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Cauvery Water Sharing Dispute

22nd September, 2023 Geography

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  • The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to intervene either in favour of Karnataka or Tamil Nadu in the Cauvery water dispute.
  • Instated it banked on the combined expertise of the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC) and the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) to manage the water sharing between the two neighbouring states.


Cauvery River

  • Cauvery (or Kaveri) is the state's largest river, flowing from Talakaveri in the Brahmagiri hills of Karnataka's Western Ghats.
  • It is known as the Dakshina Ganga (the Ganges of the South) and is regarded as one of India's holiest rivers.
  • The source of the Kaveri River is a popular pilgrimage and tourism destination in Coorg, located in the Bramahagiri Hills near Madikeri.

The tributaries of the Kaveri include:

  • Harangi, Hemavathi (origin in western Ghats joins the river Kaveri near Krishnarajasagar), Lakshmanatirtha,
  • Kabini (originates in Kerala and flows eastward and joins the Kaveri at Tirumakudal, Narasipur),
  • Shimsha, Arkavati, Suvarnavathi or Honnuholé, Bhavani, Lokapavani, Noyyal, Amaravati

Cauvery Water Dispute


  • The issue stems from a long-standing disagreement about the distribution of water from the Cauvery River.
  • There are three states and one union territory involved: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Puducherry.
  • The disagreement is on how river water should be apportioned among these states for diverse purposes like as agriculture, drinking water, and industrial use.

History of Dispute

  • This disagreement initially arose in 1892, during the reign of Britishers, between the Presidency of Madras and the Princely State of Mysore.
  • Mysore and Madras established an agreement in 1924 that would last for 50 years. As a result, it was no longer enforced in 1974.
  • Without the permission of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka has been diverting water into four newly constructed reservoirs since 1974.
  • This caused conflict in post-independence India.

The establishment of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal and its final decision

  • The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) was established in June 1990 in compliance with Section 4 of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956.
  • The CWDT gave its final award in February 2007, after 17 years, outlining the amount of water that each state should receive at different times of the year.
  • Given that the total available water in the Cauvery basin throughout the four states is 740 TMC in a normal year, the Tribunal has apportioned the water as follows:
  • Tamil Nadu: 419 TMC (as opposed to 512 TMC),
  • Karnataka: 270 TMC (as opposed to 465 TMC),
  • Kerala has 30 TMCs, and 7 TMCs in Pondicherry
  • The final award set aside 10 TMC for environmental purposes and 4 TMC for inevitable seawater exits.
  • The tribunal ordered the formation of a monitoring authority to manage water releases.
  • However, the final decision did not provide a specific methodology in circumstances where there is a water deficit owing to insufficient precipitation.
  • It simply stated that in such cases, the assigned shares should be lowered accordingly.

The following development

  • On the direction of the Supreme Court, the administration took another 6 years and notified the order in 2013.
  • Later, the Tamil Nadu government petitioned the Supreme Court for a special leave under Article 136.
  • The Tamil Nadu government had sought the court because the Karnataka government had refused to obey the tribunal's decision.
  • Article 136 makes the Supreme Court the highest appellate court.
  • It states that, notwithstanding anything in this Chapter, the Supreme Court may grant special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree, resolution, sentence, or order rendered by any court or tribunal in India's territory.
  • The Supreme Court issued its decision in 2018. The Supreme Court designated Cauvery a national asset in its decision.
  • It upheld the CWDT's finalized water-sharing arrangements.
  • According to the ruling, Karnataka would receive 284.75 TMC, Tamil Nadu 404.25 TMC, Kerala 30 TMC, and Puducherry 7 TMC.
  • The Centre was also asked to notify the Cauvery Management Scheme.
  • The 'Cauvery Water Management Scheme' was announced by the central government in June 2018.
  • To carry out the decision, it established the 'Cauvery Water Management Authority' (CWMA) and the 'Cauvery Water Regulation Committee' (CWRC).

Water sharing procedure

  • Karnataka, the upper riparian state of the Cauvery basin, has agreed to transfer water to Tamil Nadu every month.
  • According to the timetable, Karnataka will make a total of 177.25 TMC accessible to Tamil Nadu at Biligundlu in a "normal" water year (June to May).
  • From this total, 123.14 TMC will be distributed between June and September, which coincides with the southwest monsoon season.
  • When the monsoon produces less rainfall than expected, the Cauvery issue inevitably flares up during this time.

The reason behind Tamil Nadu's approach towards the Supreme Court

  • At its meeting on August 11, the CWMA requested that Karnataka manage its releases in such a way that 10,000 cusecs of water were realized at Biligundlu over the next 15 days, beginning August 12.
  • In other words, Karnataka would have to deliver 0.86 TMC per day for a total of 12.9 TMC over 15 days.
  • However, what reportedly irritated Tamil Nadu was Karnataka's failure to adhere to the quantity agreed upon at the previous day's CWRC meeting.
  • Karnataka has claimed that low rainfall in the Cauvery basin, which includes Kerala, has resulted in minimal inflow to its reservoirs.

Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC)

  • Later, the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC) was formed to implement and monitor the CWDT's award and to govern water distribution by its terms.
  • The committee is responsible for monitoring water releases from Karnataka's reservoirs and ensuring that the allocated amounts of water are given to Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry by the set formula.


Constitutional mechanisms for resolving interstate water disputes have been ineffective in addressing and resolving the issues. Is the failure the result of structural or process flaws, or both? Discuss.