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Cauvery water dispute: How it has raged on for over a century

Sourjya Bhowmick | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

The Cauvery Water dispute is back in the news. Again. A state-wide bandh was called on Friday to protest against the Supreme Court order to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu.

The apex court on Monday asked the Karnataka government to release 15,000 cusec water per day to neighbouring Tamil Nadu leading to widespread protests on Tuesday.

While Bengaluru and Mysuru came to a standstill and Mandya district witnessed protests, it was business as usual in Raichur, Bidar and Mangaluru.

Siddaramaiah has requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to convene a meeting of Chief Minsters of Cauvery basin States to resolve the impasse "as unrest in Karnataka will create a serious impact on the economy."

Here's a quick look at the long-standing conflict between the two states:


  • The conflict started in 1910 when both the states started planning to construct dams on the Cauvery.
  • Earlier in 1892, Mysore princely state and Chennai presidency had agreed on water sharing after mediation by the British Raj.
  • In 1924, the British arbitrated again and a water-sharing agreement was reached based on the farming area of the two states. This agreement was to continue for 50 years.


  • The flow of the river in Karnataka after it originates in Coorg.
  • The river caters to a land area of 2.5 lakh acres in the state.
  • In comparison, the river caters to 15 lakh acres in Tamil Nadu and travels 500 km in the state.
  • Going by sheer numbers, Tamil Nadu needs a larger share of water to sustain agricultural activity. The issue generally flares up when monsoon fails.


  • The union government appointed a fact-finding committee after the 50-year agreement came to an end.
  • The committee found that Tamil Nadu used 566 thousand milli cubic feet (tmcf) of Cauvery water, while Karnataka used 177 tmcf.
  • In 1976, both the states agreed that water usage will continue based on earlier usage and 125 tmcf would saved and stored.


  • That year, a farmer's association from Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu, moved the Supreme Court and demanded a tribunal for the Cauvery dispute.
  • In 1990, after failed negotiations between the two states, the apex court ordered the union government to constitute a tribunal.
  • In 1991, the tribunal directed Karnataka to ensure that 205 tmcft water is given to Tamil Nadu every year and also not to increase irrigated land area. Karnataka refused to obey the order.


  • The tribunal came out with their final judgment and held the 1892 and 1924 agreement between the two states.
  • According to the century old understanding 75% of Cauvery water would go to Tamil Nadu and 23% to Karnataka.
  • Which means that 419 tmcft of water goes to Tamil Nadu and 270 tmcft to Karnataka. However, Karnataka filed a revision petition.


There have been more than 25 meetings to sort out the issue. But none have yielded any lasting results. The conflict mostly flares up during years when there is a shortage of rainfall. The SC order came on backdrop of the fact that Tamil Nadu wants 35 tmcft water to make up for the rainfall shortage in the last three months. Karnataka, as always, does not want to the historical agreement to be changed.

The next hearing is on 16 September.

Also read - SC tells Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu

More in Catch - Injustice to Karnataka, will fight in SC: Congress MP Veerappa Moily on Cauvery water release

700 buses off road, protests and bandh in Karnataka over Cauvery water release

First published: 6 September 2016, 11:18 IST
Sourjya Bhowmick @sourjyabhowmick

Born and raised in Kolkata, Sourjya is all about the numbers. He uses data to contextualise stories on a broad range of topics. Formerly with the Hindustan Times and IndiaSpend, any time not spent researching and writing is spent reading non-fiction and tackling his unending collection of films. An alumnus of Presidency College, Kolkata, he has a post-grad degree in Political Science from Calcutta University and was actively involved in student politics. He's a fan of Tintin comics, Germany's football team, Mohun Bagan and Old Monk.