Cauvery Water Dispute: Find out Why Karnataka and Tamil Nadu fighting?

The sharing of waters of the Kaveri River has been an apple of discord between the 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 Kaveri River distanced 802 kilometres whose 44,000 km2 basin area is in Tamil Nadu and 32,000 km2 basin areas is in Karnataka.
Created On: Sep 14, 2016 12:00 IST
Modified On: Mar 9, 2017 14:49 IST

The recent outburst of violence in Karnataka has again put the 124-year old Cauvery water dispute in the limelight. Despite numerous attempts to resolve the problem, the two southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have always been at loggerheads when it comes to Cauvery River. Just like in the past, emotions and opinions are ruling over the facts and figures, which have led to sporadic violence throughout the region. If you are also one of the many bystanders, who are still unaware of the actual problem and the reason why the dispute has continued for over a century, here’s a brief guide to the Cauvery water dispute and its historical overview.

Cauvery – The River:

Cauvery, which is locally known as Kaveri, is a large river that flows through the southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The river has its origin at Talakaveri, Kodagu in Karnataka and empties itself into the Bay of Bengal through Poompuhar in Tamilnadu. The river has enjoyed social, economic, political religious and even cultural importance in the life of people from both the states that are currently fighting over its water.

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Cauvery Water Dispute

The Cauvery River has been a source of conflict between the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for over 124 years. The primary quarrel, in this case, has always been about the sharing and distribution of water of Cauvery River between the two states. Over the years, repeated attempts from both the states and central governments have failed to resolve this dispute which has now transformed into regional conflict now. The Cauvery Water Dispute has become a very sensitive topic for common people of both the states who now regard treat it as a fight for regional supremacy between the two states.


Source: Quora

If described briefly, the Cauvery Water Dispute boils down to:

Cauvery water is vitally important for both the states as people from Karnataka depend upon it to satisfy their drinking needs, whereas farmers from Cauvery delta in Tamil Nadu depend upon it for agriculture and livelihood.

The fight for Cauvery river water become even more important during rainfall deficient years, as the entire basin delta of the Cauvery River falls under the drought prone area. Therefore, Cauvery river water is the only source of water in this region.

As far as water resources are concerned, around 53% of Cauvery water resources fall within the geographic boundaries of Karnataka, whereas only 30% of water resources fall within the geographical borders of Tamil Nadu.

On the other hand, 54% of river basin area (the portion of land drained by the river) lies in the state of Tamil Nadu, whereas only 42% of Cauvery river basin area is in Karnataka.

As per the facts provided above, Karnataka claims more rights over Cauvery water as the river originates in the state and they hold 53% of water resources fall within their state.

Similarly, Tamil Nadu has been traditionally and historically dependent on Cauvery water to meet the irrigation needs in the northern part of the state. In addition to this, they also have larger share of river basin area and have been using more water from Cauvery historically, which has translated into demand for more water from Karnataka.

Usability of River Water

Cauvery Water Dispute: Historical Overview

The Cauvery water dispute predates the independence of the country and first came into limelight in 1890’s during the British Raj. During the 1890’s the Princely state of Mysore under the British regime started planning to build dams on the Cauvery River to use its waters for drinking and irrigation purposes. This move was objected upon by the Madras Presidency. Consequently, the British Raj called upon a conference to discuss the matter with both the states and evolve a modus Vivendi over the Cauvery Water dispute. Since then, the Cauvery River has been a bone of contention between the two states.

The chronological events that have marked the key turning points in the Cauvery Water Dispute are listed below:

1892 – An agreement was signed between the erstwhile British states of Mysore and Madras over water sharing, which allowed Mysore to continue their irrigations projects while providing security to Madras Presidency against injury to interests.

1910 – Overlooking the agreement of 1892, Mysore planned to build a dam upon Cauvery River to hold up to 41.5 TMC of water. Madras Presidency objected to this move and refused to give its consent for the dam to be constructed.

1913 - In order to resolve the conflict, the British Government of India appointed an arbitration commission under Sir H D Griffin. M. Nethersole, the Inspector-General of Irrigation in India, was made the Assessor. This is the first time that Cauvery water dispute came under arbitration.

River Valley Projects of River Ganga

1924 – The conflict over the Cauvery River Water continued for next decade until in 1924 a major breakthrough was achieved in the form of a new agreement. The new agreement was designed on the basis of the historical use of Cauvery river water and the dependency of the percentage of population from each state. According to the 1892 and the 1924 agreements the river water is distributed as follows:

75 percent to Tamil Nadu and Puducherry

23 percent to Karnataka

Remaining to go to Kerala

1956 – Post independence, India went for the reorganization of states on the basis of their linguistic demographics. Under the States Reorganisation Act, 1956, Coorg (the birthplace of the Kaveri), became a part of Mysore state. Huge parts of erstwhile Hyderabad State and Bombay Presidency joined with Mysore state. After the re-organization of states, Karnataka started raising demand for the review of Cauvery Water Sharing agreement of 1924. However, Tamil Nadu and Central Government rejected the demand saying that the agreement can only be reviewed after 50 years i.e. 1974.

1972 – With the term of 1924 agreement end closing on, the Central government appointed a fact-finding committee, which asserted that Tamil Nadu used 566 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) and Karnataka used 177 TMC water.

River Valley Projects of Peninsular India

1976 – Another agreement was signed which decided that terms of use for the additional 125 TMC water of Cauvery river. As per this agreement, of the additional amount, 87 TMC would be awarded to Karnataka, 34 TMC to Kerala and 4 TMC to Tamil Nadu. However, this was not accepted by Karnataka as it wanted to share the water as per International rule i.e. in equal proportions. In the meanwhile, Tamil Nadu had increased its dependence on Cauvery River for irrigation purposes and expanded the total irrigated area by 6 lakh acre. This led to a fierce confrontation between two states.

1990 – After failing to arrive at any consensus over the water-sharing agreement, both the state government approached SC. SC asked the Central government to setup Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT) on Jan 2, 1990.

2007 – After 17 years, the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT) gave its final judgement under which it allotted the total availability of water in the river at 40 TMC in normal year. The same was distributed among all the stakeholders as:


Source: Quora

Tamil Nadu: 419 TMC (Which had demanded 512 TMC)

Karnataka: 270 TMC (Which had demanded 465 TMC)

Kerala: 30 TMC

Puducherry: 7 TMC

In addition to allocating 726 TMC to four states, the tribunal also reserved 10 TMC for environmental purposes and 4 TMC inevitable outlets into the sea.

2012 - The Cauvery River Authority under the chairmanship of then PM Manmohan Singh asked Karnataka government to release 9,000 cusecs of water daily to Tamil Nadu. Karnataka government failed to comply with this order. Tamil Nadu government approached SC, which asked Karnataka to release water. Karnataka government finally ceded and released water. This led to violent protest in the state of Karnataka.

2016 – In order to resolve the problem, Tamil Nadu government again moved SC in August 2016 to seeking release of water as per guidelines of Cauvery Tribunal. SC announced it verdict asking the Karnataka government to release 15000 cusecs of water to its neighbouring state for 10 days and after reviewing its previous order Supreme Court ordered the Karnataka govt. to release 12000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu.

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