This is the story of how a river made bitter enemies out of two Indian states. An almost 130-year-old saga. Let us bare it all for you.
The Supreme Court recently asked Karnataka to release 15,000 cusec water to Tamil Nadu, to aid the state’s farmers, in response to the latter’s plea.
Pro-Kannada groups have been protesting and observing bandhs in Karnataka. Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah called for an all party meeting. The situation remains tense.
We try and answer a few key questions about the origin and development of this dispute.
What are the origins of this conflict?
The story begins, as most in Modern India do, during the colonial period. That time when white people roamed the Indian subcontinent.
First the sahebs came and took control of Mysore state and established the Madras Presidency, which present day Tamil Nadu was part of.
Plans to utilise the river’s water were drawn by the British but later abandoned.
In 1910, Maharaja Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar of Mysore came up with a plan to construct a dam at Kannambadi village to hold up to 41.5 TMC of water. Madras, however, refused to give its consent for this move as it had its own plans to build a storage dam at Mettur with a capacity of 80 TMC.
After a reference to the Government of India, permission was accorded to Mysore, but for a reduced storage of 11 TMC. During construction, however, the foundation was laid to suit the earlier desired full storage. The dispute continued.
Was there never an agreement?
Eventually an agreement was arrived at in 1924 and a couple of minor agreements were also signed in 1929 and 1933. The 1924 agreement was set to lapse after a run of 50 years.
The Cauvery Fact Finding Committee was formed during the 1970s as the 1924 agreement was coming to an end.
Tamil Nadu’s irrigated lands covered an area in the range of 1,440,000 acres to 2,580,000 acres while Karnataka’s irrigated area constituted 6,80,000 acres. This indicated that Tamil Nadu needed the larger share of the water. Karnataka, however, blamed it on the unfavourable British agreement.
What made this into a political conflict?
In the last two decades, the Supreme Court and the Cauvery River Authority (a highly powerful body that was established to reach consensus on this matter) have intervened on several occasions.
With suicides, protests and ministers walking out of important meet-ups, it has been a politically charged issue.
During the 2002 failed monsoons, SC rulings have at times been explicitly disobeyed. Once, Karnataka gave in to the protests of its farmers and stopped the release of water as agreed.
Tamil Nadu witnessed protests at Neyveli, seeking cuts of power supply to Karnataka. A minor incident involving the blasting of a transmission tower by miscreants created further misunderstanding. Vehicles from Tamil Nadu were prevented entry into Karnataka.
In the last few years, rains have been favourable and things were under control. The monsoons were bad this year. Discord and disagreement flared up again. Tamil Nadu requested water due to the plight of its farmers. Kerala has also staked claims.