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Cauvery Water Dispute

  • Protests in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over the Cauvery water-sharing dispute turned violent , with several vehicles set on fire and commercial establishments attacked in both states, leaving even the two southern metros at the mercy of parochial mobs. 
  • The Cauvery Supervisory Committee  failed to arrive at a decision on quantum of water to be released to Tamil Nadu and other states pursuant to the Supreme Court order and decided to meet again on September 19.
  • Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court had asked Karnataka to release 12,000 cusecs Cauvery water per day, down from previous 15,000 cusecs, to Tamil Nadu till September 20.

Cusec is a measure of flow rate of water and is abbreviation for cubic feet per second (which is equivalent to a flow of 28.317 litres per second) and 11,000 cusecs flow for a day amounts to 1 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) water.

  • Chief Secretaries of both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka did not agree over figures relating to release of water during the meeting.
  • The Committee, has decided to set up a network for data collection which will send real-time online data to the four states involved- Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Puducherry and Kerala.


  • This year, many parts of south Karnataka received rainfall 40% in excess of the normal — crucially, however, the main catchment area of the Cauvery in the Kodagu district got 33% below normal rain.
  • The deficiency has meant that the four reservoirs in the Cauvery basin in Karnataka — Krishna Raja Sagar, Harangi, Hemavathi and Kabini — have together received only 114.66 thousand million cubic (tmc) ft of water until the end of August, about half the normal 215.70 tmc ft.


  • Amidst this shortfall in Karnataka, the government of Tamil Nadu, in an effort to protect the interests of farmers in the Thanjavur region — where paddy is grown over a vast area in the samba (August to January) season — went to the Supreme Court in August complaining that Karnataka had failed to adhere to the water release plan for a normal monsoon season outlined in the final February 5, 2007 order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal.


  • The interim order was along the lines of similar orders passed in previous distress years like 1995, 2002 and 2012.



Story in details:

  • The historical dispute between the two states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu dating back to the British rule.
  • The issue dates back to 1892 when an agreement was filed between Madras Presidency and Mysore for arbitration but led to a fresh set of disputes. Later, attempts were renewed to arbitrate between the two states under supervision of Government of India and second agreement was signed in 1924.

According to the 1892 and the 1924 agreements the river water is distributed as follows:

  1. 75 percent with Tamil Nadu and Puducherry
  2. 23 percent to Karnataka
  3. remaining to go to Kerala
  • The real problem started after the re-organisation of states in post Indian independence. Before that, most matters were settled through arbitration and agreements.
  • Through the late 20th century, Tamil Nadu opposed the construction of dams on the river by Karnataka, and the state in turn wanted to discontinue the water supply to Tamil Nadu.

Karnataka’s view :

They argued that the 1924 agreement had lapsed when its 50 years were up in 1974 and considering that the river originated in Karnataka, they had better claim over the river. They argued that they were not bound by the agreement struck between the British empire and the Maharaja of Mysore.

Karnataka argued heavily that the river water should be divided according to international rules, i.e. in equal portions.

 They suggested that 94 percent could be divided equally between them and the rest could be distributed to Kerala and Puducherry.


Tamilnadu’s status:

Tamil Nadu too had become heavily dependent on the river after they developed millions of agricultural land around the river.

They argued that the livelihood of farmers would be affected if there was a change in the distribution of water. In 1972, the Centre agreed to appoint a committee who would collect statistics from each of the states that had the river basin — Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

However Tamil Nadu wanted to stick to the original distribution, according to the 1924 agreement.


The Cauvery Waters Tribunal was constituted:

  •  In 1986, a farmer's association from Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu moved the Supreme Court (SC) and demanded that a tribunal be formed for the adjudication for the Cauvery water dispute.
  • The Cauvery Waters Tribunal was constituted on June, 2, 1990.
  • After 16 years of hearing and an interim order, the Tribunal announced its final order in 2007.


  1. The Tribunal’s order of February 5, 2007 gave 419 tmc ft Tamil Nadu, 270 tmc ft to Karnataka, 30 tmc ft to Kerala, and 7 tmc ft to Pondicherry. (of the total 740 tmc ft available in the Cauvery basin )
  2. The remaining 14 tmc ft was accounted as reserved for environmental protection and outflow to sea.

Karnataka has not accepted the award and has staked claim to 312 tmc ft. This case is currently before the Supreme Court. Tamil Nadu too has sought an increase in its allocation.


Description: http://im.rediff.com/news/2007/feb/06cauvery.gif


The tribunal said Karnataka must release 192 tmc ft in a normal monsoon year (June to May) at

  1. 10 tmc ft in June,
  2. 34 tmc ft in July,
  3. 50 tmc ft in August,
  4. 40 tmc ft in September,
  5. 22 tmc ft in October,
  6. 15 tmc ft in November,
  7. 8 tmc ft in December,
  8. 3 tmc ft in January,
  9.  2.5 tmc ft each from February to May

at the Billigundlu water station in Tamil Nadu.

The 192 tmc ft comprises 182 tmc ft from Tamil Nadu’s allocated share, and 10 tmc ft allocated for environmental purposes.

In distress years of failed or deficit monsoon, this becomes very difficult for Karnataka to release this water.

In case the yield of Cauvery basin is less in a distress year, the allocated shares shall be proportionately reduced among the States of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Union Territory of Pondicherry”, and left it to the discretion of the Supervisory Committee and its panel of experts to assess ground realities in the two riprarian states before arriving at a water release schedule in distress years.


About Cauvery: 

  • Cauvery, an inter-state river, runs east and finally empties into the Bay of Bengal.
  • It rises at Talakaveri on the Brahmagiri Range of Hill in the Western Ghats, in Kodagu district of Karnataka, at an elevation of 1.341 m (4,400 ft.).
  • The entire catchment area of the Cauvery Basin is 81,155 sqkm and covers three states, and one union territory.
  • The catchment area in Karnataka covers 34,273 sqkm, Kerala 2,866 sqkm, Tamil Nadu 43,868 sqkm, and Karaikkal region of Puducherry 148 sqkm.
  • The principal tributaries of Cauvery in Karnataka are the Harangi, Hemavathi, Lakshmanatirtha, Kabini, Shimsha, Arkavathi and Suvarnavathy.
  • All these rivers, except the Kabini River, Arkavathy River and Suvarnavathy River, rise and flow fully in Karnataka.

Now, let’s cut to the current situation. There are four issues :


An ever-growing and expanding Bengaluru and nearby villages are heavily dependent on Cauvery water for drinking needs.
2. Hefty BWSSB T&D losses of nearly 35 percent, while transmitting Cauvery water to Bengaluru from nearly 100 km, which leads not only to revenue loss but also to physical loss of water through leaky pipelines.
3. Cropping pattern in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are heavily dependent on Cauvery water.
4. In distress years and scanty monsoon, the four reservoirs

5. KRS, Kabini, Hemavathy and Harangi of Cauvery get to dangerously low levels of depletion and there’s not enough water to go around.





Debates and discussion:

Big picture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6RZCGV_cU4



Constitutional points:

River waters use / harnessing is included in states jurisdiction (entry 17 of state list, Schedule 7 of Indian Constitution). However, union government can make laws on regulation and development of inter-State rivers and river valleys when expedient in the public interest (entry 56 of union list, Schedule 7 of Indian Constitution).


Article 262 : Adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter State rivers or river valleys

(1) Parliament may by law provide for the adjudication (act as a judge) of any dispute or complaint with respect to the use, distribution or control of the waters of, or in, any inter State river or river valley

(2) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, Parliament may by law provide that neither the Supreme Court nor any other court shall exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such dispute or complaint as is referred to in clause ( 1 ) Co ordination between States



The Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956 (IRWD Act):

Whenever the riparian states are not able to reach amicable agreements on their own in sharing of an interstate river waters, section 4 of IRWD Act provides dispute resolution process in the form of Tribunal.

As per section 5.2 of the Act, the tribunal shall not only adjudicate but also investigate the matters referred to it by the central government and forward a report setting out the facts with its decisions.



When public interest is served, President may also establish an interstate council as per Article 263 to inquire and recommend on the dispute that has arisen between the states of India.



The Cauvery Management Board


  • The Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal mandated the establishment of the Cauvery Management Board to ensure implementation of and compliance with its 2007 final order on the sharing of the river waters, mainly between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, but also with Kerala and Puducherry.
  • The board is a permanent body under the Union Ministry of Water Resources.



  • The CMB is to consist of a full-time Chairman and two members to be appointed by the Centre.
  • The Chairman's post must be held by an Irrigation Engineer of the rank of Chief Engineer.
  • Of the two full-time Members, one has to be an Irrigation Engineer not below the rank of Chief Engineer, the second member must be an agriculture expert of repute.
  • The tenure of the chairman and the two members is to be for three years, extendable to five years.
  • Two representatives of the Central Government of the rank of Chief Engineer/Commissioner are to be nominated by the Ministry of Water Resources and Ministry of Agriculture respectively. They would be part-time Members of the Board.
  • A representative each of the state governments of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Pondicherry (now, Puducherry) are to be nominated by the respective governments as part-time members of the Board. (The state representatives should be Irrigation Engineers of the rank of Chief Engineer)


The Board will also have a Secretary, who is to be an Irrigation Engineeer




  • The Board is to set up a well-designed communication network in the Cauvery basin for transmission of data and a computerised control room for data processing to determine the hydrological conditions, including distress, if any. This work may be entrusted by the Board to the Central Water Commission (CWC) or any other Central/State government organization.
  • Set-up its machinery and devise methods to determine the quantum of unutilised water to be received from Kerala by Tamil Nadu through Kabini and its tributaries, and ensure delivery in Tamil Nadu at the common border.
  • The Regulatory Authority will also monitor flows from the Krishnaraja Sagar (KRS) reservoir as also from Kabini and other tributaries meeting the Cauvery below the KRS up to the Billigundulu site.
  • The Cauvery Management Board will monitor the situation with the help of the Cauvery Regulation Committee and the state authorities.
  • The area of focus will be the available storage position in the Cauvery basin, along with the trend of rainfall and will make an assessment about the likely inflows which may be available for distribution amongst the party states within the overall schedule of water deliveries.
  • In case of deficiency in water availability during any month as reported by the Board's regulation committee, the Board will consider reduction in the indent of the parties in proportion to the quantities allocated to each State by the Tribunal for the designated crops.
  • The Board may direct states to furnish data in respect of carry-over storage in reservoirs, including inflows and outflows, rainfall data, the area irrigated and water utilised.
  • The Board has to arrange collection of data for important rain gauge stations maintained by IMD/CWC/states in the Cauvery basin, as also inflow data measured at important nodal points on the Cauvery river system through the Cauvery Regulation Committee, which will suitably compile the rainfall data for different monsoon seasons along with the inflows measured at different sites.

Role of the board at the reservoirs

The following important reservoirs in the basin:


  • Banasurasagar in Kerala;
  • Hemavathy, Harangi, Kabini and Krishnarajasagara in Karnataka,
  • Lower Bhavani, Amaravathy and Mettur in Tamil Nadu

are to be operated in an integrated manner by the states concerned under the overall guidance of the Cauvery Management Board for each 10-day period throughout the year to meet the seasonal water requirements of the various states for irrigation, hydro-power generation, domestic and industrial uses, etc., and the remaining quantities of the surplus water conserved as far as possible and spillage of water reduced to the minimum.


The guidelines for the Board


  • As it is not possible for the Board to forecast the nature of the monsoon, the Board at the beginning of the water year i.e. first June each year, would determine the total residual storage in the specified reservoirs. Again, it is not possible to know the amount of season-wise river flows which will be available during a season;
  • it will be assumed that the inflows will be according to 50% dependable year (yield 740 tmcft). The share of each state will be determined on the basis of the flows so assumed, together with the available carry over storage in the reservoirs.
  • The withdrawals will be allowed during the first time interval of 10 days of the season on the basis of the share worked out for each state, limited to the water requirements during the same period indicated by each state by placing an indent of water demand with the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee.




  • The month of June would be crucial because the irrigation season starts from June 1, as also the normal date of the onset of the southwest monsoon in Kerala. As such, any delay in the onset of southwest monsoon would affect the inflows, and consequently schedule of releases from Krishnarajasagara and Kabini reservoirs. The Tribunal has advised the states and the Board to ensure that by the end of May each year, as much water be stored and conserved as possible.
  • However, if there are two consecutive bad years, it would cause distress, which will have to be appropriately tackled by the Cauvery Management Board by relaxing the schedule of deliveries and getting the reservoirs operated in an integrated manner through the states concerned to minimise any harsh effect of a bad monsoon year.
  • In view of such practical difficulties, the Board will have the liberty to alter monthly and/or 10-day schedules of releases, while making an effort to meet the seasonal allocations for the crop as far as possible, in consultation with the states.


What if states do not cooperate?

  • If the Board finds that if any government -- Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Puducherry -- does not co-operate, it can seek the help of the central government.
  • If any delay/shortfall is caused in release of water on account of default by any state, the Board will take appropriate action to make good the deficiency by subsequently deducting indented releases of that state.


Who will pay for the expenses?


  • The Board is empowered to frame its own rules for the conduct of its business. All expenses of the Board (including salary and other expenses of the Chairman and independent Members) are to be borne by the state governments of Kerala - 15%; Karnataka - 40%, Tamil Nadu - 40%; and Union Territory of Pondicherry - 5%.