All you need to know about the Water Dispute, Resolution and the Cauvery Water Dispute


Water conflict refers to a dispute between countries, states, or groups over access to water resources. The United Nations understands that water disputes arise from competing public and private water users’ interests. Water conflicts can arise both intrastate and interstate. Interstate conflicts occur when two or more countries share a transboundary water source, such as a river, sea, or groundwater basin.

The Middle East, for example, contains only 1% of the world’s fresh water, which is shared by 5% of the world’s population. Intrastate conflicts occur when two or more parties in the same country disagree. Conflicts between farmers and industry (agricultural vs industrial use of water) are one example.


Water scarcity has frequently resulted in local and regional conflicts. Water is an essential component of human life, and human activities are inextricably linked to the quantity and quality of water. Water is a scarce resource. Water disputes arise when demand for water resources and drinkable water exceeds availability, when control over access and allocation of water is disputed, or when water management institutions are weak or non-existent. Water crisis elements may put pressure on affected countries to obtain more of a shared water resource, resulting in diplomatic tension or outright violence.

Tensions and disputes over water are currently more common at the subnational rather than international levels. Violence between pastoralists and farmers is on the rise in Sub-Saharan Africa. Attacks on civilian water infrastructure have grown during wars that begin for other reasons, such as in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. Water scarcity can also intensify non-water-related conflicts and political tensions. Gradual decreases in the quality and/or quantity of fresh water over time can exacerbate regional instability by diminishing a population’s health, impeding economic development, and intensifying larger conflicts.


Water disputes between states can arise due to various reasons, including competing water demands,  scarcity of water resources, disagreements over water allocation, and conflicting water management  policies. Resolving such disputes often requires legal frameworks, negotiations, and cooperative  agreements. Here are some common mechanisms for dealing with water disputes between states: 

  1. Bilateral Negotiations: States can engage in direct negotiations to address water-related  conflicts. This involves discussing the concerns and interests of each state and working towards  mutually acceptable solutions. Bilateral agreements can cover issues such as water allocation,  infrastructure development, and sharing of hydrological data. 
  2. Mediation: Mediation involves the intervention of a neutral third party to facilitate negotiations  between disputing states. A mediator helps the parties identify common interests, clarify  concerns, and explore potential solutions. Mediation can be an effective method to resolve  water disputes by promoting dialogue and compromise. 
  3. Arbitration: Arbitration involves referring the dispute to a neutral third party or a panel of  experts for a binding decision. The parties present their arguments and evidence, and the  arbitrator(s) make a legally binding judgment. Arbitration can be helpful when states are unable  to reach a consensus and need an impartial resolution mechanism. 
  4. International Water Treaties: Some regions have established international treaties or agreements  to govern water allocation and management between multiple states. These treaties often  outline specific principles, rules, and mechanisms for sharing water resources and resolving  disputes. Examples include the Colorado River Compact between the United States and Mexico  or the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan. 
  5. River Basin Organizations: In some cases, states form river basin organizations (RBOs) to  collectively manage and govern shared water resources. RBOs provide a platform for states to  discuss and coordinate water-related issues, promote cooperation, and develop joint  management strategies. They can play a crucial role in resolving disputes and fostering long-term  water cooperation. 


The Cauvery water dispute has been a subject of several legal proceedings in India over the years. The  legal framework for resolving the dispute includes both tribunal judgments and rulings by the Supreme  Court of India. Here are some key laws and legal cases related to the Cauvery water dispute: 

  1. Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956: This is the primary legislation governing the  resolution of water disputes between Indian states. It provides a mechanism for the  establishment of tribunals to adjudicate inter-state water disputes. 
  2. Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT): The CWDT was constituted in 1990 under the Inter State River Water Disputes Act to adjudicate the Cauvery water dispute. The tribunal’s primary  mandate was to determine the water-sharing formula between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, as  well as other riparian states.
  3. Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal Final Order (2007): After several years of hearings, the CWDT  delivered its final order in 2007. The order specified the water-sharing formula between  Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry. It also determined the amounts of water to be  released by Karnataka to Tamil Nadu during different seasons. 
  4. Supreme Court of India’s Modifications (2018): In February 2018, the Supreme Court of India  modified the CWDT’s final order based on the appeals filed by Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The  court reduced the amount of water Karnataka was required to release to Tamil Nadu and  established the Cauvery Management Board (CMB) and the Cauvery Water Regulation  Committee (CWRC) to oversee the implementation of the water-sharing arrangements. 
  5. Contempt of Court Proceedings: There have been instances where both Karnataka and Tamil  Nadu have been involved in contempt of court proceedings for non-compliance with court  orders related to the Cauvery water dispute. These proceedings were initiated to ensure the  enforcement of the court’s directives. 


Resolving interstate water disputes requires a comprehensive approach that considers legal frameworks,  equitable allocation, environmental considerations, collaboration, long-term planning, and technological  advancements. By adopting these approaches, states can work towards sustainable and mutually  beneficial solutions while minimizing conflicts over shared water resources.

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