The Perpetual Political Ploys over Cauvery Water Dispute

Cauvery Water Dispute

According to the agreement executed between the Princely state of Mysore and the imperial government of Madras Presidency in 1924, Tamil Nadu was to receive 566 TMC Cauvery river water. In the 1970s as the Cavery Fact Finding Committee (CFFC) came into play to inspect the ground realities, during Indira Gandhi regime, the amount of water to be given is reduced to 389 TMC. Then after a long fruitless legal battle waged by Tamil Nadu farmers in the late 1970’s and throughout the 80s, Tamil Nadu government demanded the constitution of a tribunal. Negotiations between two states began. On June 25, 1991 the tribunal gave an interim award, which told Karnataka government to ensure release of 205 TMC to Tamil Nadu. Karnataka sought out for ordinance to annul the tribunal’s interim award. The widespread demonstrations led to violence and thousands of Tamil families had to flee from Bangalore, fearing riots. Later, the final verdict of tribunal reduced it to 192 TMC. Then the crisis once again went to Supreme Court, where the farmers and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha demanded at least 50 TMC water for seasonal cultivation. After Supreme Court’s recent order, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah with a ‘very heavy heart’ released 15 TMC water to Tamil Nadu. Once again Tamil families had to walk from Bangalore to Hosur, fearing unrest and some pro-Tamil & pro-Kannada groups created turbulence to ensure that their outfit’s name is mentioned in media.

On Monday, 19th September 2016, Cauvery Supervisory Committee ordered to release 3,000 cusecs of water a day to Tamil Nadu between September 21 and 30. On Tuesday, 20th September, the apex court asked Karnataka to release  6,000 cusecs of water between September 21 and 27 (the verdict also asked Centre to constitute a Cauvery Management Board within four weeks. Karnataka’s Home Minister Mr. Parameshwara expressed his disappointment. There was muted cheer in Tamil Nadu, but still at least 40 TMC is said to be required for cultivating 12 lakh acres on this side of Cauvery basin (as per news reports from NDTV, Firstpost).

Karnataka government and pro-Kannada outfits’ stance is simple: they vehemently oppose release of any water from Cauvery to Tamil Nadu. Few experts and Tamil media carry the information that Karnataka governments have cleverly diverted water for unannounced or unknown projects to design a false pretext of insufficient water flow. The claims, of course, can’t be legally verified for now, but it’s perfectly clear that both the states – Karnataka and Tamil Nadu – have reached a boiling point to slug over the river water due to their own water mismanagement fiascos. While Karnataka claims drought for not sharing Cauvery water with Tamil Nadu, the situation for Tamil farmers is much worse. The major source of fresh water Tamil Nadu is the monsoon (the other smaller rivers like Noyyal is carrying less water by every passing year). So when southwest monsoon fails Tamil Nadu (as it has done in the last 20 years or so), the agriculture sector depends a lot on the water it receives from Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh (both during monsoon and non-monsoon seasons). Thanjavur of the Cauvery delta region has earned the name ‘rice bowl of south’ or ‘paddy granary of the south’, but now at least 50 percent of the farming families have given up farming to take up construction jobs.


It is easy for Tamil Nadu government to blame previous regimes and neighboring states, but it is important to chuck out the identity-hating politics in the Cauvery issue. After every Supreme Court and Cauvery Advisory committee’s judgement or after violent bursts in Bengaluru, Mr. Siddaramiah is intent on conducting an all-party meeting to share the blame he might receive, while Chief Minister Jayalalitha cleverly avoids conducting all-party meetings to design the propaganda for next elections to state how she solely fought for Cauvery river in the Supreme court. State Ministers would be coming up with innovative poems on ‘Amma’ relating to her victory over the river dispute. Amidst these shameful political games, what fails to be addressed is the water problem itself. The immediate question we need to raise is what the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments have done in the past two or three decades to crackdown on the worsening groundwater problem, pollution and the rampant sand mining that has over-exploited Cauvery basin and brought death to other small TN rivers. It is easy to shift blame on the collective identity of Tamils or Kannidagas, but the real culprits of this boiling river problem are the incompetent or vilely ignorant rulers at both the Centre and State.

If the state-backed ‘bandh’ against Supreme Court order and the ensued riots is frightening, the unsettling aspect is the deafening silence of Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi. Apart from issuing a bland statement to ‘not resort to violence’, the Centre largely remains silent. It’s not just the habit of present Modi regime; from Indra Gandhi’s period, the Centre never raises (both ruling BJP and ruled Congress) voice against some of the loathsome tactics of Karnataka state governments, fearing for their respective vote banks in the state (as in Tamil Nadu both the national parties have less vote banks, they have never care about the issue; and the Dravidian parties of TN is always busy blaming each other over the issue).  Let it be the fishermen problem or river & dam issues in Tamil Nadu, the Central government has never taken one valuable step to solve the issue. As his supporters say, Mr. Modi has traveled to hundreds of countries for bringing large economic growth to our nation. But, how should we take this gross incompetence and ignorance of our Prime Minister (and the past PMs) in this river issue (which is source of trouble for the past 125 years). Talks between the two states’ Chief Ministers aren’t going to help solve this issue as it is past that stage, especially when the dispute has gone to Supreme Court and verdicts are clearly announced. At least 20 to 25 times both the state CMs (array of CMs on both sides) met when Congress previously weaved power at the Center. After all those talks and Supreme court judgements, the situation has only worsened.

Our nation had successfully brought up the Indus-water treaty with Pakistan, but why this particular issue that causes hundreds of farmer suicides and major unrest in two neighboring states is neglected by the rulers? For how many more years these politicians are going to hide their inability & corrupted nature, by kindling dangerous political outcry? If unsolved, this inter-state river issue is not just going to create cracks on Tamil farming lands; it is going to crack up our glorious national unity too.

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  • Subhadip Mukherjee

    Having stayed in Bangalore during the mid 80’s and mid 90’s I used to wonder why our schools used to be shut over Cauvery. To resolve everyone one has to think about each other and build a nation together…

  • Amit Misra

    I mentioned elsewhere that this dispute is like our childhood friend. We have grown up reading, hearing, watching this dispute in action. Two generations have passed since then. But this immortal dispute defies all resolution.

    • Arun Kumar

      Yes, it’s true. Any by each passing generation the dispute is escalating to whole new levels through political games.