Resolving the Cauvery Water Dispute

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September 4, 2023

Resolving the Cauvery Water Dispute

Resolving the Cauvery Water Dispute: Challenges, History, and Future Prospects

Inter-state Water disputes in India - Civilsdaily


  • The Cauvery River water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has a long and complex history, marked by legal battles, political tensions, and fluctuating water levels.

Historical Background:

  • The Cauvery water dispute dates back to 1892 when tensions arose between the British-ruled Madras Presidency and the princely state of Mysore (now Karnataka). A 1924 agreement attempted to alleviate conflicts but set the stage for future disputes. Post-independence, Karnataka’s dam constructions in the 1960s-80s triggered legal battles, leading to the formation of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT). Despite the CWDT’s 2013 award, contentious issues persisted.

Constitutional Provisions:

  • The Indian Constitution contains provisions to address inter-State river disputes, including Article 262, which empowers Parliament to intervene. The Seventh Schedule defines legislative authority over water resources. The Interstate River Water Disputes Act of 1956 was enacted under Article 262 to provide a framework for resolving such disputes.

Resolution Efforts:

  • The Supreme Court’s 2018 verdict declared the Cauvery River a “national asset” and adjusted water allocations, creating both relief and frustration for Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The establishment of the Cauvery Management Board (CMB) aimed to facilitate effective water management. The Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) and Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC) were formed to oversee regulation and data collection.

Current Status and Future Implications:

  • The Cauvery water dispute remains a significant historical and legal challenge. The CWMA and CWRC work towards addressing the dispute through efficient water management. However, the ongoing struggle highlights the complexity of water sharing in a federal system and the need for equitable solutions.

Tamil Nadu’s Perspective:

  • Tamil Nadu has consistently sought its share of Cauvery water, including distress-sharing during challenging times. Recent disagreements with Karnataka over water releases have strained relations and raised concerns about the impact on agriculture and the upcoming kuruvai crop.

Karnataka’s View:

  • Karnataka argues that reduced rainfall in Cauvery’s catchment areas, including Kerala, has led to diminished water inflow into its reservoirs. The state cites a challenging situation with reduced reservoir inflow as the reason for not releasing water as per earlier agreements. Despite endorsing distress-sharing in principle, Karnataka has not fully embraced the formula.

Future Prospects:

  • The situation remains precarious, with Tamil Nadu’s Mettur reservoir facing critically low storage, affecting farmers and the upcoming crop season. Current water availability may last only ten days, considering dead storage and drinking water needs. The resolution ultimately depends on the Supreme Court’s interpretation and decision.

Ongoing Challenges and Factors Prolonging the Dispute:

  • Several factors continue to exacerbate the Cauvery water dispute, including erratic water levels, pollution, groundwater depletion, unrealistic calculations in the Supreme Court’s verdict, dependency on the river for urban and agricultural needs, and inefficient water use. Additionally, the dispute has been used for political mobilization, and lengthy tribunal processes contribute to delays in finding a resolution.


  • The Cauvery water dispute exemplifies the complexity of managing shared water resources in a diverse and densely populated country like India. A sustainable solution will require a careful balance of legal, political, and environmental considerations, along with a genuine commitment to equitable water-sharing principles. The need for a mutually acceptable distress-sharing formula is undeniable, as it could provide a path towards long-lasting peace and prosperity for both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.


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