Kaveri Water Dispute-Is Dispute A Settlement?

This is an account of the history that developed between major south Indian states for the Kaveri water. It also talks about the various methods taken up by the Courts to resolve the dispute and how they have all mostly failed.

The Dispute!

All of us know about the Kaveri water dispute over sharing Kaveri river’s water which seems to exist since the British era, while the Madras Presidency(now called Tamil Nadu) and the Mysore state (now called as Karnataka) signed a collateral agreement on the sharing of the river’s waters in the year 1924. The agreement was signed to be valid up to 50 years since then. However, during the period of post-Independence, both the neighbor states expressed their objections towards the British-era agreement and their issues were taken up over several rounds of talks and critical thinking. With the increasing extent of land under irrigation observed in both the states, each had vowed to claim a larger share of the river’s water hence giving rise to the Kaveri water dispute.

According to several economic and political reports, 12 years after Indian Independence, Karnataka approached Tamil Nadu and invited its attention towards several clauses under the already signed original agreement and suggested few changes. Tamil Nadu turned down Karnataka’s request in this regard and said that any change would only be considered after the expiry of the original agreement in 1974(as said after 50 years). Madras Presidency had the right to construct a dam in Mettur in Selam district to impound 93.5 tmcft. Both the states continued to negotiate without any final say or settlement. After years of stalemate, a three-man tribunal was constituted in the year 1990 after the Supreme Court directed the then VP Singh-led government to constitute a tribunal for all the then concerned disputes. Karnataka claimed 465 tmcft as its share before the tribunal, while Tamil Nadu demanded that the waters should be shared according to the initial agreement. According to Tamil Nadu’s demand, it was entitled to 566 tmcft along with Puducherry territory, while Karnataka was entitled to only177 tmcft and Kerala to less than 5 tmcft. In their individual presentations when they appeared in front of the tribunal, Kerala demanded 99.8 tmcft and Puducherry 9.3 tmc ft.

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An interim order came up in the year of 1991; the tribunal awarded 205 tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu, which Karnataka would have to release per year. Also, the award also set down the weekly and monthly flows which were to be duly ensured by Karnataka for every month of the year. This particular award was upheld despite all the protests made by the state of Karnataka. Violence broke out as an ultimate result of the award in both the states.

Through the lenses of History

Going back to ancient times, historical rulers like the Cholas who ruled the region which is today called Tamil Nadu had built reservoirs and check dams for various agricultural purposes. The rulers of Mysore had the capacity to build their first reservoir only in the year of 1934. The result, the article points out, is that the Farmer community of Tamil Nadu had a strong stand when the 1894 and 1924 agreements were entered into. Back in 1924, Karnataka was claiming 6.5 lakh acres of land for irrigation, compared to 15 to 20 lakh acres for Tamil Nadu. Even today, Karnataka only has 15 lakh acres under irrigation. When the 1924 agreement was terminated, nearly 80 %of the annual yield from the River Kaveri was used by the farmers in Tamil Nadu. All the above-mentioned factors gave Tamil Nadu the upper hand and so the state enjoys the greater share.

Court’s Decision

Legislature was not able to overrule the decision

Both former apex court judges referred to the May 2014 judgment by a Constitution Bench led by then Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha in the Mullaperiyar dam case or Kaveri water dispute[1]. The Bench had overthrown a State law publicized by the Kerala Legislature to disregard a Supreme Court order allowing water level in the dam to be increased from 136 feet to 142 feet to the favor of Tamil Nadu. In his judgment, Justice Lodha held that “the legislature cannot withstand a bare declaration, directly try to over-rule, reverse or override upon the judicial decision”. Upholding the righteousness of the Constitutional principle regarding the Separation of Powers, the Mullaperiyar judgment said: “a law enacted by the legislature evidently seems to be within its competence, but yet in substance if it is shown as an attempt to interfere with the judicial process, such law may be contradicting being in breach of doctrine of separation of powers”.

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Arguments from Both Sides

Karnataka is going to restate its stand that it has enough water in its reservoirs only to meet the drinking water requirements of Bangalore, Mysore, Mandya and few others nearby villages in the Kaveri basin until the south-west monsoon hits the state which is expected in the month of June 2017. Karnataka might also be stressing over the fact that the Mettur dam has 50 TMC and more water a part of which can be utilized for its most significantly produced samba crop for the reason that the northeast monsoon would be affecting the state in three weeks of time.

Tamil Nadu’s argument is that till they reach 50 TMC feet of water, they cannot release water for their samba cultivation. Tamil Nadu also holds the view that Karnataka has committed disrespect of court by not releasing 6000 cubic feet for seconds of water over three days since the SC ordered on 20th September. Arguments of both of these states are valid considering the fact that both these states are dependent on the river water.

Also read Role of Tribunals in the Adjudication of Dispute


[1]Russel Joy vs Union Of India.

 11 January, 2018