Multiparty Transboundary Cauvery River Basin Water Dispute in India
|Geolocation:||10° 24' 33.7356", 79° 44' 48.8857"|
|Total Population||5151,000,000 millionmillion|
|Total Area|| 81,15581,155 km² |
31,333.946 mi² km2
|Climate Descriptors||Humid mid-latitude (Köppen C-type)|
|Predominent Land Use Descriptors||agricultural- cropland and pasture, agricultural- confined livestock operations, urban- high density|
|Important Uses of Water||Agriculture or Irrigation, Domestic/Urban Supply, Hydropower Generation|
|Water Features:||Negotiations and Agreements Between Ganges River Basin Riparians|
|Riparians:||Pakistan: Inter-Provincial Relations on Indus|
|Agreements:||Negotiations and Agreements Between Ganges River Basin Riparians, Conflicts Over Development in India’s Narmada river Basin|
Cauvery river originates in Kodagu, Karnataka and flows through Tamil Nadu to reach the Bay of Bengal. The river's basin estimated 81,155 square kilometers, covers four states and Union Territories- Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. Cauvery is a major source for irrigation and drinking water in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu—states which together use more than 90% of the river water.
The dispute goes back to 1890 when the states of Karnataka (known as the state of Mysore at that time) and Tamil Nadu (known as Madras Presidency at that time) had differences when the state of Mysore started building a dam in Kannambadi village on the river. After several rounds of talks between the Mysore state and Madras presidency in 1892 and 1924 presided over by Sir H.D. Griffin, representative of the British Government in India, there were two water sharing agreements between these states, The 1892 Agreement and The 1924 Agreement. While the 1892 Agreement was a general water sharing agreement between the states, the 1924 agreement was specific to the Cauvery river.
Under these agreements, Mysore was permitted to construct a dam of capacity of 44.8 thousand million cubic feet of water. Madras also got itself the right to construct a dam in Mettur in Selam district of capacity 93.5 tmc ft. Under the 1924 Agreement, Madras also had prescriptive rights over the upper riparian state of Mysore. The 1924 agreement was valid for 50 years, and involved a provision for review after its expiration in 1974. The agreement mandated that Mysore could undertake any extension of irrigation only with the prior consent of the Madras presidency. After the expiration of the 1924 agreement in 1974 when states could not agree to revise the agreement themselves, the state of Tamil Nadu wrote to the Government of India requesting for forming a tribunal to settle the dispute. The tribunal was formed in 1991 and allocated water shares to states in 2007. The tribunal estimated the water availability in the basin in a normal year to be 740 tmc ft, and made the following allocations to states in 2007: 419 tmc ft water to Tamil Nadu; 270 tmc ft to Karnataka; 30 tmc ft to Kerala; 7 tmc ft to Puducherry; and 14 tmc ft for environmental and biodiversity protection to allow flow of river stream into the sea. (Central Water Commission, Government of India). The tribunal also said that in any distress year, the allocated shares of states may be reduced proportionately. However, none of the disputants are satisfied with the allocation. Present status of the case is that both the states remain unsatisfied because they think they did not receive the share of Cauvery water that they deserved after the tribunal’s orders in 2007. They keep approaching the Supreme Court to interpret various aspects of the agreements and tribunal order. In this case study, I look at the possible opportunities which could help in resolving this dispute to the satisfaction of all parties by using Water Diplomacy Framework.
Natural, Historic, Economic, Regional, and Political Framework
History of the dispute
The Cauvery river basin dispute dates back to 1892 when a general agreement was reached between the Madras Presidency (Then state of Tamil Nadu) and Mysore (Then state of Karnataka) regarding inter-state water management of shared rivers. In 1910 both the states started building dams on the river which became the bone of contention between the states and was followed by a 1924 Agreement specific to the irrigation infrastructure development in the basin of the interstate river Cauvery. According to these agreements, 75% of the water was allocated to Tamil Nadu and Puducherry Nadu and Puducherry and 23% to Karnataka and rest to Kerala.
The 1924 agreement was valid for 50 years and involved a clause giving parties an opportunity for revision after its expiration years. The agreement stipulated “that the existing irrigation should not be impeded by the construction of new works upstream and downstream irrigation should not be reduced. These agreements also mentioned that all the irrigation works in upstream state has to be first approved by the downstream states.” This means that these agreements constrained Karnataka’s ability to undertake any infrastructure effort which might threaten adequate water supply to Tamil Nadu, the lower riparian state.
During the life of the agreement (1924-74), both the states resolved their disputes through arbitration and existing agreements. During this time, Karnataka built dams on the river and Tamil Nadu continued expanding its irrigation infrastructure. Between 1924 and 1971, Tamil Nadu’s irrigated area increased from 1.665 million acres to 2.82 million acres while for Karnataka, it increased from 314,000 acres to 682, 000 acres. 
After the expiration of the 1924 agreement, a Fact Finding Committee was set-up by the chief ministers of the two states to study the situation on ground in basin states. The committee submitted its final report in 1976. The draft report was accepted by all states, including the Government of India, but when Karnataka started building another dam on the river, Tamil Nadu approached the Government of India and pleaded to form a tribunal to look into water apportionment under the Interstate Water Dispute Act., 1956, a legal instrument available to states under the Parliament of India Acts. 
The Cauvery Waters Tribunal was constituted on June, 2, 1990. The Tribunal heard the states for sixteen years estimated the water availability in the basin in a normal year to be 740 tmc ft, and made the following allocations to states in 2007: 419 tmc ft water to Tamil Nadu; 270 tmc ft to Karnataka; 30 tmc ft to Kerala; 7 tmc ft to Puducherry; and 14 tmc ft for environmental and biodiversity protection to allow flow of river stream into the sea. (Central Water Commission, Government of India). The tribunal also said that in any distress year, the allocated shares of states may be reduced proportionately. The Tribunal also ordered for the setting up of a Cauvery Management Board to implement the Tribunal’s notification. However, none of the states seemed satisfied with the award and requested the Supreme Court for a review of the tribunal decision. The Order also asks Karnataka to ensure water availability of 192 TMC ft at the inter-state contact point.
The Management Board also has not been set up till date, particularly because the states involved are not cooperating on this issue and keep delaying the formation of the Board on one pretext or another. The final order, however, has been notified in the official gazette of India on 19 February 2013, and is theoretically binding upon all parties involved in the dispute.
Present status of the dispute
Present status of the case is that both the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu remain unsatisfied because they think they did not receive the share of Cauvery water they deserved after the tribunal’s orders in 2007. They keep approaching the Supreme Court to interpret various aspects of the agreements and tribunal order.
The dispute escalates further when monsoon fails as there is lesser water to share. In a drought year to deal with water shortage at home, Karnataka reduces water supply to Tamil Nadu for agriculture as it needs it for drinking water purposes. The primary reason often cited by Karnataka remains a weak monsoon and increasing drinking sector demand. However, Tamil Nadu thinks it differently, and often claims victimhood at the hands of the upper riparian state, Karnataka. This often leads to violent protests in both the states. These drought months are exploited by politicians in basin states by claiming victimhood to gain political capital.
Presence or absence of enabling conditions
Both the agreements—1892 and 1924—and the tribunal order of 2007 actively recognize all four states as disputants. States are the only parties to the dispute. This is because water under the Constitution of India is a state subject and the central government can only facilitate states towards the resolution of a water dispute and cannot impose any policy related to the water sector.
There is no formal bilateral water level monitoring agreement between the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka which facilitates data sharing and resolution of minor water disputes. States usually approach the Supreme Court of India to interpret various clauses of 1892, 1924 Agreements, and Tribunal Order, 2007.
There is no formal mechanism between the states to share real-time data and to monitor the implementation of the tribunal order on water allocation. This creates an environment of trust deficit among states, particularly in a situation of water shortages due to deficient monsoon when states start accusing each other for reduction in water availability in the basin.
Salient observations about the basin states
Farmers in both the basin states—Karnataka and Tamil Nadu— are reluctant to move towards cultivating less water-intensive crops even in the drier years. For example, they continue to grow, sugarcane, paddy, etc. A committee, Cauvery Fact Finding Committee (CFFC) was appointed by the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India in consultation with the states involved, inter alia, to explore options to transition towards less water-intensive crops noted that “if the kharif ragi could be grown under irrigated conditions instead of paddy, there would be saving in water without any economic detriment to the farmers in Karnataka”. The Committee further notes, “there is scope for intensive research and introduction of short-term varieties (of paddy)”. On Tamil Nadu, the Committee said “most of the requirement” of the second Kuruvai crop, which requires about the same water as the Samba crop, and is grown in about 25% of the Cauvery delta, “has to be met from the storages, causing a big drain” — and “savings can be effected by restricting the double crop paddy area, introduction of a shorter duration variety in place of Samba, and growing crops requiring less water.” Irrigation sector is the largest consumer of Cauvery River Basin hence it represents huge opportunities for water saving. 
A way forward using the Water Diplomacy Framework
There have been mainly top-down approaches to resolve this water dispute. Most recently, top-down adjudication by the Supreme Court to interpret the tribunal order—similar to previous agreements— at the request of the states. The outcomes of such a top-down approach is often perceived inevitably as favoring one state and alienating another. The state that is perceived to have lost in the litigation then cannot control popular sentiments in the state, and again leads to appeal, as has now reportedly happened against the Supreme Court judgments related to various aspects of this dispute and its related agreements. This has created a vicious cycle where states keep approaching the Court contributing little towards the resolution of the dispute.
Two main issues involved in this dispute are: Overdependence of both the states—Karnataka and Tamil Nadu— for irrigation and drinking water supply. Regarding adequate water supply for irrigation, the key issue remains to protect the already overdeveloped irrigation potential in both the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Nearly 29 lakh acres of paddy crop in Tamil Nadu and an estimated 14 lakh acres of paddy and semi-dry crops in Karnataka are currently dependent on Cauvery water. 
Following points emerge after carefully looking at the disputed river basin and the mechanisms through which dispute has been handled so far. Based on these observations, I suggest a way forward to achieve a more just and sustainable solution to the water dispute by creating and sharing value which makes all parties better off than the status quo.
1. At present water dispute is being managed assuming water as a fixed resource. For example, states have been allocated certain quantum of water and loss of one state is seen as a gain for another. The underlying ethos of the agreements so far has been a zero-sum approach to the dispute in which parties see their benefits coming only at the expense of another. This approach should change and parties involved need to look at possible opportunities to create more water. For example, savings in one sector could be used in another sector, water reuse, increasing water use efficiency across sectors—are some of the ways to think about.
2. States need to dis-incentivize and discourage unsustainable cropping patters. Farmers of both the states are not formally recognized as stakeholders and have formally not been part of any negotiation process. Inefficient water-use across sectors in the basin states—similar to the rest of India—remains prevalent despite of all water hardships, mainly due to lack of infrastructure and poor water governance.
3. All negotiations so far have only involved mainly government actors. Non-governmental actors, if included—using elements of Water Diplomacy Framework— might help in more effectively conveying the actual water issues to the people at the grass roots who often come to protest in the event of water scarcity which is exploited by politicians for their own electoral benefit.
4. The water issues—mainly related irrigation and drinking water— revolve around the over utilization in which water potential stands already utilized to the maximum extent. There is a need to recognize that now the issues is not sharing of more water but sharing of deficit. In this context—stakeholders’ engagement—as suggested by Water Diplomacy Framework is directly relevant.
5. Drinking water supply in the city of Bangalore is completely dependent on the Cauvery river. Also, growth in the state of Karnataka has been around the Cauvery basin which has led to huge jump in water requirements. In case of Tamil Nadu also, Cauvery remains one major river on which it depends for its irrigation and drinking water needs. There may be a situation where Tamil Nadu could think of helping Karnataka in building infrastructure to supply water to Bangalore from other river basins in Karnataka (Krishna river is the other major river basin in Karnataka which occupies 59% of drainage area in Karnataka as against 17% in case of Cauvery), so that excess water may be available to Tamil Nadu for drinking and other needs. This is important Cauvery is the largest river for Tamil Nadu but not Karnataka.
6. At present, water in India is a state subject, means, water governance comes mainly under the jurisdiction of states and the central government of India can only facilitate but cannot impose its will on the states. Government of India could consider of bringing water under the federal control because that will give the central government more leverage in dealing with multi-state disputes. It would also help the central government in implementing a federal policy to better handle multi-state river disputes in India.
7. Tamil Nadu has mandated rain water harvesting in Chennai, its capital city. This could be mandated in others cities of Tamil Nadu, as well as major cities of Karnataka. The water savings resulting from these efforts could make more water available for consumption in other sectors.
 Water Resources Information System of India. Details available at: http://www.india-wris.nrsc.gov.in/wrpinfo/index.php?title=Cauvery  Cauvery River Water Dispute Tribunal Order. Details available at: http://wrmin.nic.in/forms/list.aspx?lid=378  Central Water Commission Report on Cauvery, Government of India  Central Water Commission Report. Available at: http://www.cwc.nic.in/main/downloads/1956.pdf  Water Resources Ministry Report, Government of India. Details available at: http://wrmin.nic.in/forms/list.aspx?lid=378  Ida  Water departments of the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka
Issues and Stakeholders
More than 90% of the Cauvery water is shared by the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. In this Case Study, I am focusing only on these two states to look at the window of opportunity for a more just and sustainable solution to the river basin dispute. Another reason is that rest of the two parties to the dispute—State of Kerala and Union Territory of Puducherry—are not extremely concerned about the dispute because the state of Kerala is getting most of its water needs from other sources, and Puducherry is getting in commensurate with its need, and both these parties constitute only a small percentage of the water available from Cauvery river for use (<6-7%). Both the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are excessively dependent on the Cauvery river for meeting their irrigation needs. Focus for both the states so far has been on expanding irrigation infrastructure than to increase water efficiency use in the sector. Drinking water needs is also an important issue between the states. Both the needs rely heavily on the river for meeting drinking sector water requirements.'
NSPD: Water Quantity, Ecosystems, Governance
Stakeholder Types: Federated state/territorial/provincial government
Analysis, Synthesis, and Insight
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Transboundary Water Issues:
How can we engage with inter-state water disputes in the true spirit of federalism?
Power and Politics:
How can Water Diplomacy Framework help states to reach a long-lasting, just, sustainable agreement using a mutual-gains approach against the zero-sum approach that the states/disputants are using currently?
- Cauvery Report by the Central Water Commission of India — This report looks into the historical, political, and socio-economic context of the dispute, including providing rich details of the major agreements thus far reached among the Cauvery river basin states.
- Cauvery Report by the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India — A brief summary of the Cauvery dispute by the Government of India.
|Agreement||Negotiations and Agreements Between Ganges River Basin Riparians + and Conflicts Over Development in India’s Narmada river Basin +|
|Area||81,155 km² (31,333.946 mi²) +|
|Climate||Humid mid-latitude (Köppen C-type) +|
|Geolocation||10° 24' 33.7356", 79° 44' 48.8857"Latitude: 10.409371|
Longitude: 79.7469127 +
|Issue||More than 90% of the Cauvery water is shar … More than 90% of the Cauvery water is shared by the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. In this Case Study, I am focusing only on these two states to look at the window of opportunity for a more just and sustainable solution to the river basin dispute. Another reason is that rest of the two parties to the dispute—State of Kerala and Union Territory of Puducherry—are not extremely concerned about the dispute because the state of Kerala is getting most of its water needs from other sources, and Puducherry is getting in commensurate with its need, and both these parties constitute only a small percentage of the water available from Cauvery river for use (<6-7%).
Both the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are excessively dependent on the Cauvery river for meeting their irrigation needs. Focus for both the states so far has been on expanding irrigation infrastructure than to increase water efficiency use in the sector.Drinking water needs is also an important issue between the states. Both the needs rely heavily on the river for meeting drinking sector water requirements.eeting drinking sector water requirements. +
|Land Use||agricultural- cropland and pasture +, agricultural- confined livestock operations + and urban- high density +|
|NSPD||Water Quantity +, Ecosystems + and Governance +|
|Population||51,000,000 million +|
|Riparian||Pakistan: Inter-Provincial Relations on Indus +|
|Stakeholder Type||Federated state/territorial/provincial government +|
|Water Feature||Negotiations and Agreements Between Ganges River Basin Riparians +|
|Water Use||Agriculture or Irrigation +, Domestic/Urban Supply + and Hydropower Generation +|
|Has subobjectThis property is a special property in this wiki.||Multiparty Transboundary Cauvery River Basin Water Dispute in India + and Multiparty Transboundary Cauvery River Basin Water Dispute in India +|