Kaveri river water dispute


The Kaveri river is a large Indian river; it is also known as Cauvery. The river originates at Talakaveri, Kodagu in Karnataka, and flows southeastern side towards Poompuhar in Tamil Nadu before draining into the Bay of Bengal. So, the distribution of river water Kaveri has been the source of conflict between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Kaveri river water dispute

It has been entertained by the social, economic, political, religious, and even cultural significance in people’s lives from both the states that are forthwith come to blows over its water. The Kaveri river has a 44,000-kilometer square basin area in Tamil Nadu and a 32,000-kilometer square basin area in Karnataka. The dispute rose based on the inflow, Karnataka demanded its due share of water from the river.

The Kaveri river water dispute between the two states Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, is continuing over 124 years. From the time, repeated attempts from both these states and Central Government have failed to settle the dispute, transforming into a regional conflict. It has become a sensitive topic for the masses of both countries.

Kaveri river water dispute boils down to

  • The Kaveri river is vitally important for both the states. Karnataka’s masses use the water to fulfill the drinking needs. The farmers from the Tamil Nadu from the Kaveri delta use the river water for their livelihood and agriculture purposes.
  • The dispute becomes even more in the rain-deficient years as the whole basin delta dries up and comes under the drought-prone area. The water scarcity rises, and the only source of water is the Kaveri.
  • Approximately 53% of the Kaveri river water resource comes within Karnataka’s geographic horizon, where only 30% of water resource comes within the geographic horizon of Tamil Nadu. But the basin area of Tamil Nadu is about 54%(44,000-kilometer square), and the basin area in Karnataka is 42% (32,000-kilometer yard).
  • According to the facts and figure provided above the Karnataka claims more rights over the river Kaveri as it originates in their state.
  • Similarly, Tamil Nadu is also traditionally and historically depends on Kaveri for its irrigation. As they have a larger share of the river basin area, this translated into demand for more water from Karnataka.

Historical overview of Kaveri River Water Dispute

The dispute for the Kaveri River predates before our country’s independence, and it came into limelight in the 1890s during the British government. During the middle of the 19th century, the British controlled both Mysore and Madras. At that time, many plans were proposed and drawn up to utilize Kaveri waters by both states. At that time, Karnataka was the part of the Princely state of Mysore Tamil Nadu as part of the Madras presidency.

Mysore had big plans to improve its irrigation projects, and for those projects, they needed a far-reaching amount of Kaveri Water. Of course, this idea got opposed by Madras’ presidency, and the reasons where simple. If they hold up the water in the middle, how would the people at the receiving end of the river get sufficient water? So this matter went to the British government. As a result, there was a conference held in 1892 to solve the issue.

Pre Independence

Agreement of 1892– In 1892, the contract was signed between the states of Mysore and Madras over Kaveri River water sharing. The deal was based on the principle of “Modus Vivendi.” This agreement provided practical security to the Madras presidency against injury to interest and allowed Mysore to continue their irrigation projects.

1910– Things got a little heated up in 1910 when Mysore king and chief engineer came up with the plan to construct a dam to hold up 41.5 TMC of water, overlooking the agreement of 1892. To this, the Madras presidency objected and denied to give their consent for the construction of the dam. Again, the matter went to India’s Government, and an agreement was signed in the year 1924.

Agreement of 1924– This agreement was based on Kaveri River Water’s historical use and the percentage of dependency of the population from each state on the river. This agreement had a lapsed state of 50 years. This agreement distributed the water as follows:

  • 75% to Tamil Nadu and Puducherry
  • 23% to Karnataka

Remaining to Kerala


1956– after independence, the problem got even more significant. In 1956 recognition of these states took place, and the state boundaries were redrawn based on linguistic demographics. As a result, Puducherry became a union territory, most parts of erstwhile Hyderabad state and Bombay presidency joined with Mysore state. After recognizing states, Karnataka started raising the demand for water over the Kaveri River and demanded to review the agreement of 1924. However, Tamil Nadu and the central government rejected the request saying that the contract can only be reviewed after 50 years, 1974. 

1976– Another agreement was signed, which resolved the terms of use for the Kaveri river’s additional 125 TMC water. As per this agreement, of the additional amount, 87 TMC would be allocated to Karnataka, 34 TMC to Kerala, and 4 TMC to Tamil Nadu. However, this was not accepted by Karnataka as it wanted to share the water as per International rule i.e., in equal proportions. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu increased its dependence on the Kaveri River for irrigation purposes and expanded the total irrigated area by 6 lakh acres. This lead to a fierce confrontation between two states.

1990– After failing to arrive at any consensus over the water-sharing agreement, both the state government approached the Supreme Court. The court asked the Central government to set up Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT) on Jan 2, 1990.

2007– After 17 years, the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT) gave its final judgment underneath, which allotted the total water accessibility in the river at 40 TMC in a normal year. The alike were distributed among all the stakeholders as:

  • Tamil Nadu: 419 TMC (Which had demanded 512 TMC)
  • Karnataka: 270 TMC (Which had demanded 465 TMC)
  • Kerala: 30 TMC
  • Puducherry: 7 TMC

Also allocating 726 TMC to four states, the tribunal also reserved 10 TMC for environmental purposes and 4 TMC inevitable outlets into the sea.

2012– The Cauvery River Authority under the chairmanship of then PM Manmohan Singh, asked the Karnataka government to let go of 9,000 cusecs of water daily to Tamil Nadu. Karnataka’s government failed to comply with this order. Tamil Nadu government approached the Supreme Court, which petition Karnataka to release water. Karnataka government finally relinquished and released water. This lead to aggressive disagreement in the state of Karnataka.

2016– To resolve the problem, the Tamil Nadu government once more proceeded SC in August 2016 to seek the release of water as per Cauvery Tribunal guidelines. SC announced its adjudication asked the Karnataka government to release 15,000 cusecs of water to its neighboring state for ten days. After reviewing its previous order, the Supreme Court ordered the Karnataka govt. To let go of 12,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu.

2018-The Supreme Court on Feb 16, 2018, delivered its verdict in the Kaveri River Water dispute, allocating more water to the state of Karnataka.

The final allocation for a total of 740 TMC is: 

  • Karnataka : 284.75 (270 + 14.75) TMC
  • Tamil Nadu: 404.25 (419 – 14.75) TMC
  • Kerala: 30 TMC
  • UT of Puducherry: 7 TMC
  • Environmental Protection: 10 TMC
  • Inevitable wastage into sea: 4 TMC

Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) and Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC) 2018

As instructed by the Supreme Court, the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) was created by the Centre on Jun 1, 2018. The Cauvery Water Regulation Committee was started three weeks later. S. Masood Hussain was named head of the CWMA, and Navin Kumar was appointed chairman of the CWRC. 

This is an undebatable fact that Kaveri is an essential source of water for the states’ livelihood. Utmost care should be taken not to let the dispute effect inter-state relations as the issue strikes an emotional note with the people on both sides. Not just being self-regarding, we should focus on sustainability.


Sidhee Patnaik

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