Explained: Vamsadhara river water dispute

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The Vamsadhara river is a 254 km river that originates in the Kalahandi district of Odisha and then gets drained in the Bay of Bengal at Kalingapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh. Of the 265 kms stretch of the river, 154 kms are in the state of Odisha, 29 kms of the river forms the border between the two riverine states and the rest 82 kms lies in the state of AP. The river basin occupies an area of 8015 sq. kms in the state of Odisha and the remaining 2815 sq. kms in Andhra Pradesh. The river receives an average rainfall of 1400mm out of which an estimated 115 TMC ft. is available for use. Under an agreement between the two states, the water of the river is used by the two states on a 50:50 basis. 

Background:

The Andhra Pradesh government in order to utilise their part of the river water proposed to construct Gotta reservoir and Neradi barrage. The construction of Gotta barrage was completed in the year 1977. The Neradi barrage was proposed to be constructed 48 kms upstream of the Gotta barrage. But as the proposed project would have submerged parts of farmland on the eastern bank of the river, in the state of Odisha, mutual consultation between the two states was required. 

As an attempt to resolve the issue, the two states tried to resort to mutual discussions and lasted for over five decades. But these discussions were fruitless and the amicable approach fell apart as the state of Odisha demanded to set up a tribunal to resolve the matter. 

Legal provisions

Article 262 of the Indian constitution talks about adjudication of disputes relating to waters of the inter-state rivers. The article empowers the Parliament to provide for ‘adjudication of any dispute or complaint with respect to the use, distribution or control of waters of, or in, any inter-state river or river valley. ‘

Under this article the Indian Parliament enacted the inter-state water dispute act in the year 1956. This act empowers the Parliament to first push forward for consultation between two or more states to resolve their river water disputes. Once the consultation period yields no agreement, the Parliament can appoint a tribunal to adjudicate the matter between the parties involved. 

The order that is issued by this tribunal is binding upon the parties. Neither the Supreme Court or any State High Court has jurisdiction over water disputes which may be referred to a tribunal under this act. 

Dispute

In the year 2006, the state of Odisha filed a complaint with the central government under the section 3 of the Inter-state river water disputes act, 1956. The complaint demanded to set up an inter-state water dispute tribunal to adjudicate for the Vamsadhara river. 

The complaint was filed against Andhra Pradesh’s move to build the Neradi barrage. Construction of this barrage would have resulted in the submergence of 106 acres of land in the state of Odisha. 

The State of Andhra Pradesh started construction of a side weir as an alternative stop gap arrangement at Katragada. The state of Odisha opposed the construction as no consultation was done with the state before the commencement of the project. 

The concerns as raised by the state of Odisha were: 

  1. The State claimed that the construction of the flood canal will dry the existing river bed and will impact the ground water table. 
  2.  The State claimed that Andhra pradesh government has failed to implement the provisions of the inter-state agreement. 
  3.  The State also demanded scientific assessment of available water at Katragada and Gotta barrage. 

Recent Developments

The tribunal in the above dispute decided that Andhra Pradesh can construct the Neradi barrage along with the ancillary structures. The 115 TMC ft. water of the river was instructed to be divided in equal proportions between the two states. 

The State of Odisha was instructed to acquire the 106 acres of land that is required to facilitate the construction and hand it over to the state of Andhra Pradesh for a span of one year. State of Andhra Pradesh shall compensate the state of Odisha for all the due costs incurred for the acquisition of the land. 

The tribunal also provided for setting up an Inter-state regulatory body for effective implementation of the tribunal’s decision. 

But the decisions of the tribunal have not been implemented on the ground. Recently news broke out that the chief ministers of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh will hold talks to iron out the barriers to the construction of the Neradi barrage. 

Critical analysis

India consists of 4 percent of the world’s fresh water resources and its people are heavily dependent on these water bodies. Due to the topography of the country, there are many rivers that passes through two more states. These states has no agreement to ensure that water resources are used by an amicable approach and thus, they often run into disputes. 

Although the constitution does provide for intervention by the central government and for the resolution of the disputes by mutual consultation, this has been significantly ineffective. The vamsadhara river water dispute has been in existence for over six decades. Even after the resolution of the dispute there has been no implementation of the provisions set by the tribunal. 

The tribunals formulated under the Inter-state river water disputes act, have adjudicated over several disputes and have failed to yield desired results. 

The tribunals have been criticised for being comprising of judges as its members and it has significant dearth of participation of the local people. 

The demand for the resolution to be undertaken primarily by just mutual consultation has also gained significant support. 

Conclusion

The long standing Vamsadhara dispute has resorted back to the settlement of dispute by mutual resolution between the two states. The tribunal has been proved to be ineffective. There are talks for having a unified adjudicating body to undertake all the present and the future disputes.

The government shall make necessary amendments to the act to facilitate for a national level specialised body to adjudicate on the issue of water disputes amongst two or more states. The tribunal shall also provide for better representation of the people of the local communities. The disputes that have been struck for long periods shall be dealt with high priority and the decision shall be reached as soon as possible. 

Author: Sriniwas from NMIMS, Mumbai.

Editor: Silky Mittal, Junior Editor, Lexlife India.

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