What is this dispute over Cauvery water?
The use and development of Cauvery waters were regulated by agreements of 1892 and 1924 between the erstwhile princely state of Mysore and the Madras presidency. The 1924 agreement had been necessary because Madras had objected to Mysore building the Krishnarajasagar dam across the Cauvery, and the agreement facilitated it by allowing Madras to build the Mettur dam. A significant feature of the agreement was that it put restrictions on the extent of area that could be safely irrigated by the two states by using the Cauvery waters.
With the reorganization of states in 1956, the situation changed a bit because the 802-km-long Cauvery river, which originateas at Talacauvery in Kodagu district in Karnataka, traverses mainly through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu while its basin covers areas in Kerala (which has three of its tributaries), and Karaikal region of Pondicherry, (now Puducherry) as well.
The basic dispute has always been about the sharing of waters in the Cauvery Basin. As per the 1892 and 1924 agreements the approximate river water allotments were as follows:
75% to Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry,
23% to Karnataka, and
the rest to Kerala .
So if it is all so clear-cut, where is the problem?
Unlike major north and north-eastern rivers like Indus, Ganga and Brhamaputra which originate from permanent glaciers, the Cauvery river is fed by seasonal monsoon rains and several tributaries. So in times of a heavy monsoon rains, this region witnesses excessive flow of water in the river and floods, but in times of insufficient rains, there is a drought like situation, and as the irrigation needs of farmers are not met, the two states indulge in the ancient ritual of blaming each other.
While pre-Independence disputes between Mysore (now largely Karnataka) and Madras
(now largely Tamil Nadu and parts of Kerala) were largely
settled through arbitrations and agreements by the British, the division of
water became a serious issue after state-reorganisation. Starting from 1959 and
throughout the 60s, Tamil Nadu objected to Karnataka building two dams but the
latter went ahead, as the fiver-rounds of talks to solve the dispute failed. In 1974,
Karnataka asserted that the 1924 agreement entailed a discontinuation of the water supply to Tamil Nadu after 50
years and the dispute as we know it today assumed centre-stage. Since the river
originates in Karnataka, it argued, the state was entitled how best to use the
river's water and was not bound by the agreements imposed on the maharaja of
Mysore by the colonial government which, it added, were skewed heavily in favour of
On the other hand, Tamil Nadu pleaded that it had already developed millions acres of its agricultural land and as a result was heavily dependant on the existing pattern of usage. It claimed that any change in this pattern would adversely affect the livelihood of millions of farmers in the state. It had also been protesting the
In short Tamil, Nadu wanted to maintain status quo over its share of water while Karnataka wanted to tap most of the water flowing from its territory.
Tamil Nadu, being the lower-riperian state, charges that Karnataka has built
new dams and expanded the agricultural areas irrigated by the available water,
thus affecting the water-supply down-stream. As a result, there has been a
dispute and tension between these two states over the division of water.
So was nothing done till now to resolve the dispute?
In 1976, after a series of discussions between the two states and the union government chaired by Jagjivan Ram, the then Irrigation Minister, a final draft was prepared based on findings of the a Cauvery Fact Finding Committee (CFFC) . This draft was accepted by all states and the union government also made an announcement to that effect in Parliament. However, Tamil Nadu came under President’s rule soon after that and the agreement was put on the backburner. The successive AIADMK government of M G Ramachandran rejected the draft agreement and insisted that the 1924 agreement had only provided for an extension and not a review. It demanded that a status quo should be restored and everyone should go back to the agreements of 1892 and 1924. Several meetings between the two states in the 1980s to find an amicable solution to the problem proved futile as there was no meeting ground between the two.
So, is that why the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal was formed?
Yes. In 1986, a farmer’s association from Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu moved the Supreme Court demanding the constitution of a tribunal for adjudication for the Cauvery water dispute. In February 1990, the Supreme Court, while hearing the petition, directed the two states to complete negotiations before April 24. Following the failure of negotiations between the two states, the Supreme Court directed the union government to constitute a tribunal to adjudicate the dispute and pass an award and allocate water among the four states.
In accordance with Section 4 of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956, the National Front government headed by V.P. Singh constituted the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal on June 2, 1990 with Chittatosh Mookerjee, retired chief justice of the Bombay High Court, as Chairman and N.S. Rao, retired judge of the Patna High Court, and S.D. Agarwala, retired judge of the Allahabad High Court, as members. Justice Mookerjee resigned in 1999 and N.P. Singh was appointed in his place.
Thereafter, the four parties to the dispute—Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Pondicherry — presented their demands to the Tribunal as under:
Karnataka: 465 TMC
Kerala: 99.8 TMC
Pondicherry : 9.3 TMC
Tamil Nadu - the flow of the water should be in accordance with the terms of the agreements of 1892 and 1924; that is 566 TMC for Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry; 177 TMC for Karnataka and 5 TMC for Kerala.
(TMC: Thousand Million Cubic feet)
When and what was the interim order given by the Tribunal?
On Supreme Court's instruction and Tamil Nadu's plea, the Tribunal gave an interim award on 25 June 1991. In coming up with this award, the
Tribunal calculated the average inflows into Tamil Nadu over a period of 10 years between 1980–81 and
1989–90 and the extreme years (of drought and floods) were ignored from this calculation. The average worked out to 205 TMC which Karnataka had to ensure reached Tamil Nadu in a water year.
The award also stipulated the weekly and monthly flows to be ensured by Karnataka for each month of the water year. The tribunal further directed Karnataka not to increase it irrigated land area from the existing 11.2 lakh acres.
What happened to the interim award?
Following the interim award, Karnataka witnessed its worst anti-Tamil riots in which dozens were killed and thousands fled the state. The violence which was centered mainly in some parts of Bangalore lasted for about a month and most schools and educational institutions in Bangalore remained closed during this period. Chennai and few other parts of Tamil Nadu also saw sporadic instances of violence.
The Karnataka government also rejected the interim award and issued an ordinance seeking to annul the Tribunal’s award. However, the Supreme Court struck down the ordinance issued by Karnataka and upheld the Tribunal’s award which was subsequently gazetted by the government of India on 11 December 1991.
In 1992, 1993, and 1994, the rain was sufficient to pacify the the dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for the time being. But in 1995, the monsoons failed badly in Karnataka and it found itself unable fulfil the interim order. Tamil Nadu approached the Supreme Court demanding the immediate release of at least 30 TMC, which the apex refused to entertain. The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal examined the case and recommended that Karntaka release only 11 TMC, which was again rejected by Karnataka. Tamil Nadu went back to the Supreme Court demanding that Karnataka be forced to obey the Tribunal's order. The Supreme Court this time recommended that the then Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao intervene and find a political solution. The Prime Minister convened a meeting with the Chief Ministers of the two states and recommended that Karnataka release 6 TMC instead of the 11TMC that the tribunal ordered. Karnataka complied with the decision of the Prime Minister.
In 1998, the Cuavery River Authority (CRA) was formed with the Prime Minister as its chairperson and the Chief Ministers of the four states as its members to give effect to the implementation of the interim order and the related subsequent orders. Another body, the Cauvery Monitoring Committee, was formed as an expert body of engineers, technocrats and other officers who would take stock of the 'ground realities' and report to the CRA.
What is final order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal ?
After 16 years, the three-member Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal delivered
its 1000 page final award on February 5, 2007.
While considering that the total availability of water the Cauvery basin spread
across the 4 states is 740 TMC in a "normal year" the Tribunal has
allocated the water as follows:
Tamil Nadu: 419 TMC (which had demanded 512 TMC),
Karnataka: 270 TMC (which had demanded 465 TMC),
Kerala: 30 TMC, and
Pondicherry: 7 TMC
Besides allocating 726 TMC for the four states, the award reserves 10 TMC for environmental purposes and 4 TMC for inevitable outlets into the sea.
Thus as per the final award, Karnataka will release 192 TMC to Tamil Nadu from its Billigundlu site, which include 10 TMC meant for environmental purposes. Tamil Nadu will also get an additional 25 TMC through rainfall in the intervening distance between Billigundlu and Mettur. Thus, the total amount of water flowing from Karnataka's territory into Mettur dam in Tamil Nadu will be 217 TMC and the rest of Tamil Nadu's share will come from from rainfall and flows within its own territory. From its share of this 192 TMC water that comes from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu will then release 7 TMC to Pondicherry.
But who will regulate the division of water?
To regulate the release of water, a monitoring authority is to be constituted.
What if there is shortage of water to due to less rainfall?
The Tribunal is suitably vague. Its final award has not given a detailed formula in situations when there shortage of water due to insufficient rains. It merely says that in such situations, the allocated shares should be proportionally reduced.
What is the reaction to the final award of the Tribunal?
Actually, Tamil Nadu points out that it gets only a little more from Karnataka (217-7 = 210 TMC) than what it was awarded by the interim order in 1991 (205 TMC) but the government and the people of the state have largely hailed the February 5 final order of the Tribunal, calling it fair and equitable (though Jayalalitha has tried puncturing CM Karunanidhi's balloon by some nitpicking). Pondicherry has also welcomed the Tribunal's final award and the union minister for water resources Saifuddin Soz has also maintained that all the states will have to agree to the verdict of the Tribunal.
Karnataka, on the other hand, feels short-changed as it feels that it has emerged even worse-off than what the interim order awarded it, which had led to massive protests in the state. And since the water needs of the state have grown over the years, there is an economic and therefore a political cost of the award, and expectedly the Karnataka government has said it will file a revision petition within the stipulated 90 days before the tribunal seeking a review of the order, terming it as "shocking" and "unacceptable". There have been sporadic protests against the award as well.