Interstate water conflicts are a recurring phenomenon in India. Despite water use falling in the purview of the States, it is subject to the provisions of Entry 56 of List I of Indian Constitution that allows the Union to intervene in interstate water disputes. Also, ‘interstate water’ has been explicitly mentioned in the Union List, but not in the State List. So, states claim exclusive “user rights” over waters and the Union Government has generally avoided any proactive approach towards basin-level governance, confining its role in setting up Tribunals for interstate water disputes. Economic factors like underpricing of irrigation waters, promotion of water-consuming crops through support pricing, etc., often lead to unsustainable use of water during lean seasons thereby escalating conflicts. Shortsightedness in technocracy, fragmented approach to governance, over-reliance on structural engineering (without concern of externalities), and the Centre’s lack of initiative come in the ways of having an integrated river basin governance approach. In some cases, basin-level authorities have been set up, but the successes of such institutions remain under question due to their composition and institutional structures.
This discussion will deliberate on the following:
i. Statutory provisions to resolve the problems in the backdrop of the social-political-cultural realities.
ii. The economics of the interstate waters and the role of economic instruments.
iii. The need for an ecosystems’ approach with river basin as the unit of management.
iv. Challenges and opportunities of governing the interstate waters from a policy perspective.