Kaveri River water dispute

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The Kaveri flows in southern Karnataka and then to Tamil Nadu.

The sharing of waters of the Kaveri river has been the source of a serious conflict between the Indian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The genesis of this conflict rests in two agreements in 1892 and 1924 between the erstwhile Madras Presidency and Princely State of Mysore. The 802 kilometres (498 mi) Kaveri river [1] has 44,000 km2 basin area in Tamil Nadu and 32,000 km2 basin area in Karnataka.

Karnataka contends that it does not receive its due share of water from the river. It claims that the agreements were skewed heavily in favour of the Madras Presidency, and has demanded a renegotiated settlement based on "equitable sharing of the waters". Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, pleads that it has already developed almost 3,000,000 acres (12,000 km2) of land and as a result has come to depend very heavily on the existing pattern of usage. Any change in this pattern, it says, will adversely affect the livelihood of millions of farmers in the state.

Decades of negotiations between the parties bore no fruit. The Government of India then constituted a tribunal in 1990 to look into the matter. After hearing arguments of all the parties involved for the next 16 years, the tribunal delivered its final verdict on 5 February 2007. In its verdict, the tribunal allocated 419 billion ft³ (12 km³) of water annually to Tamil Nadu and 270 billion ft³ (7.6 km³) to Karnataka; 30 billion ft³ (0.8 km³) of Kaveri river water to Kerala and 7 billion ft³ (0.2 km³) to Puducherry. The dispute however, appears not to have concluded, as all four states deciding to file review petitions seeking clarifications and possible renegotiation of the order.

Tamil Nadu Karnataka Kerala Puducherry Total
Basin Area (in km²)[2] 44,016 (54%) 34,273 (42%) 2,866 (3.5%) 148(-) 81,155
Drought area in the basin (in km²) [3] 12,790 (36.9%) 21,870 (63.1%) -- -- 34,660
Share for each state as per tribunal verdict of 2007 [4] 419 (58%) 270 (37%) 30 (4%) 7 (1%) 726

History of the dispute[edit]

The British controlled both Mysore and Madras for a short period in the middle of the 19th century. During their regime, numerous plans were drawn up for the utilization of the Kaveri waters by both states. However, the drought and subsequent famine in the mid-1870s put a hold on the implementation of these plans. The plans were revived by Mysore in 1881, by which time Mysore was back in the hands of the Mysore kings, while present day Tamil Nadu continued to remain a part of the Madras Presidency.

Mysore's plans to revive the irrigation projects met with resistance from the Madras Presidency. Mysore state made a representation to the Madras Presidency then British government; as a result of which, a conference was held in 1890 with the objective of agreeing "…on the principles of a modus vivendi, which would on the one hand allow to Mysore in dealing with irrigation works, and on the other, give to Madras practical security against injury to interests" and eventually the Agreement of 1892 was signed.

Things came to a head in 1910 when Mysore, under Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar as the king and Sir. M.Visvesvaraya as Chief Engineer came up with a plan to construct a dam at Kannambadi village to hold up to 41.5 TMC of water. The dam was planned to be built in two stages. In the first stage a capacity of 11 TMC was envisioned, while in the second stage the full capacity was set to be realized. Madras however, refused to give its consent for this move as it had its own plans to build a storage dam at Mettur with a capacity of 80 TMC.

After a reference to the Government of India, permission was accorded to Mysore, but for a reduced storage of 11TMC. During construction, however, the foundation was laid to suit the earlier desired full storage. This raised Madras' hackles and the dispute continued. As a result, the then British Government of India referred the matter to arbitration under Rule IV of the 1892 Agreement. The Kaveri dispute thus had come up for arbitration for the first time.

Sir H D Griffin was appointed arbitrator and M. Nethersole, the Inspector General of Irrigation in India, was made the Assessor. They entered into proceedings on 16 July 1913 and the Award was given on 12 May 1914. The award upheld the earlier decision of the Government of India and allowed Mysore to go ahead with the construction of the dam up to 11 TMC.

Madras appealed against the award and negotiations continued. Eventually an agreement was arrived at in 1924 and a couple of minor agreements were also signed in 1929 and 1933. The 1924 agreement was set to lapse after a run of 50 years.

Post independence developments[edit]

In 1947, India won independence from the British. Further in 1956, the reorganization of the states of India took place and state boundaries were redrawn based on linguistic demographics. Kodagu or 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. Parts of Malabar which earlier formed part of Madras Presidency went to Kerala. Puducherry had already become a de facto Union territory in 1954.

All these changes further changed the equations as Kerala and Puducherry also jumped into the fray. Kerala staked its claim as one of the major tributaries of the Kaveri, the Kabini, now originated in Kerala. The Karaikal region of Puducherry at the tail end of the river demanded the waters that it had always used for drinking and some minimal agriculture. While these additional claims complicated matters greatly at a technical level, Mysore state and Tamil Nadu still remained the major parties to the dispute.

By the late 1960s, both states and the Central government began to realize the gravity of the situation as the 50-year run of the 1924 agreement was soon coming to an end. Negotiations were started in right earnest and discussions continued for almost 10 years.


While discussions continued, a Cauvery Fact Finding Committee (CFFC) was constituted. The brief of the CFFC was to inspect the ground realities and come up with a report. The CFFC came up with a preliminary report in 1972 and a final report in 1973. Inter state discussions were held based on this report. Finally in 1974, a draft agreement which also provided for the creation of a Cauvery Valley Authority was prepared by the Ministry of Irrigation. This draft however, was not ratified.

In 1976, after a series of discussions between the two states and the Central government chaired by Jagjeevan Ram, the then Irrigation Minister, a final draft was prepared based on findings of the CFFC. This draft was accepted by all states and the Government also made an announcement to that effect in Parliament.

When Karnataka began construction of the Harangi dam at Kushalanagara in Kodagu, it was once again met with resistance from Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu went to court demanding the constitution of a Tribunal under the Interstate River Water Disputes Act (ISWD) of 1956. It also demanded the immediate stoppage of construction work at the dam site.


Later Tamil Nadu withdrew its case demanding the constitution of a tribunal and the two states started negotiating again. Several rounds of discussions were held in the 1980s. The result was still, a stalemate. In 1986, a farmer’s association from Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu moved the Supreme Court demanding the constitution of a tribunal. While this case was still pending, the two states continued many rounds of talks. This continued till April 1990 and yet yielded no results.

The constitution of the tribunal[edit]

The Supreme Court then directed the government headed by Prime Minister V. P. Singh to constitute a tribunal and refer all disputes to it. A three-man tribunal was thus constituted on 2 June 1990. The tribunal was headquartered at New Delhi and was to be headed by Justice Chittatosh Mookerjee.

The four states presented their demands to the tribunal as under

  • Karnataka - claimed 465 billion ft³ (13 km³) as its share
  • Kerala - claimed 99.8 billion ft³ (2.83 km³) as its share
  • Puducherry - claimed 9.3 billion ft³ (0.3 km³)
  • Tamil Nadu - claimed the flows should be ensured in accordance with the terms of the agreements of 1892 and 1924 (ie., 566 billion ft³ (16 km³) for Tamil Nadu and Puducherry; 177 billion ft³ (5 km³) for Karnataka and 5 billion ft³ (0.1 km³) for Kerala).

Interim award and the riots[edit]

Soon after the tribunal was set up, Tamil Nadu demanded a mandatory injunction on Karnataka for the immediate release of water and other reliefs. This was dismissed by the tribunal. Tamil Nadu now went back to the Supreme Court which directed the tribunal to reconsider Tamil Nadu’s plea.

The tribunal reconsidered Tamil Nadu’s plea and 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. The extreme years were ignored for this calculation. The average worked out to 205 billion ft³ (5.8 km³) 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 its irrigated land area from the existing 1,120,000 acres (4,500 km2)

Karnataka deemed this extremely inimical to its interests and issued an ordinance seeking to annul the tribunal’s award. The Supreme Court now stepped in at the President’s instance and struck down the Ordinance issued by Karnataka. It upheld the tribunal’s award which was subsequently gazetted by the Government of India on 11 December 1991.

Karnataka was thus forced to accept the interim award and widespread demonstrations and violence broke out in parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu following this. Thousands of Tamil families had to flee from Bangalore in fear of being attacked and lynched by pro-Kannada activists with the behest of the state government[citation needed]. The violence and show down, mostly centered in the Tamil populated parts of Bangalore, lasted for nearly a month and most schools and educational institutions in Bangalore remained closed during this period.

The crisis of 1995–1996[edit]

In 1995, the monsoons failed badly in Karnataka and the state found itself hard pressed to fulfill the interim order. Tamil Nadu approached the Supreme Court demanding the immediate release of at least 30 billion ft³. The Supreme Court refused to entertain Tamil Nadu's petition and asked it to approach the tribunal. The tribunal examined the case and recommended that Karnataka release 11 billion ft³. Karnataka pleaded that 11 billion ft³ was unimplementable in the circumstances that existed then. Tamil Nadu now 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 billion ft³ instead of the 11 billion ft³ that the tribunal ordered. Karnataka complied with the decision of the Prime Minister and the issue blew over.

Constitution of the CRA[edit]

Karnataka had all through maintained that the interim award was not 'scientific' and was inherently flawed. It had, nevertheless, complied with the order except during 1995–96 when rains failed. What complicated matters was that the Interim award was ambiguous on distress sharing and there was no clear cut formula that everyone agreed upon to share the waters in the case of failure of the monsoon.

In 1997, the Government proposed the setting up of a Cauvery River Authority which would be vested with far reaching powers to ensure the implementation of the Interim Order. These powers included the power to take over the control of dams in the event of the Interim Order not being honoured. Karnataka, which had always maintained that the interim order had no scientific basis and was intrinsically flawed, strongly protested the proposal to set up such an authority.

The Government then made several modifications to the powers of the Authority and came up with a new proposal. The new proposal greatly reduced the executive powers of the Authority. The power to take over control of dams was also done away with. Under this new proposal, the Government set up two new bodies, viz., Cauvery River Authority and Cauvery Monitoring Committee. The Cauvery River Authority would consist of the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers of all four states (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala) and was headquartered in New Delhi. The Cauvery Monitoring Committee on the other hand, was an expert body which consisted of engineers, technocrats and other officers who would take stock of the 'ground realities' and report to the government .

Events during 2002[edit]

In the summer of 2002, things once again came to a head as the monsoon failed in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Reservoirs in both states fell to record low levels and inevitably tempers rose. The sticking point yet again, as in 1995–96 was how the distress would be shared between the two states. The tribunal had overlooked this crucial point[5] when it gave the interim award and it had returned once again to haunt the situation. Tamil Nadu demanded that Karnataka honour the interim award and release to Tamil Nadu its proportionate share. Karnataka on the other hand stated that the water levels were hardly enough to meet its own demands and ruled out releasing any water in the circumstances that prevailed.[6]

CRA meeting and the Supreme Court order[edit]

A meeting of the Cauvery River Authority was called on 27 August 2002 but the Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha walked out of the meeting. The focus now shifted to the Supreme Court which ordered Karnataka to release 1.25 billion ft³ of water every day unless the Cauvery River Authority revised it. Karnataka was forced to release water but pressed for another meeting of the Cauvery River Authority which was fixed for 8 September. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister this time boycotted the meet citing insufficient notice as the reason. A minister from her cabinet, however represented Tamil Nadu. The Cauvery River Authority revised the Court's order from 1.25 billion ft³ to 0.8 billion ft³ per day.

This time however, the Karnataka government in open defiance of the order of the Cauvery River Authority, refused to release any water succumbing to the large scale protests that had mounted in the Kaveri districts of the state. Tamil Nadu aghast at the defiance, went back to the Supreme Court. Karnataka now resumed the release of water for a few days, but stopped it again on 18 September as a Karnataka farmers and their protests threatened to take a dangerous turn. The centre now stepped in and asked Karnataka to release the water. The Supreme Court meanwhile, in response to Tamil Nadu's petition asked the Cauvery River Authority for details of the water release and water levels in the reservoirs.


The flare up had by now, well and truly taken an ugly turn and there were accusations and counter accusations being thrown all around in both states. The dispute had already spilled onto the streets in the Mandya district of Karnataka and was threatening to spread to other parts of the state too. Precipitating the matters on the streets, the Supreme Court ordered Karnataka on 3 October to comply with the Cauvery River Authority and resume the release of water.

Karnataka once again refused to obey the orders of the Supreme Court. Tamil Nadu filed another contempt petition on Karnataka and soon the issue degenerated into a 'free for all' with all and sundry from both states joining the protests. Soon, film actors and various other cross sections of society from both states were on the streets. Tamil TV channels and screening of Tamil films were blocked in Karnataka. Also all buses and vehicles from Tamil Nadu were barred from entering Karnataka.

The Karnataka Chief Minister, S. M. Krishna on the other hand, fearing that the situation might spiral out of control, embarked on a padayatra from Bangalore to Mandya. While some saw this as merely a gimmick, some, like U R Ananthamurthy saw it as a good faith effort to soothe tempers and joined him in the yatra.


This period did not see any major flare up in the dispute even though the summer of 2003 saw a dry spell in both states. The monsoons in 2004, 2005 and 2006 was quite copious and this helped a great deal in keeping the tempers calm. While the last 3 or 4 years have been relatively quiet as far as jingoistic voices are concerned, a flurry of development has been afoot in the courts.

The term of the tribunal was initially set to expire in August 2005. However, in the light of the many arguments the court was yet to hear, the tribunal filed a request for extension of its term. The extension was granted and the tribunal's term was extended for another year until September 2006. Early in 2006, a major controversy erupted over the 'Assessor's report' that was apparently 'leaked' to the press. The report had suggested a decision which Karnataka summarily rejected. Another major controversy erupted when just a couple of months before the September 2006 deadline, the tribunal recommended the formation of another expert committee to study the 'ground realities' yet again. This was unanimously and vehemently opposed by all the four states party to the dispute. The states contended that this move would further delay a judgment which has already been 16 years in the making.

More than the disapproval of all the four states of the new expert committee that was proposed, the proposal turned out to be a major embarrassment for the tribunal. This was because, not only were the four states opposed to it, even the Chief Judge of the tribunal was opposed to it. However the other two assistant judges on 3-man adjudication team, overruled the opinion of the main Judge. And all this was done in a packed courtroom and this led to petty bickering and heated arguments between the three judges in the packed courtroom. This left everyone in the courtroom shocked and the Tamil Nadu counsel was moved to remark that it was embarrassing that the judges probably needed help settling their own disputes before adjudicating on the dispute at hand. Nonetheless, the new expert committee was formed and carried out further assessments. Subsequently, the extended deadline of the tribunal also passed and the tribunal was given yet another extension.

2007 - Judgement[edit]

The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal announced its final verdict on 5 February 2007.[7] According to its verdict, Tamil Nadu gets 419 billion ft³ (12 km³) of Kaveri water while Karnataka gets 270 billion ft³ (7.6 km³). The actual release of water by Karnataka to Tamil Nadu is to be 192 billion ft³ (5.4 km³) annually. Further, Kerala will get 30 billion ft³ and Puducherry 7 billion ft³.[8] Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, unhappy with the decision, filed a revision petition before the tribunal seeking a review.[citation needed]

2011 - Reports on Water Situation in Tamil Nadu[edit]

Prof. S Janakarajan, from Madras Institute of Development Studies, Tamil Nadu, submitted a report to the India Water Portal, in Dec 2011, on the increasing levels of Water Pollution in Tamil Nadu.

The Rivers of Cooum River, Adyar River, Palar River, Kaveri River etc., with high levels of water pollution, due to sewage and industrial effluents, led Tamil Nadu towards Severe Water Shortage.[9]

The Palar River was ranked the World's 3rd most polluted river, by the Blacksmith Institute in 2006.[10]

Such factors stem similar Periyar River Drinking water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Kerala.


On 19 September 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is also the Chairman of the Cauvery River Authority, directed Karnataka to release 9,000 cusecs of Kaveri water to Tamil Nadu at Biligundlu (the border) daily. But Karnataka felt that this was impractical due to the drought conditions prevailing because of the failed monsoon. Karnataka then walked out of the high level meeting as a sign of protest. On 21 September, Karnataka filed a petition before the Cauvery River Authority seeking review of its 19 September ruling.

On 24 September, Tamil Nadu's Chief minister directed the officials to immediately file a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to Karnataka to release Tamil Nadu its due share of water.[11]

On 28 Sep 2012, the Supreme Court slammed the Karnataka government for failing to comply with the directive of the Cauvery River Authority.[12] Left with no other option, Karnataka started releasing water. This led to wide protests and violence in Karnataka.[13]

On 4 October 2012, the Karnataka government filed a review petition before the Supreme Court seeking a stay on its 28 September order directing it to release 9,000 cusecs of Cauvery water everyday to Tamil Nadu, until 15 October.[14]

On 6 October 2012, Several Kannada organisations, under the banner of “Kannada Okkoota”, called a Karnataka bandh (close down) on 6 October in protest against the Kaveri water release.[15] On 8 October, the Supreme Court of India announced the release of 9,000 cusecs has to be continued and it is up to the Cauvery River Authority's head, the Prime Minister, as a responsible person, to ensure this happened. The Prime Minister ruled out a review of the Cauvery River Authority’s decision until 20 October, rejecting the plea by both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders from Karnataka. Within a few hours, Karnataka stopped release of Kaveri water to Tamil Nadu. [16]

On 9 October 2012, Tamil Nadu's chief minister directed authorities to immediately file a contempt petition against the Karnataka government for flouting the verdict of the Supreme Court by unilaterally stopping the release of water to Tamil Nadu.[17] Tamil Nadu made a fresh plea in the Supreme Court on 17 October, reiterating its demand for appropriate directions to be issued to Karnataka to make good the shortfall of 48 tmcft of water as per the distress sharing formula.[18]

On 15 November 2012, The Cauvery Monitoring Committee directed the Karnataka government to release 4.81 tmcft to Tamil Nadu between 16 and 30 November.[19]

On 6 December, the supreme court directed Karnataka to release 10,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu. The court asked the union government to indicate the time frame within which the final decision of the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal, which was given in February 2007, was to be notified. This decision was given in the view of saving the standing crops of both the states.[clarification needed][20]

Indian Government notifies Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal[edit]

On 20 February 2013, based on the directions of the Supreme Court, the Indian Government has notified the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) on sharing the waters of the Cauvery system among the basin States of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala and Union territory of Puducherry. The “extraordinary” notification in the gazette dated 19 February 2013 says the order takes effect on the date of publication.[21] The Tribunal, in a unanimous decision in 2007, determined the total availability of water in the Cauvery basin at 740 thousand million cubic (tmc) feet at the Lower Coleroon Anicut site, including 14 tmcft for environmental protection and seepage into the sea. The final award makes an annual allocation of 419 tmcft to Tamil Nadu in the entire Cauvery basin, 270 tmcft to Karnataka, 30 tmcft to Kerala and 7 tmcft to Puducherry.[22][23][24]

Karnataka Tamil Nadu Kerala Puducherry Total
Basin Area (in km²)[2] 34,273 (42%) 44,016 (54%) 2,866 (3.5%) 148(-) 81,155
Share for each state as per Cauvery Tribunal final award Dated 19 February 2013 [25] 270 (37%) 419 (58%) 30 (4%) 7 (1%) 726

Temporary Supervisory Committee[edit]

In response to the Special Leave Petition (SLP) lodged by Tamil Nadu earlier, the Supreme Court on 10 May 2013 issued an interim direction to the Government of India (GoI) to establish a temporary Supervisory Committee to implement the Cauvery tribunal order till the constitution of “Cauvery Management Board” as stated in the tribunal order. GoI issued the gazette notification on 22 May 2013 establishing the said Supervisory Committee.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sood, Jyotika (31 October 2012). "The paddy compulsion". Down to Earth.
  2. ^ a b "A Background Paper on Article 262 and Inter-State Disputes Relating to Water". Ministry of Law and Justice. Retrieved May 13, 2013. 
  3. ^ Anand, P. B. (2004). Water and Identity - An Analysis of the Cauvery River Water Dispute. University of Bradford. ISBN 9781898828686. 
  4. ^ "Cauvery tribunal gives TN 419 tmcft, 270 to Karnataka". Rediff.com. 5 February 2007. 
  5. ^ Iyer, Ramaswamy R. (September 2002). "The Cauvery tangle - what's the way out?". Frontline 19 (19). Archived from the original on 24 November 2002. 
  6. ^ "Delayed monsoon rekindles Cauvery row". Rediff.com. 25 June 2002. 
  7. ^ "The Report of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal" (Vol. I, Vol. II, Vol. III, Vol. IV, Vol. V, Final Decision). Ministry of Water Resources. 2007.
  8. ^ "Tamil Nadu wins the Cauvery water battle". The Economic Times. 5 February 2007. 
  9. ^ Bhaduri, Amita (28 June 2012). "Rivers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala Lectures by S Janakarajan and A Latha at the Living rivers". India Water Portal. 
  10. ^ Kumar, N. Vinoth (28 January 2013). "Activists concerned over continuing Palar pollution". The New Indian Express. 
  11. ^ "Tamil Nadu to immediately approach SC against Cauvery panel's ruling". The Times of India. 24 September 2012. 
  12. ^ Venkatesan, J. (28 September 2012). "Supreme Court comes down on Karnataka". The Hindu. 
  13. ^ "Cauvery row: Protests start flowing in Bangalore thick and fast". DNA. 1 October 2012. 
  14. ^ "Karnataka to SC: Alter Cauvery order". The New Indian Express. 5 October 2012. 
  15. ^ Bhattacharya, Santwana (22 September 2012). "Kannada organisations call for bandh on October 6". The Hindu. 
  16. ^ "Cauvery row: PM tosses out plea, Karnataka stops water release". The New Indian Express. 9 October 2012. 
  17. ^ "Cauvery row: Jaya turns the screws, to sue Karnataka for contempt". The New Indian Express. 10 October 2012. 
  18. ^ Venkatesan, J. (18 October 2012). "Fresh plea in SC seeks 48 tmcft Cauvery water". The Hindu. 
  19. ^ Mariappan, Julie (16 November 2012). "Panel asks Karnataka to release 4.81 tmcft to Tamil Nadu". The Times of India. 
  20. ^ Venkatesan, J. (6 December 2012). "Release 10,000 cusecs till Sunday, Karnataka told". The Hindu. 
  21. ^ "Order of Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, Ministry of water resources, GoI" (PDF). Retrieved 5 July 2013. 
  22. ^ Parsai, Gargi (20 February 2013). "Centre notifies Cauvery Tribunal final award". The Hindu. 
  23. ^ "Centre notifies Cauvery Tribunal award". The Economic Times. 20 February 2013. 
  24. ^ Vaidyanathan, A. (20 February 2013). "Centre notifies Cauvery Tribunal award; Karnataka braces for protests". NDTV. 
  25. ^ "Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal report" (PDF). The Gazette of India. 19 February 2013. 
  26. ^ "Interim Cauvery water Supervisory committee, Ministry of water resources, GoI" (PDF). Retrieved 5 July 2013. 

Further reading[edit]