ECC Platform Library


Narmada Dam Water Disputes between Indian States

Type of conflict main
Intensity 1
Southern Asia
Time 1961 ‐ 1979
Countries India
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Conflict Summary The Narmada River is one of the largest rivers in the Indian subcontinent. Following Indian independence in 1947, the Government of India proposed numerous...
Narmada Dam Water Disputes between Indian States
The Narmada River is one of the largest rivers in the Indian subcontinent. Following Indian independence in 1947, the Government of India proposed numerous damming projects with the principle aim of providing irrigation, drinking water and power for its increasing population. The implementation of the proposed project was considerably hindered, however, by interstate disputes concerning the sharing of the costs and benefits of the project, a factor which led to civil discontent.
Conceptual Model

Fragility and Conflict Risks

In 1961, against the backdrop of a long history of Indian water disputes, costs and benefits of the Narmada River Valley Development Plan became the point of contention. During the planning phase of the project, negative effects on the riparian states were not considered sufficiently, which led to interstate disputes among the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarad and Rajasthan.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversDemographic changes increase pressures on available water resources.Economic developments place additional strains on water resources.Infrastructure development facilitates land use changes.Water scarcity undermines water-dependent livelihoods.Changes in land use reduce available/usable freshwater.Livelihood insecurity leads to interstate tensions.Change in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangeAn increase in the scarcity of clean water and/or an increased variability in water supply.Increased Water ScarcityA broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentConstruction of major infrastructure, such as dams, canals or roads.Infrastructure DevelopmentA change in the usage of environmentally relevant land.Land Use ChangeA threat or destruction of livelihoods dependent on the availability of environmental resources / goods.Livelihood InsecurityTensions between states that may but need not escalate into overt violent conflict.Interstate Tensions
Context Factors
  • Water-stressed Area
Conflict History

Note: Interstate tensions here refers to different states within India, not nation states.

In the aftermath of India’s independence in 1947, inter-state water conflicts concerning rivers increased in frequency. Water had already become a contentious issue during the British Raj, as considerable parts of the country were already relatively arid and major Indian rivers were shared by two or more states (Richards & Singh, 2001). On the one hand, former Prime Minister Nehru’s ambitious development policy increased the demand for water and, on the other hand, the prior system of British colonial law had long-lasting implications for the resolution of on-going water disputes  (D’Souza, 2005).

An interstate dispute
The Narmada River Dispute put the riparian states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat as well as the non-riparian state of Rajasthan, a potential beneficiary of irrigation water, in opposition to one another. The Federal Government of India also had a role to play in the conflict, as it proposed development policy and then tried to act as a mediator. The point of contention regarded the distribution of the costs and benefits entailed by the Narmada River Valley Development plan .The dispute was resolved in 1979, due to the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA), which put forth a compromise between the different states and allowed the harnessing of the Narmada River to start.

India´s modernization strategy favored large projects
As part of the aggressive modernization strategy pursued by India following independence, the federal authorities conducted studies to exploit the huge potential of the Narmada River in the 1950s. When Nehru himself referred to dams as “the temples of modern India“ (1954), larger projects were favored, for instance the Navagam Dam (formerly known as the Sardar Sarovar Dam) located in Gujarat. However, neither the effects on the neighboring states, nor the risk of interstate disputes, had been considered. Although Prime Minister Nehru himself laid the foundation stone in 1961, interstate disagreements soon stopped the actual construction (Cullet, 2007).

Mediation attempt by the central government
Mediation attempts by the federal government had limited success in both 1963 and 1965. Both the Bhopal Agreement and the Khosla Committee Recommendations proved to be unsuccessful in addressing the government of Maharashtra and the government of Madhya Pradesh concerns about the construction of large dams in Gujarat which would flood their territories without irrigation benefits. The death of Prime Minister Nehru in 1963 did not ease this mediation process, as the Central Government suffered a loss of legitimacy. Besides, Indian water law is decentralized and state-based. The involved states were, therefore, trying to assert their authority, all the more as their leaders were prominent figures of the Indian Independence Movement.

Social and environmental dimensions were left aside
The 1960s saw an intense competition for development among the riparian states, which all wanted to develop at the other’s expenses, showing a serious lack of political and economic cooperation. In this context, little attention was paid to social and environmental consequences. The interstate dispute is now closed, although it paved the way for a conflict between the involved states and their citizens, due to the lack of consideration of the resettlement issue and of the ecological impact of large dams (see the Sardar Sarovar Dam conflict).

Resolution Efforts

By the end of the 1960s, the Government of Gujarat acknowledged that the negotiations had reached  political deadlock and called for the creation of a specific tribunal on the basis of the Inter State Water Dispute Act of 1956. In 1969, the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal (NWDT) was set up by the government. The conflict lasted ten more years before an agreement could be reached. Indeed, instead of easing the tensions, the NWDT was considered as a “new arena where conflicts could be aired” (Khagram, 2004).

Resettlement and rehabilitation
The main obstacle to a compromise was the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam which was to overshadow three projects and large parts of land in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh if implemented. Given the strength of the tensions, the tribunal could not deal with anything but the states grievances, and no social scientists or ecologists were asked to give their expertise. Paradoxically however, the resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) problem played an important role. It had indeed been used rather cynically by states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh as a negotiation tool to hinder the ambitious dam to be built in Gujarat (Khagram, 2004).

Ending of the dispute
Gujarat finally accepted to cover all the costs of population displacement without any feasibility studies, probably hoping not to be held accountable for it. It is worth noting that the agreed R&R clause only related to the Sardar Sardovar Dam and only the households located in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, which shows how the R&R clause was only an incidental consequence. Yet, this unlocked the negotiation process and the NMDT finally gave its award for the Narmada River Development project.

Growing activism
In the end, this project proved even larger than the already ambitious federal government’s proposal, comprising more than 3,000 dam projects, including no less than 165 large projects. Civil protest emerged, but, arguably, it proved too weak to influence the NWDT’s decision. However, activism would grow over the years, denouncing an interstate agreement which completely excluded the affected citizens and forgot to assess the social and environmental consequences of their dream for modernization. This is explored in the Sardar Sarovar Dam case study covering the following period.

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Violent Conflict No
Salience within nation National
Mass Displacement None
Cross Border Mass Displacement No
Agricultural / Pastoral Land, Water
Resolution Success
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future The capacity to address grievances in the future has increased.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been mostly addressed.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity Conflict resolution strategies have been clearly responsible for the decrease in conflict intensity.
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Government of Madhya Pradesh
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Government of Maharashtra
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Government of Gujarat
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Government of Rajasthan
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Fedreal Government of India
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
3 Mediation & arbitration In 1969, the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal (NWDT) was set up by the government to determine technical and financial parameters of the Narmada Projects. However, issues concerning the resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) of affected communities, or the environmental impacts of the proposed projects were left largely unaddressed. The NWDT took nearly ten years to award the Narmada River Development project.
0 Social inclusion & empowerment Communities negatively affected by the Narmada Projects were largely left out of the Tribunal’s deliberations. While the agreement included a resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) clause, it did not encompass the affected communities from all the big dam projects. Appropriate measures to include affected citizens, and asses the social and environmental consequences of the projects as part of the interstate agreement would ease the concerns of the communities involved.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Private good: Can be owned and is depleted from use.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Asymmetric: The power to affect the environmental resource is unequal.
Broad conflict characterization Resource capture is not present.
Ecological marginalization is not present.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse


Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

Read more

Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

Read more


Sorry, no description found.

Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

Read more

Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

Read more


Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

Read more


Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

Read more


The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

Read more

Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

Read more


Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.


Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

Read more


Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

Read more

Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

Read more

Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

Read more

Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

Read more


Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

Read more



The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

Read more

Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

Read more


As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

Read more

Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

Read more

Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

Read more

North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

Read more

Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

Read more

South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

Read more

Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

Read more