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Cauvery dispute and its solutions

The matter of sharing Cauvery River's water has been one of the burning issues since many years. The Cauvery row originated from two agreements-of 1892 and of 1924 between erstwhile Madras presidency and Princely State of Mysore.

Genesis of dispute

Based on the inflow of water, Karnataka is demanding its due share of water from the Cauvery. It states that the pre-independence covenants are futile and are heavily skewed in the favour of the state of Tamil Nadu. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu opines that it has developed approximately 12000 km2 of land and is thus greatly dependent on the river. As a result of any alterations in the existing agreement would adversely affect its economy and the livelihood of millions of its farmers.

Mysore's ambitious irrigation project was resisted in Madras Presidency. Then a representative was sent from Mysore to Madras Presidency, and then the agreement of 1892 was signed. Things worsened in 1910, when the king of Mysore, Wodeyar and Capt. Dawes, the Chief Engineer, came up with a plan to construct a dam at Kannambadi village with a capacity of 41.5TMC of water .However Madras didn't permit this project, as it had its own plans to develop a storage tank at Mettur of capacity 80 TMC.

After a reference to the Government of India, Mysore was permitted for construction of dam with a reduced capacity of 11TMC. But the dam was constructed with a foundation that suited the design of the original desired capacity. This raised Madras' hackles and the dispute continued. Thus the matter was referred to arbitration of Unit IV of 1892 Agreement. Sir H D Griffin, the appointed arbitrator and M Nethersole, the Inspector-General of Irrigation was made the Assessor. They began proceedings on 16 July 1913 and an Award was given on 12 May 1914. The award restricted the capacity of the dam to 11TMC. Madras appealed against the award and subsequently an agreement was signed in 1924. This agreement was lapsed after operating for 50 years.

By the late 1960s, both the states and the Centre realised the gravity of the situation and thus scrapped the 50 year old 1924 Agreement and began new round of discussions. On 20th February, 2013 based on the directions given by the Supreme Court, the Central government ordered the formation of CWDT (Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal) to decide the issue of distribution of Cauvery's water. The judgement given by the apex court specified the distribution of Cauvery's water in two manners.

  • Karnataka can use the remaining surplus water after releasing 192 TMC applicable in a normal year. Tamil Nadu can also use all the excess water available in its area. Karnataka has plans to store the excess waters by a dam at Mekedatu, for drinking purposes which is opposed by Tamil Nadu.
  • When total water availability is less than 740TMC, then the allocated shares of water of every state is decreased proportionately. Kerala and Karnataka would use their reduced share of water and release the remaining water down to the Billigundulu gauging station for utilization in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.

On 22 August 2016, Tamil Nadu approached Supreme Court, for implementation of the decision of Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal- 2007. The Supreme Court ordered Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs of water per day till 16 September 2016. Supreme Court was approached by Karnataka on 9 September 2016 seeking modifications in the order. Finally the apex court ordered Karnataka to give 6,000 cusecs of water for 3 days to Tamil Nadu on 27 September 2016, which was defied by Karnataka. Supreme Court gave a last chance to Karnataka to release 6000 cusecs of water for the first 6 days of October. The Court also asked the Central Government to set up a Cauvery Water Management Board to address ground realities. On October 1 2016, Karnataka filed a review petition over Supreme Court's latest decision and held a special session of the legislative assembly, not to release the water.


The persisting entanglement beset with hardened stand of Karnataka has no light in the tunnel. As India's national fabric is textured with myriad regional disparities, all states need to honour the verdict of our apex court on any inert state issue. Instead of harbouring a regional chauvinism, Karnataka needs to be pragmatic enough and ought to rise above this parochial mindset. In the national altar, the genuine concern of Tamil Nadu can't be sacrificed against the inexpedient stubborn stand of Karnataka.

Any river is a national asset. No state can claim monopoly on it. Let good reason prevail upon these two states. Abiding the decrees of Supreme Court, the flag bearer of justice, holds the key to this dispute like any interstate issues as envisaged in our constitution.

- Suman Sourav Jena

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