ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Water Wars

We need credible institutions to settle water-sharing disputes like the one on the Cauvery.

Today it is Karnataka and Tamil Nadu fighting over water; tomorrow it could be any other combination of states in India. The recent violence in Bengaluru and in some parts of Tamil Nadu over the Cauvery water-sharing arrangement is neither exceptional nor unusual. Given the problems of extending a scarce resource, the inability of people to accept that conservation needs to be a norm today, not an exception, and against the background of increasingly fractious politics, water will continue to be the spark that sets off conflicts, even wars.

That said, the question of how the water in the Cauvery river, that flows through four states in its 800 km journey, ought to be shared, had already been settled in 2007. The dispute is an old one going back to agreements in 1892 followed by one in 1924 between Madras province and Mysore, then a principality. At that time, the population depending on the river was relatively small. By 1990, when the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) was established, populations had grown, Madras province was Tamil Nadu and Mysore had become the state of Karnataka. It took the CWDT 17 years to arrive at its final order in 2007 on how the Cauvery waters should be shared between the four riparian states—Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Puducherry. The story did not end there as it then took the central government another six years to notify the award in 2013, that too at the prompting of the Supreme Court. When this happened, all the states rushed to the Supreme Court challenging the award. As a result, the apex court has now been handed the task of apportioning water shares. The current flare-up followed the 12 September Supreme Court order directing Karnataka to release 12,000 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water per day to Tamil Nadu by 20 September.

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