvery issue highlights the episodic nature of escalation among states over river water disputes.
  • Hence, there is a need to supplement legal adjudication with institutional responses that sustain cooperation and mitigate conflict.
  • Here, the CWMA acts as a dedicated institutional avenue for objective exchange and deliberation
  • This existence of a formal inter-state coordination mechanism helped in reducing the scale and intensity of escalation.

Way Forward

  • There is a need to introspect on how institutions like the CWMA can be improved
  • There are other models like the Narmada Control Authority that evolved out of consensus as against the CWMA which was created on Supreme Court directives. 
  • Hence, a renewed emphasis on consensus building may be needed.

About Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA)

  • Membership: It consists of a Chairman, two whole-time members, two part-time members (all of whom are appointed by the Central Government) and four part-time members from Party states (Nominated by the State Governments and UT administration).
  • Functions: It exercises power for securing compliance and implementation of the Award throughStorage, apportionment, regulation and control of Cauvery waters;Supervision of operation of reservoirs and regulation of water releases Regulating release of water by Karnataka from an inter-state contact point located on the common border of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

About Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC)

  • Membership: It consists of a Chairman, one representative for each Party state and UT, one representative of the Indian Meteorological Department, one representative of Central Water Commission, one representative of the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare and a Member Secretary.
  • Functions of the Committee include collecting daily water levels, inflows and storage position of reservoirs; collecting data and ensuring the timely release of water. 

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