top of page
  • Writer's pictureLAWGIC STRATUM


Author: Vydurya Selvi

India is a country with more than 80% inter-state rivers. A lot of inter-state water agreements have been made in India, before and after Independence. The socio-economic, geographical, and political factors were not contemplated while they were drafted, which has created inter-state disputes. River Cauvery has been the source of well-being, prosperity, and the very source of life for the lands of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The states have been fighting for their lifeline for centuries. Here is a brief history of the dispute over the Cauvery river water.

Cauvery River

Cauvery is also called Dakshina Ganga. She is the third-longest river in India. The river originates from Thala Cauvery, Kodagu District of Karnataka. It flows mainly through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. After a long run of 800 plus kilometers, it outfalls the Bay of Bengal. People of South India worship River Cauvery as their Goddess and call her Cauveri Thaai. Water is the main source of irrigation in South India. The river basin covers three states and a Union territory namely, Tamil Nadu (43,800 sq km), Karnataka (34,300 sq km), Kerala (2,800 sq km), and Puducherry (148 sq km) approximately.

Cauvery Water Dispute

Cauvery river has its origin in Karnataka, while the maximum flow area is covered in Tamil Nadu. So, the people of both the states are entirely dependent on the water for agricultural and domestic purposes. Karnataka has to share the Cauvery water with Tamil Nadu, various reasons such as shortage of water, irrigation projects, construction of dams, etc., disrupted the flow of water. Thus, the century-old issue between the two states is ‘equitable sharing of water’. This Cauvery dispute shows the complicated scenario of river water management and Governance in India.

History of the Dispute

The date of origin moves back to the British Era. It starts from the agreement between the Madras Presidency and the Princely State of Mysore. In 1880, Mysore was planning to start various irrigation projects on the river. The livelihood of a large number of people of Madras Presidency was entirely on agriculture. This created a resistance between the states, which eventually led to a conference in 1890 where the principle of modus vivendi was used and an agreement between the states was signed in 1892. The agreement stated that the irrigation works can be continued in Mysore while they cause no injury to the water shared to Madras. This was seen as a bilateral agreement.

Later in 1910, King Krishnaraja wanted to build a dam in Kannambadi village, while Madras was planning to build one in Mettur. Cauvery water dispute became a national problem. However, the Government of India agreed to the construction of the dam in Mysore but with a reduced capacity of 11 TMC, even though the foundation was laid for the desired full capacity of 40 TMC water. Madras was against this and the disputes continued. The British Government of India referred the matter to Arbitration under Rule IV of the 1892 Agreement. Sir H D Griffin, an Arbitrator, upheld the same decision of the Government of India and passed the award in 1914. Madras appealed the award and the negotiations between states continued. A final agreement between Mysore and Madras on constructing a reservoir and dam respectively was signed in 1924. The lapse period of the agreement is 50 years.

Post-independence, the states were organized based on languages and the Reorganisation of States Act was passed in 1956. Coorg became part of Mysore State, Malabar went to Kerala from Madras and Puducherry became a Union Territory in 1954. Now, the dispute between two states became more complicated to become an issue between 3 states and a union territory. The gravity of the situation was not under control as the 50-year agreement was nearing its end. In the 1980s, Karnataka built four dams over Cauvery, Tamil Nadu faced a water deficit and it approached the Supreme Court. The Court directed the Centre to form a tribunal to oversee the dispute.

Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal

The tribunal gave an interim order[1] in 1991 to calculate the inflow of water to Tamil Nadu and asked Karnataka to send 205 TMC of water. But the states did not accept the order as a result of which, various protests started. Karnataka appealed the award. The Supreme Court upheld the Tribunal’s award. In 1993, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Miss. J Jayalalitha went on hunger strike as the interim order was not followed, but Karnataka stated that the state is facing drought and could not release the water. In 1998, the Cauvery River Authority was formed with Prime Minister as the Chairperson and the Chief Ministers of four states as members. After numerous negotiations, the Tribunal gave its final award in 2007. A total of 740 TMC water was shared; Tamil Nadu – 419 TMC, Karnataka 270 TMC, Kerala 30 TMC, and Puducherry 7 TMC and Karnataka shall release the water on monthly deliveries. In case of distress years, the proportion of water released shall be changed.

Final Verdict

Even after the verdict was given, Karnataka was not satisfied, the IT companies protested, and state-wide bandhs were observed. In 2012, Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh, the Chairman of Cauvery River Authority, directed Karnataka to release 9,000 cusecs of water every day. But Karnataka was facing a drought and stated it was impractical. Protests continued. Tamil Nadu was in deficit of water, without rainfall and Cauvery water agriculture got drastically affected. Then the Indian Government gave a final verdict on the issue. The verdict allocates 419 TMC to Tamil Nadu, 270 TMC to Karnataka, 30 TMC to Kerala, and 7 TMC to Puducherry.

Karnataka faced inadequacy of drinking water, while Tamil Nadu had no other water source for domestic purposes itself. This inter-state dispute has become a strain for the country. The Supreme Court ordered in January 2018 that it would declare the verdict of the water dispute and all the pending cases in one month. Hence, the Supreme Court on February 16, 2018, pronounced the final verdict on the issue and no further deviance shall be shown by any state. It stated that Karnataka can hold 14.75 TMC of water for its drinking purpose and send the remaining share of Tamil Nadu as in the previous order. Finally, the 740 TMC of water is shared as follows;

  • Tamil Nadu – 404.25 TMC

  • Karnataka – 284.75 TMC

  • Kerala – 30 TMC

  • Puducherry – 7 TMC

  • Environmental Protection – 10 TMC

  • Wastage into the sea – 4 TMC

In June 2018, Cauvery Water Management Authority and the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee were created.


The inter-state water dispute, 120 years old issue, ended in 2018. Inter-state disputes should be immediately solved by the constitution of permanent bodies. Allowance of re-negotiations is the cause for delay injustice. India from now on should focus on a better water management system and sustainable solutions for future agricultural needs. The growing nexus between water and politics should be transformed. Instead of fighting over rivers, we are in the urge of nurturing them for future use.


[1] Cauvery Water Dispute -

[2] Cauvery dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu -

[3] Cauvery Water Dispute -


[1] AIR 1992 SC 522

45 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page