Editor's note: This piece was originally published on 7 September.
On Monday, the Supreme Court modified its earlier order asking for the release of 15,000 cusecs Cauvery water per day to Tamil Nadu and directed the Karnataka government to release 12,000 cusecs on a daily basis till 20 September. Here's a look at the history of the dispute.
The Cauvery dispute started in the year 1892, between the Madras Presidency (under the British Raj) and the Princely state of Mysore when they had to come to terms with dividing the river water between the two states.
Since that day, Cauvery water has been a bone of contention between the two states. In the year 1910, both states started planning the construction of dams on the river. The issue was presided upon by the British who also decided which state would receive what share of the water. In 1924, an agreement was signed between the two states where the rules of regulation of the Krishnarajsagar dam were pointed out. In a report published by The Times of India, senior counsel AK Ganguly pointed out that the clause 11 of the agreement provided " for such modifications and additions as may be mutually agreed upon as the result of reconsideration'' after a passage of five decades, this revision clause was only applicable to projects other than KRS. The core of the agreement was the conditions governing the construction and operation of KRS and that could not be subject to any review. Hence the 1924 agreement gave both — the Madras presidency and the Mysore state — rights to use the surplus waters of the Cauvery.
Madras had objected to the construction of the Krishnasagar dam and hence the agreement gave them the liberty to build the Mettur dam. However the agreement also put restrictions on the extent of area irrigated by Madras and Mysore using the river water.
If you look at the map of India, you will notice that the 765-km-long river cuts across two Indian states, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It originates at Talacauvery in Kodagu district in Karnataka. While it flows mainly through Karanataka and Tamil Nadu, a lot of its basin area is covered by Kerala and the Karaikal area of Puducherry.
According to the 1892 and the 1924 agreements the river water is distributed as follows:
75 percent with Tamil Nadu and Puducherry
23 percent to Karnataka
remaining to go to Kerala
The real problem started after the re-organisation of states post Indian independence. Before that, most matters were settled through arbitration and agreements. Through the late 20th century, Tamil Nadu opposed the construction of dams on the river by Karnataka, and the state in turn wanted to discontinue the water supply to Tamil Nadu. They argued that the 1924 agreement had lapsed when its 50 years were up in 1974 and considering that the river originated in Karnataka, they had better claim over the river. They argued that they were not bound by the agreement struck between the British empire and the Maharaja of Mysore.
Tamil Nadu too had become heavily dependent on the river after they developed millions of agricultural land around the river. They argued that the livelihood of farmers would be affected if there was a change in the distribution of water. In 1972, the Centre agreed to appoint a committee who would collect statistics from each of the states that had the river basin — Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
The fact-finding committee found that Tamil Nadu used 566 tmcft (thousand milli cubic feet), Karanataka used 177 tmcft.
In 1976, the states arrived at an understanding that each state would continue using the water according to their previous usage, only now an additional 125 tmcft water would also be saved and shared.
Karnataka argued heavily that the river water should be divided according to international rules, i.e. in equal portions. They suggested that 94 percent 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, according to the 1924 agreement.
Political gains, protests and dharnas
The river dispute has attracted some of the most extreme protests and dharnas. In 1986, a farmer's association from Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu moved the Supreme Court (SC) and demanded that a tribunal be formed for the adjudication for the Cauvery water dispute.
In 1990, the SC heard the petitions by the two states and asked them to complete negotiations. However the two failed to do so, following which the SC directed the Centre to constitute a tribunal and distribute the water between states.
In 1991, the tribunal gave its award after calculating the average inflows into Tamil Nadu over 10 years — between 1980 and 1990. They directed Karnataka to ensure that 205 tmcft reach Tamil Nadu every year. They also directed Karnataka not to increase irrigated land area from the existing measure.
However this decision was not well received by the people of the two states which simultaneously erupted into riots. The Karnataka government rejected the tribunal award and sought to get it annulled. However the SC struck down the ordinance and asked for the tribunal award to be upheld. Karnataka refused to oblige.
Following this, the interim award was published in the Government of India gazette.
The next few years saw enough rain for the states to not create an uproar. In 1993, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa went on a sudden fast at the MGR memorial in Chennai. She demanded Tamil Nadu's share of water as stipulated by the interim order.
In 1995, Karnataka received very little rainfall and hence could not obey the interim order. Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, approached the SC demanding release of 30 tmcft of water. The SC and Karnataka did not entertain these demands. After a lot of to and fro, the SC asked the then prime minister PV Narsimha Rao, to intervene in the matter. Rao met with the chiefs of the two states and recommended a solution which was complied by the two states.
In 1998, the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) was formed with the prime minister presiding as the chairperson and the chief ministers of the four states as members.
In 2007, after 16 years, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) gave out their final award. The tribunal held valid the agreements of 1892 and 1924 executed between the government of Madras and Mysore. Karnataka protested the tribunal award and observed a state-wide bandh. The award was as follows:
Tamil Nadu: 419 TMC (which had demanded 512 TMC),
Karnataka: 270 TMC (which had demanded 465 TMC),
Kerala: 30 TMC, and
Pondicherry: 7 TMC
In 2013, the Centre notified the final award of the CWDT. The government was mandated to constitute the Cauvery Management Board (CMB) with the gazette notification of the final award of the Tribunal.
Chief Minister Jayalalithaa approached the Supreme Court for the formation of the Cauvery Management Board and Cauvery Water Authority, however this has proved to be a futile exercise. Recently the issue was again brought into the limelight when the Supreme Court directed the release of the Cauvery water into Tamil Nadu. This decision was widely protested by the people of Karnataka, especially farmers.
On Monday the Supreme Court directed the Karnataka government to release 15,000 cusecs of Cauvery river water every day to Tamil Nadu for next 10 days to meet the demands of the summer crop in the state.
A bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit asked the Cauvery Supervisory Committee to look into Tamil Nadu's plea seeking direction to Karnataka to release 35 tmcft of water to make good for that much shortfall in the release of water for three months starting with 1 June to 30 August.
While directing the release of 15,000 tmcft of water every day, the bench took note of the impact of non-availability of required water on the summer crops and the plight of farmers.
The bench also said that Tamil Nadu in turn would proportionately give water to Puducherry and gave Tamil Nadu three days time to approach the Supervisory Committee with its claim of 35 tmcft of water from Karnataka.
The court gave three days' time to Karnataka to respond to the plea by Tamil Nadu, while asking the Cauvery Supervisory Committee to examine the matter in four days and pass appropriate directions.
Tamil Nadu contended that even if it was to accept the Karnataka stand that due to deficient rainfall in the current year, the inflow of water into four major reservoirs in the State is less, the same (shortfall in inflow of water into the reservoirs) could not have been more than 28 per cent.
It also contended that applying the pro rate formula as per the final order of the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal, the state was entitled to 68 tmcft of water at Billigundulu from 1 June to 31 August.
The court has directed listing of the matter for further hearing on 16 September.
Hundreds of people, especially farmers staged protest demonstrations in the Mysuru region against the Supreme Court order.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah convened an all-party meeting on Tuesday to discuss the apex court order.
However the farmers in Tamil Nadu expressed happiness over the order. They hope this will be an interim order and the final order will give sufficient water for their crops, said a leader of farmer's association.
With inputs from agencies