The Cauvery has been a bone of contention for the states of Tamil Nadu (TN) and Karnataka back to when they were previously known as Madras Presidency and the Princely state of Mysore and had to divide the water between themselves.
The Ministry of Water Resources, in a 2007 report (The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal), noted that "all sincere attempts" by the Indian government to settle "this long pending water dispute by negotiations since 1970" have failed. In a 1924 agreement, quoted by the aforementioned report, it was further noted that the Mysore government was allowed to complete the construction of Krishna Raja Sagara dam with a capacity of 44,827 mcft (milli cubic feet) and other reservoirs with a permitted capacity of 45,000 mcft. The erstwhile Madras government was to construct the Mettur dam to form a reservoir of 93,500 mcft.
The report further said that certain clauses of the agreement dealing with the usage of excess water "for further extension in both Mysore and Tamil Nadu beyond what was contemplated in the 1924 agreement" were subject to revision only on a mutually agreed upon basis.
From 1974, the Karnataka government began confining the flows from four reservoirs — Harangi, Kabini, Hemavathi and Suvarnavathy — without consulting the TN government. The report found that this was in violation of the "terms and conditions stipulated in Clauses 10(vi), (vii), (viii) & (xiv) of the 1924 Agreement".
The Cauvery River Authority (CRA) formed in 1998, under the chairmanship of then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee — and consisting of chief ministers from the states of Karnataka, Kerala, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu — was dubbed a "toothless" body by the TN government (in 2001) as it failed to direct the Karnataka government from releasing at least 10 tmcft of water, reported the Frontline.
According to TN officials, Karnataka had excess water in reservoirs yet it declined to release 137 tmcft of water as agreed upon by the interim order of the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal. The reason given by then Chief Minister of Karnataka, SM Krishna, was that his state required the water for their summer crop, which was at that time, several months away. It was further reported that Vajpayee didn't coax the state to do the needful and TN "incurred a loss of Rs 300 crores".
The Frontline report goes on to say that an official press release from the TN government "attacked" the monitoring committee and the Karnataka government; TN government officials also called it a "repeat performance". Following this, the CRA asked the Karnataka government to make sure the release of water at the Mettur reservoir but as TN officials claimed they hadn't heard anything from the Centre, they went ahead and filed a case at the Supreme Court requesting a breakthrough. Krishna then claimed that 42 taluks in Karnataka were hit by drought, which was refuted by Ranganathan, the secretary of the Cauvery Delta Farmers' Welfare Association. The Karnataka government also presented a memorandum to Vajpayee that TN had disclosed to the CRA that it had increased the cultivation of kuruvai (a short-term rice crop) even though it wasn't so.
In 2002, another report by the Frontline talked about Krishna's "open defiance" of the 4 October order of the Supreme Court, "which directed the state to release 0.8 tmcft of water". The apex court then issued an "unprecedented ultimatum" to the defying government to either release water or face dire consequences. Krishna then apologised to the SC, ordered the release of water and shut down protesters of Cauvery Hitharakshana Samithi, who were on the streets of Mandya opposing the Cauvery's release.
Nothing has changed, 14 years later.
Reports have detailed how protesters have intensified their agitation in Mandya on Tuesday and other parts of the state blocking several roads and forcing schools and colleges to shut down. Mandya district, which happens to be the nucleus of Cauvery politics, saw a bandh on Tuesday with protesters holding road blockades and dharnas at several places, as hundreds of security personnel — including central forces — were deployed in the Cauvery belt to maintain law and order.
Complying with the Supreme Court direction, the state government on Tuesday decided to release water despite "severe hardships." The court order directed an immediate backlash with agitated farmers and activists belonging to pro-Kannada outfits blocking the Bengaluru-Mysuru Highway.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah cited "severe hardships" when the SC directed the state to release 15,000 cusecs of water for the next 10 days to address the plight of the farmers in Tamil Nadu. Noting that the 'samba' crops in Tamil Nadu would be adversely affected, an apex court bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and UU Lalit directed Karnataka to ensure supply of water to Tamil Nadu.
"Despite severe hardships faced by the government of Karnataka, the state will release water as directed by the Supreme Court," Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had told reporters after nearly a three-hour long all-party meeting convened by him on Tuesday.
Siddaramaiah had also said government would approach the SC with a modification petition, explaining its difficulties in implementing its order.
Last year, Siddaramaiah accused the TN government of "politicising" the Cauvery dispute and J Jayalalithaa of "creating a fuss for political reasons", reported The Hindu-Business Line. This was regarding the Mekedatu dam project, where Jayalalithaa submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that included TN government’s opposition to the project.
Even though the Centre has a say in river disputes, the parties in Delhi refuse to interfere in the interstate river wars: This can perhaps be attributed to the fact that even though the BJP and the Congress have a standing in Karnataka, both the major parties have little to no stake in Tamil Nadu. Major political parties possibly see no merit in interfering in such issues as they largely don't see the solution transferring into votes.
With inputs from PTI