Water Wars: Verdict on the Historic Cauvery Water Dispute

Each and every person no matter how rich, poor, big or small has a basic need or an immediate need for certain basic commodities in life. These are- food, water, clothing, shelter, education, and healthcare. While each of these is essential for a person to survive, the one indispensable need is the need for water.

Water is not only a basic and the most important need of a person to survive but is also essential when it comes to hygiene, growth, and progress, agricultural growth as well as industrial development.

Understanding the significance of this vital and scarce resource, in India, we have faced several disputes of sharing river waters such as Ganga, Indus, and so on. At times it may be with other countries or sometimes there are internal disputes of sharing the river water as in the case of the Cauvery River water sharing disputes between the States of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

What was the history of this dispute?

The Cauvery river originates in the Kodagu district of Karnataka and flows through Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry. The dispute over allocation of its waters arises because of this, as several districts in these regions rely on the river for irrigation, and the city of Bengaluru also gets its water supply from the river.

The British controlled both Mysore and Madras for a short period in the middle of the 19th Century. In 1892, the erstwhile princely state of Mysore (roughly the precursor to Karnataka) and the Madras Presidency of the British Raj (roughly the precursor to Tamil Nadu) signed an agreement on how to share the river’s water. When the two territories could not resolve new disputes which arose subsequently, the British mediated a further agreement between them in 1924, which included rules regarding dams, which were being constructed by both sides.

If an agreement was made regarding water sharing, then where did the situation get aggravated?

Nothing significant happened in the dispute, until independence. However, after the reorganization of the States took place in 1956, the agreement translated to the new states in the form of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry getting 75 percent of the Cauvery’s surplus water, Karnataka getting 23 percent and Kerala getting 2 percent. Karnataka was not happy with this arrangement and started to build dams on the river in the 1960s.

What is the Cauvery Water dispute all about?

Unlike the major Northern rivers like Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra which are perennial rivers since they originate from permanent glaciers, the Cauvery river is a non-perennial/seasonal river which is fed by seasonal monsoon rains and several tributaries. In times of heavy rains, these region witnesses excessive source of water whereas in case of shortage of rainfall or drought, the area suffers and the needs of the farmers are not met.

In 1970, The Cauvery Fact Finding Committee found that Tamil Nadu’s irrigated lands had grown from 1,440,000 acres to 2,580,000 acres whereas Karnataka’s irrigated lands stood at 680,000 acres, resulting in an increased need of water for Tamil Nadu. This proposal was opposed by Karnataka.

Since then, the dispute has flared up time and again with the occasional failure of monsoon adding to the problem.

Over the years, both the states saw protests regarding the water allocation. In Tamil Nadu, the farmers had come to rely on the river for irrigation and couldn’t risk the amount being reduced. In 1986, a farmers’ association from the state filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking for a tribunal to be formed to adjudicate the dispute under the Inter-States Water Disputes Act, 1956.

After negotiations between the two states failed in 1990, the court directed the central government to set up the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT). In 1991, the CWDT gave an interim award in which it directed Karnataka to ensure that 205 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) reached Tamil Nadu, every year, and also ordered them to not increase its irrigated land area.

Cauvery River Water Dispute: Supreme Court Verdict 2018

Citing the requirement of drinking water for Bengaluru, the Supreme Court (SC) today lowered the amount of Cauvery water due to Tamil Nadu, to 404.25 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet), from the 419 tmcft allotted by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) in February 2007.

Of course, Karnataka was overjoyed by the verdict, while political parties in Tamil Nadu expressed shock over the verdict. The apex court said drinking water has to be kept on the highest pedestal. In addition to Bengaluru’s need for more drinking water, the SC also took note of the fact that the city’s industrial needs have also risen.

However, there’s no change in the allotment for Puducherry (30 tmcft) and Kerala (7tmcft).

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