River Water Disputes – Conflict Resolution




Prof. R. Ramesh Reddy

Principal, College of Engineering

Osmania University, Hyderabad.




1. Introduction


Water is a precious gift of nature to mankind and is one of the essential elements to sustain life and an important input in socioeconomic development of a country. Agriculture, power, industry, livelihood, social welfare and recreation all depend upon this input. Availability of water and development of water resource facilitates the development of different regions. Regions lacking such development remained underdeveloped and in-fact have degraded their natural resources. With more fallow lands brought under irrigation, extracting ground water has increased agricultural activity, industrial activity and continuous pollution resulted in reduced water availability.  At present a combination of factors such as failed rainfall and over-tapping of ground water resulted in fall in water levels by 3.00 mts. to 25 mts. at many places.


Thus in many places, regions, states and nations, water has become the bone of contention for disputes. In India there are innumerable disputes between the states and within the states for river water sharing. It is high time to address the problem of water scarcity before it threatens the national integrity. There is every need to attend to this priority item. As it is there are a number of cases pending in the Supreme Court awaiting decision. Therefore, there is a need to create a proper forum and methodology of sharing river water.



 2. Review of River Water Disputes: (As on 14.06.2001)


There are a number of disputes relating to river water between various states and within the states. Some of the disputes pending in the Supreme Court and other courts are listed below.


S. No.

Matter No. & C/T

Subject Matter

Present Statues


OS 2/96 State of H.P. Vs. Union of India

Dispute between the State of Himachal Pradesh and Union of India, Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh and Rajasthan with regard to the Plaintiffs share in Bhakra Nangal and Beas Projects.

The Hon’ble Court vide its Order dt. 20.11.2000 directed to list the matter after 24 weeks to be listed after summer vacation.


OS 6/96 State of Haryana Vs. State of Punjab & ANR.

Dispute between the State of Haryana and Punjab with regard to re-starting and completion of STL Canal Project by the State of Punjab and to enable the State of Haryana to receive its share in Ravi and Beas Waters.

Shown in TL 1/2001.  Page 32/Item 22 of TL 2001


OS 1/99 State of M.P. Vs. Union of India & ORS.

Dispute between the State of M.P. and Union of India, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan with regard to utilization of Narmada Water.

The Ld. Registrar vide his Order dt. 25.4.2001 directed to send the file to him after summer vacation.



OS ……… /2001 State of Karnataka Vs. State of A.P.


Krishna Water Dispute.

Defective matter (Filed on 6/3/2001)


W.P.No: 4694/2003 Pulla Reddy Vs. Govt. of Andhra Pradesh

R.D.S. water for Mahaboobnagar District

Matter posted to 7th July, 2003


W.P. No: 24882/2002 Chittapu Narsi Reddy Vs Chief Secretary, State of Andhra Pradesh

Bhima lift irrigation for Mahaboobnagar District, Andhra Pradesh

State Govt. has submitted counter affidavit in July 2003



3. Available Mechanism for Settlement of Inter- State River water Disputes


At present the National Commission on inter state disputes on river water is governed by Article 262. The existing provisions of Article 262 have not addressed the disputes within the state. At present Regional River water sharing is at the mercy of states. Therefore there may be every possibility of discrimination or partisan approach to the regional water development. The short sighted and self-centered approach of the governments has caused regional unrest and hence seeking separate status for self-governance


As per Article 262 the Inter-State disputes are tackled as stated below.


Disputes relating to waters

The Constitution makes a special provision regarding disputes relating to inter-State waters.


Article 262. Adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-state rivers or river valleys.


(1)  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.

(2)  Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, neither the Supreme Court nor any other court shall exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such dispute as is referred to in clause (1).



The Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956 (33 of 1956) has been enacted to implement article 262.  Its principal features are as follows.


(a)  The Central Government is empowered to constitute a Tribunal, on a complaint received from a State Government that a water dispute has arisen (or is likely to arise) in relation to the waters of an inter-state river or river-valley. [Section 3]


(b)  The Tribunal consists of a Chairman and two other members, nominated in this behalf by the Chief justice of India, from judges of the Supreme Court or of a High Court. [Section 4, as amended 1980].


(c)  The decision of the Tribunal is final and binding on the parties.  The parties must give effect to it.


(d)  Jurisdiction of other courts is barred.


Separate study

The Commission proposes to prepare a separate study of such disputes, having regard to their importance.


Thus, taking into account the inadequacy of the provisions of water sharing, National Water Resource Council, Government of India, Ministry of Water resources met on April 3, 2000 at New Delhi and updated the existing provisions. The updated provisions are


Ø       Water should be made available to water short areas by transfer from other areas including transfers from one river basin to another, based on national perspective, after taking into account the requirements of the areas /basins (Page 10, 3.4).


Ø       The responsibilities in regard to the regulation and development of inter-state rivers to the extent it is declared by Parliament by law to be in public interest lie with the central Government.  Necessary steps may be taken to facilitate development and management of inter-state river basins (Page 11, 4.2). 


Ø       Appropriate River Basin Organizations should be established for the planning, development and management of a river basin or sub-basin, wherever necessary.       It should be multidisciplinary in nature and prepare comprehensive plans taking into account the needs of diverse uses of water according to the priorities of the states, so that the available water resources are determined and put to optimum and harmonious use; having regard to existing Agreements Awards of Tribunals under the relevant laws (Page 11, 4.3).


Ø       Adequate drinking water facilities should be provided to the entire population both in urban and in rural areas.  Irrigation and multipurpose projects should invariably include a drinking water component, wherever there is no alternative source of drinking water.  Drinking water needs of human beings and animals should be the first charge on any available water (Page 13, 8).


Ø       Water sharing amongst the state. The water sharing amongst the states should be guided by a national perspective with due regard to water resources availability and within the river basin.  Necessary guidelines may be formulated accordingly for allocation of waters amongst the basin states (Page 18, 21.1).


Ø       The Inter-State Water Disputes Act of 1956 may be suitably reviewed and amended for timely adjudication of water dispute referred to the Tribunal (Page 18, 21.2).


Ø       Performance improvement: There is an urgent need of paradigm shift in the emphasis in the management of water resources sector.  From the present emphasis on the creation and expansion of water resources infrastructures for diverse uses, there is now a need to give greater emphasis on the improvement of the performance of the existing water resource facilities. Therefore allocation of funds under water resource sector should be re-prioritized to ensure that the needs for development as well as operation and maintenance of the facilities are met, along with the funds allocated to other activities under sector (Page 19, 22).



4. River Water Disputes – A Case Study


Government of India has setup a commission to resolve the river water disputes of Godavari and Krishna River basin areas i.e., Andhra Pradesh, Maharasthra and Karnataka states. It is well known as Justice Bachawat Commission. Accordingly the commission has resolved a number of disputes relating to the river water sharing amicably after listening to the arguments put forth by the respective states and award was finalized in the year 1972. However, there are a number of disputes due to adamant attitude of either of the aforesaid states that remained unresolved. Here is a typical case of Mahaboobnagar district in Andhra Pradesh, which requires immediate attention.


Mahaboobnagar District, Andhra Pradesh

Mahaboobnagar is the largest district in Telangana region and is among the top three larger districts in Andhra Pradesh in terms of the spread, with geographical area of 18.4 Lakh hectares.  The entire district is covered under Krishna River Basin.  The river Krishna with its tributaries Bheema and Tungabhadra enters Andhra Pradesh in Mahaboobnagar district.  However, the percentage of irrigation potential to cultivable area is 11.4% only and to the geographical area it is less than 5%.  The normal rainfall was 650mm it fell to 534 mm being among the lowest three districts in the state.  At present a combination of factor of failed rainfall alternate year and over-tapping of ground water, resulted in ground water levels falling from 3 to 25 mts. in 97% of the area.  With a string of minor irrigation structures this district suffered from official apathy, leading to decimation of its resources.  Further irrigation investments have not been commensurate with its area, potential and contribution to the Krishna River.  The rights of the people in this District over the Krishna waters have not been recognized widely.  It is high time that Mahaboobnagar, perennially in the grip of desertification and continuous drought, is made the destination for priority Irrigation investments.  There are highly conducive conditions for such development, except that it needs political will and political will alone.


Krishna Water Dispute Tribunal in its report (vide page 288 para 2 & 3) expressed its concern at deprived situation of Mahaboobnagar district in terms of water allocation on account of reorganization of states. It is now well established fact that the district of Mahaboobnagar is the most backward in all respects.  No less a person than Justice Bachawat in his order on sharing of Krishna water observed so.


“That the state of Andhra Pradesh no doubt, has been allocated enough water for historical reasons, but still Telengana part of the State of Andhra Pradesh Stands in need of irrigation.  The area of Mahaboobnagar district formed part of Hyderabad State and had there been no division of state, there were better chances for the residents of this area to get irrigation facilities in Mahaboobnagar district.  We are of the opinion that this area should not be deprived of the benefits of irrigation on account of the re-organization of state”.


“We cannot conceive that the state of Andhra Pradesh having put forward the claim for allocation of water for Telangana region and having received an allocation of water for Telengana region and having received an allocation for use in that region would use it else where out side that region.”


(Bachawat Award 1972)

Vide page 288, para 2+3


In the circumstances explained above the district is reeling under continuous drought conditions and is now deprived of water even for its minimum needs of irrigation and drinking water, despite its large contribution to the Krishna River.  Though Srisailam project has displaced many villages due to submersion, there have not been substantial benefits to the people of the district.  People of this district have served the national interests amply and adequately but did not get anything in turn.  They had paid the price, and are now facing the consequences of drought and deprivation.


The present power tariff hike is yet another slap on the face of the farmers, which forces them to stop all farming operations.  Further annual increase of 15% on power tariff will result in dispensing with agricultural operations and sale of lands.  The present enhanced power rate is likely to have an adverse impact on all the proposed lift irrigation projects rendering them into non-remunerative projects.


People of this district have a right over the waters of the Krishna River.  Irrigation investments have to be made on priority basis to cater to the basic minimum needs of the area.  The Government should work out the program as a package.


Alternative Possibility

While the contemplated three Lift Irrigation projects involve an investment of about Rs. 2000 Crores; the Almatti dam canal can possibly be completed with the said amount and requires no recurring expenditure. Considering the Almatti dam elevation of +512.0 mts., it is possible to conceive a canal at +480.0 mts. contour irrigating 65% of Mahaboobnagar district and Integrated network of canals could also be considered as mutually beneficial projects between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. This could be in tune with Bachawat statement “that nothing is impossible with mutual cooperation”. This could be an Inter- State project benefiting mutually and the required canals can be completed within three years by mechanization, as the Almatti dam is almost completed and Karnataka is having enough water.  The Andhra Pradesh State can contemplate on this suggestion. Thus this project can be cleared by CWC and can be included in Plan budget.          


Intellectual Forums’ Note on Utilization of Krishna Water in Mahaboobnagar District


Mahaboobnagar District is a drought-affected district of Telangana.  It is the upper most district of Telangana in which the river Krishna enters after flowing through Karnataka.  The district lies fully in Krishna basin and it does not have any other source to extend irrigation facilities except the river Thungabhadra / river Krishna.  The percentage of irrigation potential to sown area in Mahaboobnagar District is quite low (19.47%) as compared to the State average of 42.19%.  This district suffered most due to formation of A.P. State.  The benefits from the projects namely Upper Krishna, Thungabhadra Left canal and Bhima which were to irrigate to an extent of 7 lac acres in the district were denied by the Karnataka State.


In the words of the Tribunal “the case of the State of A.P. is that the State of Mysore has now made changes in the Right Bank Canal of Upper Krishna Project without extending benefits to contiguous areas in the State of A.P. which were formerly proposed to be irrigated …………………..   The State of A.P. no doubt, has been allocated enough water for historical reasons, but still Telangana part of the State of A.P. stands in need of irrigation.  The area which we are considering for irrigation formed a part of Hyderabad State and had there been no division of that State there were better chances for the residents of this area to get irrigation facilities in Mahaboobnagar District.  We are of the opinion that this area should not be deprived of the benefit or irrigation on account of reorganization of States.  If properly managed, Jurala Project Stage-I can operate by utilizing about 18 TMC.  We, therefore think it proper that 17.84 TMC of water at 75% dependability should be allocated for Stage-I of the project”


Thus, it is vivid that the Tribunal has taken a sympathetic view towards Mahaboobnagar District and allocated 17.84 TMC of Krishna waters for Jurala Project to irrigate an area of 1,05,000 acres. 



The Government of A.P. have formulated the following three schemes for the benefit of Mahaboobnagar District:


S. No.   Name of the Scheme                                 Utilisation in TMC                Benefits in Acres   

1.          Bhima                                                               20 TMC                             2.00 lacs

2.          Kalwakurthi                                                       25 TMC                             2.50 lacs

3.          Nettampad                                                        13.426 TMC                       2.00 lacs


As mentioned earlier, though Bhima is cleared from Centre, it has not been accorded Administrative sanction by the State Government yet.  The other two projects which are based on utilizing the surplus flow are neither cleared from the Centre nor started by the State Government by utilizing State funds.


1.      While the state of the projects to benefit the upper most riparian district i.e. Mahaboobnagar which lies entirely in the Krishna basin is so, the Government is spending thousands of crores on projects which are not authorized and located in down stream reaches and most of them are situated outside Krishna basin.  Telugu Ganga is one such project on which more than Rs.1500 crores is spent by the State Government and the project is envisaged to serve large areas outside the Krishna Basin.  SLBC is another project on which around Rs.500 crores were spent by the State Government.  However, this project lies entirely in Krishna Basin. 


Apart from the above, the Government is planning to take up more projects namely Galeru Nagari, Handri Neeva, Veligonda, utilizing surplus flows of river Krishna to serve the areas lying outside the Krishna basin.


As regards to the utilization of river Krishna outside the basin, the Tribunal held that


(1)  Diversion of water of the inter-State river Krishna outside the river basin is legal.


(2)  In equitable allocation, future uses requiring diversion of water outside the basin are relevant, but more weight may be given to uses requiring diversion of water inside the basin.


Thus, the State Government ought to have given more weightage to the projects requiring water inside the basin before considering diversion to outside basin.

The national Water Policy 2002 says that “water should be made available to water short areas by transfer from other areas including transfer from one river basin to another, based on a national perspective, after taking into account, the requirement of the areas /basin”.  Thus, the Statement Government should have considered making available Krishna waters to areas outside the basin only after taking into account the requirement of the areas /basin.


2.      It is not out of place to mention here that the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal categorically rejected the claim of Rajasthan for allocating Narmada waters to it on the plea that it is a non-basin State.  Thus, it is amply clear that any area lying outside the basin will not be eligible to derive the benefits unless the in-basin requirements are met.


3.      It is a matter of natural justice that when there are no legally established uses in the basin elsewhere, Mahaboobnagar District enjoying the upper most riparian position in the basin should get first priority in utilizing the surplus waters than other areas either located down stream or outside the basin.  As such surplus waters of Krishna should be allocated to Kalwakurty and Nettampad schemes in preference to other schemes proposed in the basin.


4.      While crores of Rupees are spent on unauthorized projects, the Government have not taken up the Bhima Project which is a project cleared by the Central Government.


5.      The Bachawat Tribunal’s term is already over on 31.05.2002.  Now, it is any time the new Tribunal would be set up.  There is every possibility that the new Tribunal may allocate waters from surplus flows to these unauthorized projects, which are already constructed or under construction since a lot of money has already been spent on them, despite the objections raised by the up-stream States and advice tendered by the Union Government.  Thus, there is a danger that the Mahaboobnagar District might loose the benefits of surplus Krishna waters, permanently.


6.      Further, it is to be appreciated that huge funds are pumped into the construction of these unauthorized projects and these funds are from the State budget to which the Mahaboobnagar District also contributes.  It is paradoxical that the funds and water of the Mahaboobnagar District are utilized to promote the projects, which are detrimental to the welfare of the District itself.


7.      Thus the die is cast.  The plight of Mahaboobnagar District is a ripe situation for the political parties to fish in troubled waters and who knows what will be consequences.  Therefore it is high time, a proper mechanism for inter state and intra-state disputes relating to water be constituted.  It will be more fitting if the committee comprises not just government engineers but includes academicians, intellectuals and voluntary organizations of the regions but keep off politicians and bureaucrats who have neither understanding nor technical competence to deal with the subjects.          



5. summary


Therefore it is evident that the existing legal provisions to tackle the river water disputes requires a second look.   For there is a need to have a mechanism to look into justifiable sharing of water within the states without compromising the regional interests. The drinking water should be given a top priority.  Finally, any possible misuse of river waters other then the approved projects should be taken a serious view and if possible article 356 may be enforced.        


6. Reference


1.      A Consultation paper on constitutional mechanisms for the settlement of inter-state disputes conducted by National Commission to review the working of the constitution at New Delhi, July 2001.


2.      Krishna water dispute tribunal i.e. Bachawat award, Government of India, 1972.


3.      Development of Irrigation in the Drought Areas in Krishna & Pennar Basins in Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1981.  


4.      Expert committee on utilization of river water in Andhra Pradesh, Krishna River Basin Vol. 1, July 1985, Government of Andhra Pradesh.


5.      Notes from I & CAD Dept. Govt. of Andhra Pradesh, 1998.





Some of the extracts of the Bachawat award of concern are:


Extract of Bachawat Award:

In the final order of Bachawat a use, XIV (A) It is said “At any time after the 31st May, 2000, this order  (Bachawat order) may be reviewed or revised by a competent authority or Tribunal, but such review or revision shall not as far as possible disturb any utilization that may have been undertaken by any state with in its limits of the allocation made to it under the foregoing clauses.”


Chapter 15 Page 392  “Nothing in the order of this tribunal shall impair the right of power or authority of any state to regulate with in its boundaries the use of water, or to enjoy the benefit of water with that state in a manner not in consistent with the order of this tribunal”


Clause XVII page 392 “Nothing contain hearing shall prevent the alteration, amendment or modification of all or any of the foregoing clauses by agreement between the parties (A.P. Karnataka & Maharastra) or by legislation by parliament.”


Bachawat order said in page 98, “The extension of the Tungabhadra left bank canal and other projects in Mysore to areas in Andhra Pradesh can fructify only by close cooperation.


Bachawat order further said in page 305,  “ In the end so far as scheme ‘B’ (these projects depending upon surplus water not specifically permitted by Bachawat) is conceived, we leave the questions of the enforcement of such a scheme to the good sense of parties (A.P. Karnataka, Maharastra) or to the wisdom of parliament.”


In the light of the above, and on the expiry of implementation of Bachawat award on May, 31st, 2000, the Govt. of India has to appoint a fresh Tribunal in case of any of the concerned states contesting the award apply. Otherwise the GOI under the observations made by the Supreme Court recently in the Almatti case could presume the Bachawat award of 1972 as absolute and appoint Krishna valley authority for its implementation.



Clarification No. XXIII


Karnataka prays that the following observation at page 190 of Vol.I of the report be expunged:-


“…, but instead of co-operative approach and mutual agreement, there is vigorous opposition to all such extension schemes by the State of Mysore”.


The other parties do not oppose the deletion of the above observation. We direct that the aforesaid observation be deleted from page 190 of Vol.I of the Report.


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