Why do interstate water disputes emerge and recur?

CESS Monograph 45

The monograph presents a political ecology analysis of interstate water disputes in India to explain why the disputes emerge and recur. It marks a distinct departure from the conventional and distanced constructions that often produce territorialist and legalist narratives. In contrast, the monograph offers a functional and relational account from within, an “anti-geopolitical view”, to describe how inequities and asymmetries are historically and geographically produced – which in turn form the basis for disputes to emerge and escalate.

It uses historical analysis of the Krishna river water dispute to make the following central argument. Interstate water disputes in India are a making of a set of legal ambiguities, political antagonisms and, physical and power asymmetries – rendering them perennial sites of disputation. In India’s multiparty federal democracy context, it translates into a ‘nexus’ between politics of water and mainstream democratic politics, with the disputes becoming popular avenues for political mobilization.

This political ecology of disputes offers other insights of policy relevance as well, calling for solutions beyond legal instruments for effective resolution of disputes. This involves a broader shift, from disputes resolution to creating an ecosystem of interstate cooperation for better transboundary river water governance.

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