Cauvery rom Reignites

Monsoon failure leads to 39 per cent deficit water in reservoirs, leaves farmers in anxiety; lack of a distress formula compounds situation for Karnataka

Published: 21st August 2023 09:49 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st August 2023 06:39 PM   |  A+A-

File photo of water being released from crest gates of KRS reservoir. (Photo | Udayashankar S)

Express News Service

After three years of bountiful rain, the monsoon is playing truant this year, and the ominous clouds of confrontation loom over Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for the Cauvery waters. The weak monsoon and dry spell in the last couple of weeks, and fall in inflow into reservoirs has ignited another confrontation with farmers and activists taking to the streets against the release of water to Tamil Nadu.

The total watershed of the Cauvery basin is 81,155 sqkm, of which its catchment area of about 34,273 sqkm is in Karnataka, 2,866 sqkm is in Kerala and the remaining 44,016 sqkm in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The Cauvery catchment area falling in Kodagu district has recorded 50 per cent less rain compared to last year -- it received 2566mm as against 5675mm during the corresponding period in 2022.

Kodagu district received less than 70 per cent rain compared to 2021- 2022, and the uneven rain and weak monsoon have left paddy farmers worried; they fear that they will lose the only crop grown in rainwater. The Kabini catchment falling in Wayanad region of Kerala, which is expected to receive normal rainfall of 1829.1mm, has received 991mm, which is a 52 per cent deficit. The situation is also alarming in Hemavathi achukat, where the catchment area of Mudigere and Sakleshpur has received deficit rainfall of 36 per cent.

The region received 357mm rain as against normal rainfall of 554mm. Even as three months of monsoon that started in June are coming to an end, farmers in Cauvery achukat are already up in arms as irrigation officials have refused to give water for the kharif crop. The Irrigation Consultative Committee meeting recently decided to use ‘On and Off ’ system (15 days a month) to supply water for semi-dry crops.

Paddy and sugarcane being prominent crops, farmers who had prepared for paddy cultivation anticipating good rain could not take up paddy transplantation or long-term crops like sugarcane as there is no sufficient water for 6.5 lakh acres in achukat of Hemavathi, KRS, Kabini and Harangi in the Cauvery basin. Though the cumulative storage of the four major dams in the Cauvery basin in Karnataka is 114.57 tmcft, the storage on Friday was 71.47 tmcft, which is a 38 per cent deficit when storage in all four reservoirs was 104 tmcft during the corresponding period last year.

Karnataka is unable to meet Tamil Nadu’s demand for water, but has fallen in line, abiding by the Supreme Court’s directions, and discharged 10tmcft of water as against TN’s claim for its share of 27tmcft of water, in accordance with the Tribunal’s verdict. Though the Cauvery water sharing dispute is adjudicated by the Cauvery River Water Dispute Tribunal, lack of a distress formula and silence on sharing water in distress years has created confusion and led to fraught situations as both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have expanded irrigation area beyond limits and violating the cap has also added to their worries. An irrigation expert felt the Cauvery River Authority headed by the Prime Minister, and chief ministers as members, irrigation secretary and others should arrive at a consensus to come up with a distress formula to end the over century-old water dispute as it is an interstate basin.

The Karnataka opposition has pointed at Tamil Nadu for increasing the area of Kuruvai crop cultivation from 1.8 lakh to 4 lakh acres, and adding drinking water schemes. The reluctance of farmers to shift to new crop patterns and avoiding growing water-intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane has only compounded the issue as both states are firm on protecting their interests. This has made Opposition BJP and JDS turn the tables on the ruling Congress, accusing it of failing to protect the interests of farmers.

The farmers have taken to the streets and threatened to intensify the stir if the crest gates are not closed, and accused the authorities of banning Karnataka’s farmers from growing paddy and giving water for the kuruvai crop in Tamil Nadu. Feeling the heat of criticism from the farming community and Opposition, the government has decided to approach court.

Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar has stated that they will appeal to court to reconsider its ruling, directing the state to release 10tmcft of water. He sought Tamil Nadu’s cooperation, and promised to meet the neighbouring state’s demand if there is good rain, and also sought cooperation for the proposed Mekedatu project. The ground reality in Karnataka would make it difficult to oblige Tamil Nadu as it is committed to protecting the farmers’ interest and also meeting the drinking water needs of Bengaluru, Mysuru, Mandya and other towns.

If the Cauvery basin fails to receive rain in the next couple of weeks, and inflow into reservoirs does not improve and farming activities are affected, it would bring back memories of the bitter conflict between the states. The dry spell and drought-like situation will also lead to political turmoil as the Opposition parties in both states may try to corner the ruling governments. Many political observers feel that politicians from both states should restrain from making emotional or provocative statements, which may lead to hardline confrontation and confusion among farmers on both sides.

Former managing director of Cauvery Neeravari Nigam D Shivashankar said there is no distress formula, and Karnataka should release water based on inflow of water during distress. He said Tamil Nadu usually keeps dams full and uses the water for irrigation much before the onset of the monsoon. However, he feared that releasing water from Kabini will affect crops on 1.2lakh acres and the distress should be shared by all four reservoirs that are not filled due to a poor monsoon.


Water dispute starts between Madras Presidency (under British rule) and Princely State of Mysore; Madras disagrees with Mysore administration’s proposal to build an irrigation system

Mysore govt writes to Madras Presidency, seeking permission to build a reservoir, leads to a dispute with
arbitrator giving Mysore permission to construct dam of up to 11tmcft; the verdict was challenged

Issue is resolved, Madras and Mysore reach an agreement to allow Mysore to build dam

Agreement reached to clarify1924 agreement, allowing construction of Krishnaraja Sagar dam, and to specify exactly how much water would be released to Madras

KRS dam becomes functional

Mettur dam becomes functional

50-year agreement lapses between Madras Presidency (now TN) and Princely State of Mysore (now Karnataka)

Tamil Nadu approaches Centre to set up tribunal for Cauvery water sharing

After Supreme Court direction, Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal set up, headed by Justice Chittatosh Mookerjee

JUNE 1991
CWDT passes interim award,asking Karnataka to release 205tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu every year. It also directs Karnataka not to increase irrigated land area from existing 11,20,000 acres, results in widespread dissatisfaction and violence in the two states

In December, CWDT’s interim award notified by Centre after Supreme Court strikes down ordinance issued by Karnataka, upholds award

Cauvery River Authority (CRA) constituted for implementation of interim award of CWDT

CRA directs Karnataka to release 9,000 cusecs of Cauvery water per day to Tamil Nadu

CWDT passes final award, allots 30tmcft to Kerala, 270tmcft to Karnataka, 419tmcft to Tamil Nadu,
7tmcft to Puducherry, and 14tmcft reserved for inevitable environmental flow into sea

FEB 2013
Centre notifies final award of CWDT

MARCH 2013
Tamil Nadu moves SC, seek directions for constitution of Cauvery Management Board

MAY 2013
Tamil Nadu moves SC, seeks damages from Karnataka for not following orders of CWDT

AUG 2016
Tamil Nadu files petition in SC, seeks direction to Karnataka to release water

SEPT 2016
SC directs Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs a day till Sept 15; Karnataka releases 10,000 cusecs from
KRS dam to Tamil Nadu. After widespread unrest in state, Supreme Court modifies direction, asks Karnataka to release 12,000 cusecs a day till September 20

SEPT 2017
SC bench reserves verdict

On February 16, Supreme Court reduces allocation of Cauvery water from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu;
directs Karnataka to release 177.25tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu from its inter-state Biligundlu dam. Judgment clarifies that Karnataka will now have enhanced share of 14.75tmcft of water per year,
while Tamil Nadu will get 404.25tmcft, which will be 14.75tmcft less that allotted by tribunal in 2007


  1. 21% deficit rain in Hemavathi catchment area
  2. Only 70% storage level in four reserviors
  3. 38% deficit storage in reservoirs
  4. Paddy, sugarcane prominent crops
  5. Cauvery basin has around 6 lakh acres
  6. Farmers against denial of water for paddy crop
  7. Told to grow semi-dry crops


MAX LEVEL 49.452 tmcft
CURRENT LEVEL 30.59 tmcft

MAX LEVEL 37.103 tmcft
CURRENT LEVEL 29.837 tmcft

MAX LEVEL 8.25 tmcft
CURRENT LEVEL 7.505 tmcft

MAX LEVEL 19.52 tmcft
CURRENT LEVEL 16.30 tmcft

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  • udhayanidhi

    Stalin is the strongest CM of Tamilnadu
    3 months ago reply
  • g.chandrasekar

    the government of india should formulate a distress sharing formula so that distress is shared equally by both the states of TN and Kanataka. The river has been converted into a drainage canal by Karnataka that they would release water oly after the 4 reservoirs are full to the brim and in water shortage year they will hold the water and not release the quota sitpualted by the supreme court and the tribunal. The problem is that the so called national parties both bjp and congress have political stakes in Karnataka but nil in Tamil Nadu do want to address the basic issues. Farmers in both the states should stop planting sugar cane a water guzzling crop in the cauvery delta area.
    3 months ago reply
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