The sharing of waters of the Cauvery River has been the source of a serious conflict between the two states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
The genesis of this conflict rests in two agreements in 1892 and 1924 between the erstwhile Madras Presidency and Kingdom of Mysore.
The 802 kilometers (498 mi) Cauvery river has 44,000 km2 basin area in Tamil Nadu and 32,000 km2 basin area in Karnataka.
About the River
Cauvery, the ‘Dakshina Ganga’ or the Ganges of the south, and the fourth largest river of southern India has been the economic backbone of the states through which it flows, making its impact felt most strongly in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Kaveri also referred as Ponni, is flowing through the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
It is the third largest after Godavari and Krishna in south India and the largest in Tamil Nadu which on its course, bisects the state into North and South.
It Originates in the foothills of Western Ghats at Talakaveri, Kodagu in Karnataka it flows generally south and east through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and across the southern Deccan plateau through the southeastern lowlands, emptying into the Bay of Bengal through two principal mouths in Poompuhar, Tamil Nadu.
The Kaveri basin is estimated to be 81,155 square kilometers (31,334 sq mi) with many tributaries including Harangi, Hemavati, Kabini, Bhavani, Lakshmana Tirtha, Noyyal and Arkavati.
It forms the island of Shivanasamudra, on either side of which are the scenic Shivanasamudra Falls in Karnataka
Krishna Raja Sagara is a gravity Dam on the river in the state of Karnataka
Mettur Dam is situated in Tamil Nadu
What is the dispute?
The Cauvery River originates in Karnataka’s Kodagu district, flows into Tamil Nadu and reaches the Bay of Bengal at Poompuhar.
Parts of three Indian states – Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka – and the Union Territory of Pondicherry lie in the Cauvery basin.
Initially, the dispute was between Karnataka and TN but later Kerala and Puducherry also entered the fray.
Background of the dispute
The contest for Cauvery between what is modern day Tamil Nadu and Karnataka can be traced back to the 11th century AD.
It is believed that Chikkadeva Wodeyar of Mysore attempted to stop the flow of Cauvery into Tamil regions to settle scores with Chokkanath Naik of Madurai kingdom.
But the modern day trouble over Cauvery’s water goes back to 1807 when the Mysore state initiated development projects on the river and the Madras government disapproved of the same.
The issue dates back to 1892 when an agreement was filed between Madras Presidency and Mysore for arbitration. Later, attempts were renewed to arbitrate between the two states under the supervision of the Government of India and a second agreement was signed in 1924.
Under the control of the British, a 1924-agreement which laid down the directives of the Krishnarajsagar dam was signed. It gave both, the Madras Presidency and the Princely state of Mysore the right to use to use the water of Cauvery.
However, owing to Madras’ objection to the construction of the Krishnarajasagar dam, the agreement also allowed it to build the Mettur dam.
According to the 1924 agreements, the river water is distributed as 75% with Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, 23% to Karnataka and remaining to go to Kerala.
Consequently, the arrangement also leads to the restrictions being put on the area that could be safely irrigated by both states using the Cauvery water.
In the pre-independence era, these disputes were resolved by the British by arbitrary talks and discussions. But the real problem started when in, 1974, Karnataka (Mysore) asserted that the 1924 agreement entailed a discontinuation of the water supply to Tamil Nadu (Madras) after 50 years.
Karnataka argued that since the river originated there, it was entitled to use the water as it deemed fit and was not obligated to follow the agreements made by the Maharaja of Mysore under a colonial government. It also expressed that the 1924 agreement was highly skewed in favor of Tamil Nadu.
Karnataka demanded that the river water should be divided according to international rules, i.e., in equal portions. They suggested that 94% could be divided equally between them and the rest could be distributed to Kerala and Puducherry. However, Tamil Nadu wanted to stick to the original distribution which was laid down in the 1924 agreement.
What was the response?
Both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka challenged the tribunal’s order.
Karnataka claimed 312 TMC of water as against the 270 TMC ordered by the tribunal.
The court reserved its order in September 2017.
The dispute escalates in 2016 when monsoon fails, as there is lesser water to share. And this year, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have received less than normal rainfall during the monsoon. Karnataka says it cannot release water to TN for agriculture as it needs it for drinking water purposes.
What is the present SC verdict?
The Court declared Cauvery a “national asset”.
It upheld the principle of equitable apportionment of inter-State river water among riparian States.
Accordingly, Karnataka is “entitled to marginal relief”.
In its present verdict, the Supreme Court has thus reduced the allocation of Cauvery water from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu.
Cauvery Management Board (CMB)
SC has also directed the formation of the Cauvery Management Board (CMB) immediately.
CMB will be an inter-state forum which will work to ensure the implementation of orders of the CWDT.
The Board shall be under the control of the Ministry of Water Resources.
Current Status:- The Centre on May 14, 2018, submitted the draft Cauvery management scheme
What are the jurisdictional implications?
Art 262 – The Centre had earlier maintained that the Court lacked the jurisdiction to hear inter-state river water dispute.
This is as per the Inter-State Water Disputes Act of 1956.
The provisions of Act restrict the Supreme Court from hearing or deciding any appeals against the Tribunal’s decision.
The Centre had thus claimed the Tribunal award as final.
The Court, however, held that the remedy under Article 136 was a constitutional right.
But Art 136 empowers the Supreme Court to grant leave to appeal from any judgment, decree or determination by any Court or Tribunal.
Article 363 – The 1892 and 1924 agreements were between the princely State of Mysore and the Madras presidency.
It pertained to the allocation of Cauvery water to regions now comprising Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Puducherry.
Article 363 of the Constitution restricts judicial review of a pre-Constitution treaty or agreement.
The court, however, dismisses the validity of Art 363 in the case of 1892 and 1924 agreements.
It observes that these agreements were not political arrangements but based on public interest.
Water Intensive cropping pattern in Tamil Nadu
Nearly 29 lakh acres of paddy crop in TN and an estimated 14 lakh acres of paddy and semi-dry crops in Karnataka are currently dependent on Cauvery water.
Karnataka farmers have traditionally resented the fact that their TN counterparts grow 3 paddy crops a year while they have to be satisfied with 1 and if there is water left in the dams after release to TN, a second, less water-intensive crop.
We provide quality UPSC Coaching in Chandigarh. For all your queries regarding the class structure, material and mentorship for our programmes concerned with PCS Coaching in Chandigarh, HCS Coaching in Chandigarh and similar civil services coaching in Chandigarh region and beyond, you can contact us directly at o2iasacademy to avail professional quality IAS Coaching in Chandigarh. O2iasacademy wishes you all the best for your preparation.