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Is it possible to solve Cauvery water dispute between Tamilnadu and Karnataka?

INTRODUCTION: Disputes, fights, quarrels or rivalry are no longer resented to nations, states, cities, districts or within individuals rather has gained clutches upon the survival elements on the universe. Now amongst the so called survival elements Water is the most important element upon which disputes have been witnessed amongst the present times between the two states of India namely Tamil Nadu and Karnataka upon the river Cauvery. These disputes are generally termed as Inter State Water Disputes which generally takes place when the states of a river basin try to obtain maximum quantity of water.

PHYSICAL SIGNIFICANCE: The River Cauvery is considered to be one of the most sacred river of Southern India and transverses through more than one state, sharing its sanctity and holiness with the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Pondicherry and finally breaks into the Bay of Bengal. This river is of utmost importance as it sustains agriculture and industries in the states by improving irrigation and providing hydropower.

HISTORY OF THE DISPUTE: The dispute dates back to the year 1892, the era before Independence and continues to be a matter of argument till date. The dispute initially was between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu but later on Kerala and Pondicherry also entered the picture. The seriousness of the dispute was realised at a quite early stage, in the year 1986 when the then Government created a Tribunal, under the Inter State Water Disputes Act 1956 named the Cauvery Waters Tribunal established on June 2, 1990 that was followed by an interim order and a long hearing session of court. The ultimatum of this Tribunal came in the year 2007 with the proper division and allocation of water in all the four states equally with the highest shares given to the states of Tamil Nadu with 419 tmc and Karnataka 270 tmc feet of water. Yet they both continue to be at loggerheads and had then filed a review petition to the court regarding the allocation of water.

MAIN CAUSE OF DISPUTE: India being an agrarian economy has most of its dependence on monsoon and the problem escalates when there is failure of monsoon in the southern parts of the country leading to water stress among farmers and the common man as there is less water to thrive on. Thus the reason for the endless cycle of sporadic litigation and adhoc adjudication is that both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are not ready to share the shortfall at times of distress and there is no permanent solution to this.

RECENT VERDICT: After numerous hearings of the petitions the Supreme Court has come on a conclusion that Tamil Nadu’s quota of water has been reduced by 14.75 tmcft from the original and increased Karnataka share to 284.75 tmcft. Thus Tamil Nadu shall get 404.25 tmcft of water which is less than what was allotted in the tribunal of 2007. Thus the increase in share for Karnataka was done keeping in mind that there has been an increase demand of drinking water and other industrial activities.

WAY FORWARD: The dispute that still persists comes as a challenge not only for the States but also for the Nation as a whole but can be resolved if proper understanding is coupled with amicable solutions.

  • Ecologist Garret Hardin popularized the theory called “tragedy of commons” that focusses on the over utilisation of common property resulting in exhaustion of the resources that needs to be addressed at the grass root level and we need to come out with ways to preserve water like Rain Water harvesting, tube wells and groundwater utilisation etc.
  • The rising social discontent can be addressed if both the states have their farmers on one board like the “Cauvery Family” which is a non-political initiative that can help remove the clouds of hostility whenever dispute erupts.
  • Political initiatives definitely comes with a distress sharing formula such as the Cauvery Management Board and Regulatory Authority that manages to help states from the Central level and can provide mechanisms for Sustainable Agricultural Solutions which is the need of both the present and the future as the Cauvery River does not have the potential to fulfil demand at both ends.
  • Ideally any water dispute can be resolved if there is an equitable apportionment of the resource which is a universally accepted principle and can be brought to reality if all the states strike off their regional differences and jointly try to preserve the river basin.

Thus I believe that these solutions can try solving the disputes to a certain extent and resent peace at both ends.

-Satarupa Mukherjee