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September 26, 2023 @ 8:00 am - 11:30 pm


The History of Conflict

Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have been in a longstanding dispute over the allocation of Cauvery river water dating back to the British colonial period.

A resolution was reached in 1924 when the princely state of Mysore and the presidency of Madras agreed to a compromise.

The agreement permitted Mysore to construct a dam in Kannambadi village for the storage of 44.8 thousand million cubic feet of water, with a review scheduled to take place after 50 years.

Nevertheless, following Independence, both states brought the dispute to the Supreme Court multiple times, but no resolution was achieved.

Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT)

In 1990, the government established the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) with the aim of settling water disputes among the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Puducherry.

The CWDT issued a temporary directive to Karnataka, mandating the release of 205 million cubic feet of water to Tamil Nadu on a monthly or weekly basis.


Under the Section 6A of the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956 the Central Government notified the Cauvery Water Management Scheme on 1st June, 2018, inter-alia, constituting the ‘Cauvery Water Management Authority’ (CWMA) and the ‘Cauvery Water Regulation Committee’ (CWRC) to give effect to the decision of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal.

Why in News?

On September 21, 2023 the Supreme Court asked Karnataka to continue releasing 5,000 cubic feet per second (cusecs) of water from the Cauvery river to Tamil Nadu for 15 days, in line with decisions of the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC) and the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA).

How is the Cauvery water being shared?

The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT)’s final award of 2007 and the Supreme Court’s judgment of February 2018 spell out the system for sharing the river water and the institutional mechanisms for ensuring implementation of the judicial verdicts.

Pointing out that 740 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) of water would be available in the Cauvery basin in a normal year, the Court, which broadly adhered to the CWDT’s award, made the allocation for constituents of the basin as follows:

  1. Karnataka (284.75 tmc ft);
  2. Tamil Nadu (404.25 tmc ft);
  3. Kerala (30 tmc ft) and
  4. Puducherry (7 tmc ft).

Ten tmc ft and four tmc ft have been set apart for environmental protection and inevitable escapes into the sea.

Of Tamil Nadu’s overall allocated quantity, Karnataka is to ensure 177.25 tmc ft, as per a monthly schedule, at Biligundulu, located on the inter-State border.

Of this quantity, 123.14 tmc ft is to be given during the period from June to September.

Invariably, it is during this period that the Cauvery issue gets flared up, as the monsoon sometimes yields lower rainfall than anticipated.

The CWMA and its assisting body, CWRC, are in existence since June 2018 to oversee the implementation of the verdicts of the Tribunal and the Court.

Why are Karnataka’s farmers upset?

In this year’s south west monsoon, between June 1 and September 23, the region suffered a deficit rainfall of 27%, according to the India Meteorological Department.

Kodagu of Karnataka and Wayanad of Kerala, which form part of the catchment of the Cauvery and its tributary, Kabini, registered a deficit rainfall of 43% and 56% respectively.

The Problem of Karnataka

Last week, Karnataka told the Supreme Court that the daily flow of 5,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu was “against [its] interest.” The State, especially in urban areas like Bengaluru, was on “the brink of a drinking water crisis” whereas Tamil Nadu was in need of water for irrigation.

How serious is the situation in T.N.?

Being the lower-riparian State in the Cauvery basin, Tamil Nadu is mainly dependent on releases by Karnataka, particularly during the southwest monsoon, as it falls under the rain shadow region in the season.

As per the data of the Central Water Commission available up to September 21, the State of Tamil Nadu received 40.76 tmc ft, whereas it should have got 112.11 tmc ft in a normal year.

The dependency in TN over the Cauvery for Farming

It is in need of water for at least three lakh acres over which a short-term crop (kuruvai) has been raised. Already, there are reports of the crop being at risk of withering in many places.

However, the State will require, in the coming weeks, much more water for its long-term crop of 125-135 days (samba), which is normally raised over 15 lakh acres, providing livelihood opportunities to lakhs of landless labour. In addition to serving irrigation, the Cauvery is the main source of drinking water for several districts in the State.

A substantial portion of the farming activity under the samba crop takes place during the northeast monsoon (October-December), which is much more unpredictable than the southwest.

What is the way forward?

It is time that the CWMA along with the constituents finalised a distress-sharing formula. There have been differences over the choice of parameters that determine such a formula.

Making use of the present crisis, the Authority should take the initiative in convincing all the stakeholders in evolving the proposed formula.

Existing Water Disputes among the states and status

Prelims Questions

  1. Cauvery River Water Dispute – Parties involved – Water Sharing Formula
  2. Other river water tribunals
  3. Tamil Nadu Cropping season and Crops – Samba Crop; Kuruvai Crop
  4. South West Monsoon; North East Monsoon

Mains Questions

  1. Give a historical overview of the Cauvery River Water Dispute. Deadlock over water sharing among the states in times of distress calls for institutional mechanisms in place and not situational discretion to avoid political backlash. Discuss (250 Words) 15 Marks


September 26, 2023
8:00 am - 11:30 pm
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