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Cauvery dispute and its solutions

The sharing of waters of the Cauvery River has been the source of a serious conflict between the two Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The genesis of this conflict rests in two agreements in 1892 and 1924 between the erstwhile Madras Presidency and Princely State of Mysore. The 802 km Cauvery River has 44,000 km2 (54%) basin area in Tamil Nadu, 32,000 km2 (42%) basin area in Karnataka and 2,866 km2 (4%) in Kerala. The root cause of the problem could be seen as both the states lie in shadow zone of Western Ghats and thus has a water deficient basin. As against a total average annual runoff of 790 tmcft the total demanded quantity of water is 1135 tmcft. Thus, no matter whatever formula that Supreme Court or any other concerned authorities come up with there will always bound to be a shortfall if one looks to solutions within the Cauvery Basin. The problem tend to be resurface in years when there is a deficit rainfall.


By 1881, Mysore was virtually back in the hands of Wodeyar Kings and the issue started to appear as a problem to British administration, which until now has total control of Madras and Mysore Kingdom. It led to Agreement in 1892, which allowed Mysore to take their irrigation projects and gave Madras the practical security against injury to interests.

Situations again took an ugly turn in the famine of 1910. Government was compelled to refer to the arbitrator. Sir H D Griffin was appointed as the Arbitrator. He upheld the decision of GoI and allowed Karnataka to build a dam of capacity of 11TMC at Kannambadi Village. Madras appealed against the award. Negotiation held between both the parties and finally agreement was arrived in 1924, which was supposed to lapse after a run of 50 years.

Post-Independence Developments

After Independence when states where reorganized on the linguistic demography, Coorg (the birthplace of Cauvery), became a part of Mysore state. Huge part of erstwhile Hyderabad State and Bombay presidency joined with Mysore State. Parts of Malabar which earlier formed the part of Madras Presidency went to Kerala. Pondicherry became a Union Territory in 1954. All these changes brought Kerala and Pondicherry into the conflict because one of the major tributary of Cauvery, the Kabini, now lies in Kerala.

In February 2013, based on the directions of the Supreme Court, the GoI notified the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT). The year when the total water availability on the basin is more than 740 TMC and dependability of 50% was considered as the base year. The award allocated 419 TMC to Tamil Nadu, 270 TMC to Karnataka, 30 TMC to Kerala and 7 TMC to Pondicherry in the entire Cauvery Basin, including 14 TMC required for minimum environmental flows and unavoidable wastage to the sea. Karnataka can use all the excess water available in its sea after releasing 192 TMC applicable in a normal water year.

Water Use Limitation

The water used in the Cauvery delta in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry is nearly 280 TMC which is the tail end water use in the river basin. The estimated salinity or total dissolve salts (TDS) for the water available in Cauvery delta is 441 ppm which is close to maximum permissible 500 ppm. Adequate salt expo from basin a necessary condition in order to avoid deterioration of water quality in terms of salinity, pH, alkanity, etc. Because there is no limit is awarded in term of use of ground water. So, salt export criteria is the limitation for the water resources development in a river basin.

Interim Supervisory Committee

GoI established an Interim Supervisory Committee to implement the Cauvery tribunal till the constitution of "Cauvery Management Board" as stated in the tribunal order.

Recent Demonstrations

Unhappy with the decision of tribunal in 2007, all four states file a revision petition in Supreme Court. Supreme Court directed to release 50 tmcft Cauvery water as mandated in Cauvery water Disputes Tribunal in 2007. Karnataka cited distress situation as Karnataka felt there was only enough water for drinking purpose and refused to release water. This lead to demonstration which turned into riots and the imposition of curfew in Bangalore, Mandya and Mysore. For almost a week there was a complete halt in cities of Bangalore and many vehicles with Tamil Nadu registration were torched and death of 2 persons.


There are 2 possible long term solutions for these century old conflict:

  1. An additional terminal storage of at least 50-60 tmcft capacity to store.
    • An additional storage could be achieved by construction of 4 hydro projects at Shivasundram and Mekadatu in Karnataka and at Raimanal and Hogenakal in Tamil Nadu, as was proposed by NHPC in 1998.
    • These reservoirs could make availability of water even in drought years.
  2. Inter-basin transfer of water from external catchments into the Cauvery.
    • Transfer of excess water of Godavari basin to the Cauvery through Krishna and Pennar basins
    • Water from west flowing rivers can also become the lifeline of these water starved region, for ex; transfer of water from Netravati into the Hemavathy, a major affluent of Cauvery.


The agreements of colonial period can't be applied in present situation because population of basin has reached 40 million in 2015, Tamil Nadu has brought more than 30,00,000 acres land under farming since independence thus, been requesting the Supreme Court that any change in present arrangement could affect millions of farmers etc.

It is a duty of government to provide its citizen adequate water for drinking, irrigation, sanitation and sustenance of cattle's, but it also applies to have a faith in our constitutional machinery and should maintain law and order and to respect the judicial judgments. As it has been predicted that water would be the cause of WWIII, so it becomes even more crucial to solve such issues in our national borders.

- Rohit Singh Raghuvanshi

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