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Why Is Cauvery River Water Dispute Flaring Up Again Between Karnataka And Tamil Nadu? - Explained

The years-old Cauvery water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has once again flared up amid deficient rainfall in Cauvery catchment area and resulting water scarcity problems. The situation escalated after the Tamil Nadu government approached the Supreme Court to order Karnataka to release 24,000 cubic feet per second (cusecs) of water from Karnataka's reservoirs.

Cauvery River.
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The years-old Cauvery water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has once again flared up amid deficient rainfall in Cauvery catchment area and resulting water scarcity problems. The situation escalated after the Tamil Nadu government approached the Supreme Court to order Karnataka to release 24,000 cubic feet per second (cusecs) of water from Karnataka's reservoirs.

Following Tamil Nadu's move to the top court, Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar said Karnataka would release 10 tmcft of Cauvery river water to the neighbouring TN, while maintaining that the state doesn't have sufficient water in dams to meet its requirements like drinking water and agriculture, due to deficit monsoon.

What is the Cauvery dispute?

The confict over sharing the Cauvery river water between TN and Karnataka rose from two agreements in 1892 and 1924 between the Madras Presidency and Kingdom of Mysore. The inflow from Karnataka is 425 TMCft whereas that from Tamil Nadu is 252 TMCft. Karnataka has been demanding its due share of the river water, claiming that pre-independence agreements were heavily in the favour of the Madras Presidency.

After years of dispute, the Supreme Court intervened multiple times, the last being in 2018, to decide how much water Karnataka needed to share with Tamil Nadu every year. As per the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal’s final verdict, Karnataka is supposed to make available a total quantity of 177.25 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) to Tamil Nadu at Biligundlu in a ‘normal’ water year, between June to May. 

Of this, 123.14 TMC is to be released during the period from June to September, marking the southwest monsoon season. However, it is during this period when the conflict flares up again due to deficient rainfall in Karnataka.

Why did the Cauvery dispute flare up again?

The Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) which was set up after the Supreme Court's judgment in 2018 to ensure the implementation of the judgment, requested the Karnataka government to release 24,000 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water from its reservoir to Biligundlu, which sits on the inter-state border. 

Approaching the Supreme Court, TN asked to have Karnataka release 36.76 TMC stipulated for September 2023 as per the CWDT’s judgment. The court then directed Karnataka to release 10,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu for 15 days. However, Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar said that TN shouldn't have gone to the top court over Cauvery and has appealed to CWMA to reconsider the decision owing to water scarcity issues in the state.

"It's the duty of the government to help farmers on both sides of the border. I request Tamil Nadu to work with us. We don't want their farmers in distress, you (TN) too don't put our farmers in distress," he told reporters.

Less rains in Karnataka?

Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister D K Shivakumar said there have been inadequate rains this year and the state is facing a drought. 

“We have received less rain this time. The court has ordered us to release 10,000 cusecs of water everyday. We released water initially but that is not making them comfortable and we too don’t have water. There is a situation of drought. So we are going to the court again with a request to reconsider the order of releasing 10,000 cusecs of water for the next 15 days,” Shivakumar told reporters. 

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