War zone Cauvery

Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are once again at loggerheads over the sharing of the Cauvery waters. Why have the successive agreements failed to resolve the century-long dispute?

By Rajeshwari Ganesan, Shreeshan Venkatesh
Last Updated: Wednesday 28 September 2016
Photo: Satyendra Kumar
Photo: Satyendra Kumar Photo: Satyendra Kumar

Court rulings and reactions

There is nothing unnatural about the Cauvery conflict. Any river that runs through different political boundaries is bound to have regions and people fighting over the resource. What is unnatural is the factors that have rendered the water-sharing agreements between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu—the two main stakeholders in the dispute—dysfunctional since they were first drafted in 1872.

This September, the conflict once again dominated the news after Karnataka refused to release water to Tamil Nadu, the downstream state. Karnataka says it cannot share water when the Cauvery reservoirs are barely able to satisfy the drinking water needs of the state. By refusing to share water, it flouted the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT) award of 2007 that mandated a proportionate reduction in each state’s share in rain-deficit years.

This year the two states received deficit rainfall, especially around the source of the river. Tamil Nadu promptly took the matter to the Supreme Court. It maintains that its farmers growing the winter crop of paddy, or samba, are totally dependent on the Cauvery water.

On September 24, Tamil Nadu released water in the Cauvery delta from the Grand Anicut dam in Thanjavur to save the winter paddy crop from failing (Photo: Ashwin Kumar)
The apex court has made stopgap allocations through three rulings in September. The first was on September 5, which ordered a daily release of 10,000 cubic feet per second (cusecs) to Tamil Nadu for 10 days. The order resulted in violent demonstrations in Karnataka. The clashes led to the death of two persons in Bengaluru. Curfew was imposed in several parts of the city. Both the states observed bandhs, bringing life to a standstill. The last order on September 20, which stipulates a daily release of 6,000 cusecs till the end of the month, was also rejected by Karnataka. On September 23, both the Houses of the Karnataka legislature passed a unanimous resolution not to release any water. On September 24, Tamil Nadu released water in the Cauvery delta from the Grand Anicut dam to ensure that the samba crop does not fail.

The Supreme Court on September 26 disregarded the resolution passed by the Karnataka state legislative assembly on September 23 and ordered the state to release 6000 cusecs of water per day for three days to Tamil Nadu starting September 28. The Karnataka government responded by calling an all-party meeting and a cabinet meeting to mull over the order as the state maintains that it is not in a position to release the amount being asked for by the court. The Centre, too, has stepped in to try and mediate the conflict and has invited the CMs of both states for talks with Uma Bharti, Union Minister for Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, on Thursday, September 29.

But the conflict, clearly, is far from over.

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