The dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over river Cauvery’s waters has been on for many years. The river Cauvery is the third largest river of South India after Mahanadi and Godavari. Its water drains the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. But the sharing of the water of this river has become an issue of conflict between the two states


The river Cauvery originates in Karnataka’s Kodagu district, flows into Tamil Nadu and reaches the Bay of Bengal. Parts of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Pondicherry lie in the Cauvery basin. The origin of legal dispute over Cauvery waters date back to 1892 and 1924 in agreements signed between Mysore and Madras Presidency.

About the dispute

  • Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have been fighting over the Cauvery waters.
  • The first trouble was recorded as early as 1881 when the then State of Mysore had planned a dam across the Cauvery river. The State of Madras objected to it.
  • Following mediation by the British, an agreement was reached in 1892 which was replaced by another accord in 1924. However, the dispute over distribution of Cauvery river water kept simmering through the pre- and post-Independence years.
  • The Center constituted the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) in 1990 to resolve the dispute following a Supreme Court order.
  • In 1991, The Tribunal rejected the plea for interim relief of the Tamil Nadu government against which the state went on an appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court then directed the tribunal to entertain the interim relief petition.The tribunal complied and passed an interim award which required Karnataka to release 205 tmcft of water.
  • But in order to nullify the effects of the interim award the Karnataka government passed an ordinance that also became a matter of litigation and was struck down by the Supreme Court. But Karnataka still refused to obey which resulted in the publication of notification of the interim award in gazette of Government of India.
  • In 1993-the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalithaa went on a sudden fast demanding immediate release of the share of water stipulated in the interim award.
  • In 1998-But the constant denial of the interim award finally led to the constitution of the Cauvery River Authority that would ensure implementation of the interim award.
  • In 2003-Loopholes in functioning of the Cauvery River Authority was exposed.
  • In 2007, the tribunal declared its final award, in which it said Tamil Nadu should receive 419 tmcft of water, more than double of the interim order.Of the total available 740 tmc ft water, this was the allocation made:
    • Tamil Nadu – 419 tmc ft

Karnataka – 270 tmc ft

    • Kerala – 30 tmc ft
    • Puducherry – 7 tmc ft
  • In 2013-Notification of final award by Centre and creation of Cauvery Water Management Board
  • In August 2016, Tamil Nadu government sought Supreme Court’s intervention, saying that there was a deficit of 50.0052 tmcft of water released from Karnataka reservoirs.

Recent Supreme court’s verdict

  • The Supreme Court on February 16, 2018 gave verdict in Karnataka’s favour. It cut Tamil Nadu’s share by 14.75 tmcft and increased Karnataka’s share to meet Bengaluru’s drinking water needs. Now, Tamil Nadu will get 404.25 tmcft.
    • Tamil Nadu – 404.25 tmcft
    • Karnataka – 284.75 tmcft, including 4.75 tmcft for Bengaluru
    • Kerala – 30 tmcft
    • Puducherry – 7 tmcft
  • It was observed that the overall population of a river basin must be given prime consideration for determining equitable share of water.
  • So, on that basis Bangalore with inhabitants of around 10 million inhabitants deserves to have more share of water than was awarded.
  • Additional 4.75 tmcft water has been allocated for the purpose of implementation of water supply schemes of Karnataka and another 10 tmcft for agricultural activities.
  • The court also ordered the Centre to constitute Cauvery Management Board within 40 days for implementing the tribunal award and its verdict.
  • Moreover, a major drawback of the judgement is that unlike in cases of the coal mine scam or the iron ore mining case, the Court did not seek the assistance of atleast two technical experts as required under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956. This can cause serious practical challenges in the future water sharing and disputes may still arise before it.

Cauvery Management Authority

  • The Centre has constituted a Cauvery Water Management Authority (CMA) to address the dispute over sharing of river water among Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Puducherry
  • The Ministry of Water Resources has framed a scheme constituting the CMA and the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee
  • CMA would comprise a chairman, eight members besides a secretary-two will be full time, while two will be part time members from centre’s side & rest four would be part-time members from states.
  • CMA will also advise the states to take suitable measures to improve water use efficiency