Manmohan fails to settle row over Cauvery water sharing

Disgruntled Karnataka likely to approach Supreme Court

By Bharat Lal Seth
Published: Wednesday 19 September 2012

The Cauvery River Authority, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which met on Wednesday to discuss Tamil Nadu’s demand for more water from the river, has pleased neither Tamil Nadu nor Karnataka, the two states with high stakes in the allocation of the river’s waters. The Authority has ordered that 9,000 cusec (255 cubic metre per second or cumec) flow be released at Karnataka’s border to Tamil Nadu till October 15. Karnataka’s political representatives considered this directive to be a burden; it is learnt that the state is planning to approach the Supreme Court, and not honour the order. Tamil Nadu, which was seeking to protect its standing crops, is believed to be dissatisfied with the quantum of release stipulated. 

The river authority meeting was called after the Supreme Court expressed its annoyance, earlier this month, with the prime minister for not convening a meeting of the authority. In view of monsoon failure, Tamil Nadu was seeking a distress-sharing formula. “We all want a formula, but at the moment it will have to be on an ad hoc basis,” says Mohan Katarki, advocate for Karnataka. Tamil Nadu has been saying that, for instance, if there is 50 per cent less flow, then Karnataka should release 50 per cent less water. “But it is not as easy as that,” adds Katarki, saying that a formula will have to be worked out taking into account ground realities, cropping patterns and water usage month on month.  

In drought years, states located in the upper reaches of rivers, Karnataka in the case of the Cauvery river, claim that they are suffering and unable to meet their own requirements. At present, 77 thousand million cubic feet or TMC (1 TMC equals 28.3 billion litres) water is stored in the reservoirs, and taking into account the average of 38 years, another 60 TMC is expected over the next four months, giving Karnataka a theoretical total of 135-140 TMC water. Their demand between now and December is 155 TMC, and hence no water is being released at present. “Approximately 4,000-5,000 cusec (113.3-141.6 cumec) does flow to Tamil Nadu in the form of regeneration flow, or water that is consumed,” say officials representing Karnataka. 

‘Tamil Nadu should plan for deficit years’

Most hydrological models establish assured water availability at 75 per cent, which means that the stipulated quantum of water will be available three in every four years. In the case of the Cauvery award, the tribunal calculated the assured water at 50 per cent dependability, which means that every two in four years a situation would arise when there would be inadequate water available. It is therefore natural that downstream states such as Tamil Nadu would be dissatisfied. “Tamil Nadu must recognise that if there is no obligated deficit sharing, they will have to plan, as Andhra Pradesh has done in the case of Nagarjuna Sagar dam, for carry over water storage,” says Hanumantha Rao, former engineer-in-chief of Andhra Pradesh irrigation department. In deficit years, water will not be available during the early kharif period, say June and July, and hence one way of dealing with shortfalls would be to ensure that in surplus rainfall years, reservoirs store enough water for use in the next hydrological year. “Tamil Nadu should copy this; bickering during deficit years only serves the purpose of politicians. Either plan for the deficit or develop a more robust sharing agreement,” adds Rao.

Root of the dispute 

The genesis of the Cauvery conflict lies in two agreements—one signed in 1892 and another in 1924—between the erstwhile Madras Presidency and the princely state of Mysore. The Madras Presidency, as in the case of the Mullaperiyar dam reservoir’s water sharing agreement, was given more water on account of it being a part of the British Raj. In post independent India, Karnataka contended that it was not getting its due share of water from the river (see table). Preference given by the Tribunal award in 2007 to committed projects ensured that Karnataka received less than that generated in its catchment area. “Aspirations of the lower riparian are always the prime cause of dispute. It wants to protect its prior use,” says Katarki. In surplus years this is not a problem. During drought years, like this one, it results in confrontation.  

This has been the first meeting of the Cauvery River Authority, set up in 1997, after the UPA government assumed power in 2004. The authority meeting was last convened in 2003.

Karnataka gives more, gets less from Cauvery

  Karnataka Tamil Nadu Kerala Pondicherry
Basin Area
(sq km)
Drought area
(sq km)
- -
Contribution of state
(billion cubic feet)
Quantity demanded 465
Tribunal verdict (2007)

Source: Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal Award, 2007



Cauvery river dispute

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