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What is Cauvery or Kaveri Water Dispute

The Cauvery River, also known as the Kaveri, is a significant interstate basin flowing through Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Pondicherry, ultimately draining into the Bay of Bengal. Covering a vast watershed of 81,155 sq km, the river’s catchment area spans Karnataka (34,273 sq km), Kerala (2,866 sq km), and Tamil Nadu/Pondicherry (44,016 sq km).


1. Reasons Behind the Cauvery Water Dispute

Recent Issues: Tamil Nadu recently approached the Supreme Court, demanding the release of 24,000 cusecs of water from Karnataka’s reservoirs. This request came after Karnataka refused agreed-upon water release quantities. Another point of contention is the Mekedatu Dam Project, which Tamil Nadu claims is unauthorized and a potential threat to its interests, thus violating the directives of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal and the Supreme Court.

Karnataka’s Stand: In response, Karnataka proposes releasing 8,000 cusecs of water for 15 days, whereas Tamil Nadu insists on 10,000 cusecs for the same period. Karnataka justifies its stance by citing poor inflow due to reduced rainfall in the Cauvery catchment area, especially in Kodagu, which experienced a 44% rainfall deficit from June to August. Additionally, Karnataka rejects Tamil Nadu’s demand for a distress-sharing formula.


2. What is Implications of the Dispute

Tamil Nadu’s farmers are anxiously awaiting Karnataka’s response, given the low water storage in the Mettur reservoir (20 TMC, lasting ten days). This situation threatens agricultural crops and water requirements in the region.


3. Ineffective Tribunals and Water Distress

The existing tribunals established by the government to resolve such disputes have proven to be ineffective, exacerbating conflicts rather than resolving them. The Inter-State River Water Disputes Act of 1956 relies on these tribunals, but their judgments lack a solid legal basis. Furthermore, factors such as climate change, erratic rainfall, depleting groundwater, and water-intensive cropping patterns intensify water-related disputes.


4. How Cauvery Water Is Shared

A meticulously planned monthly schedule governs the water distribution between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the two riparian states of the Cauvery basin. In a typical water year, Karnataka is obligated to release 177.25 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) of water from June to May to Tamil Nadu. This annual quota includes 123.14 TMC allocated during the monsoon months from June to September.

To address the recurring disputes, the Supreme Court declared the Cauvery a national asset in 2018, upholding water-sharing arrangements outlined by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT). The Court also directed the notification of the ‘Cauvery Water Management Scheme,’ leading to the establishment of the ‘Cauvery Water Management Authority’ and the ‘Cauvery Water Regulation Committee’ by the central government in June 2018.

This careful balance, however, remains fragile, subject to the challenges posed by changing weather patterns and the ongoing demands of the riparian states.


5. What is Cuavery Water Dispute Tribunal

In June 1990, in accordance with Section 4 of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) was established. After 17 years of deliberation, in February 2007, the CWDT issued its long-awaited final award, outlining the precise allocation of water among the four states in the Cauvery basin during different periods of the year.

Considering the total water availability in the Cauvery basin, which amounts to 740 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet) in a typical year, the Tribunal made the following allocations:

Tamil Nadu: 419 TMC (originally demanded 512 TMC)
Karnataka: 270 TMC (originally demanded 465 TMC)
Kerala: 30 TMC
Pondicherry: 7 TMC

Additionally, the final award earmarked 10 TMC for environmental preservation and 4 TMC for unavoidable outlets into the sea. To ensure the fair distribution of water, the Tribunal mandated the establishment of a monitoring authority responsible for regulating the release of water among the concerned states.

However, the final award did not provide a detailed formula for situations when water shortage occurred due to insufficient rainfall. In such cases, the awarded shares were to be proportionally reduced, although the specific guidelines for this reduction were not explicitly outlined in the final award.

This allocation, though a significant step in resolving the Cauvery water dispute, highlighted the challenges in managing water resources, especially in the face of unpredictable weather patterns. The allocation aimed to balance the needs of the states involved, acknowledging the complexities of the Cauvery basin’s ecosystem and the varying demands of agriculture, industry, and environmental conservation.

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