Cauvery is regarded as one of the most sacred rivers in South India. It originates from Western Ghats in Coorg district of Karnataka. The river is nearly 765 km in length. It blesses the states of Karnataka, Kerela, Tamil Nadu & Puducherry with its pure water. During the journey of its flow, the river descends the Eastern Ghats in the form of falls. Finally, it empties into the Bay of Bengal, South of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu.

Cauvery River Basin

World has been the spectator to the fact that all the civilizations whether big or small have thrived on the river water. Cauvery has also sustained many ancient civilizations. Rivers trigger life, prosperity and subsequently happiness. So, what caused the Cauvery water to spur unrest and agitation when it comes to its water sharing? Is it really Cauvery to be blamed or are there some other bodies responsible for causing the havoc?

Let’s dive a little deeper into the history to know about the issue in detail.

In 19th Century, Karnataka was popularly known as Mysore State while Tamil Nadu was referred to as the Madras Presidency under the British regime. Mysore was under the British rule for some time period until the middle of the 19th century also witnessed droughts and famines in the 1870s. Mysore and Madras were both utilizing the Cauvery water. But with the situation worsening because of the droughts, need for a water reservoir was ascertained. Hence in 1892 an agreement was signed between Mysore and Madras to arbitrate the water sharing. Mysore at this time was under its own Monarchial rule while Madras under the British rule. Mysore at the same time had intended to construct irrigation systems as a part of agreement but Madras Presidency had turned down their request. This incited some coldness between the two heavenly states of India

In 1910’s, Mysore’s plan to construct a dam of 41.5 TMC feet water capacity was again cancelled by Madras presidency although Madras itself had been planning to build a dam of 80 TMC in Mettur.

A conflict was now openly visible between the two states for the first time in the history of the united India. To pacify the hurt sentiments of both the parties a settlement stage was reached in 1924. Mysore was allowed to build a dam of 11 TMC at Kannambadi village.  The deliverables of the agreement were binding to both the states for 50 years. Thereafter, the same was supposed to be reviewed and revised. Hence, Mysore built the Krishna Raja Sagar dam which also releases water to the Mettur dam for Tamil Nadu.

After India got independent in 1947, the equations also got changed. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala & Puducherry emerged as a party to the underlying conflict. Karnataka approached Tamil Nadu for reviewing the agreement of 1924 before its expiry but the request was turned down.

Through several attempts by both the major parties- Karnataka & Tamil Nadu, an expert committee was formed.  Upon its recommendation an accord was reached between the two states. In 1976 the newly formed government refused to comply with the same. This aggravated the situation.

In 1980’s there were several rounds of meetings, agitations, allegations and demonstrations. Realizing the gravity of the issue and upon appeal, the Supreme Court of India came into action. It directed the formation of a 3-man “The Cauvery Water Tribunal” on 2nd June, 1990. The states put their following demands before the tribunal-

  • Tamil Nadu- 556 TMC
  • Karnataka- 456 TMC
  • Puducherry- 9.3 TMC
  • Kerala- 99.8 TMC

In 1991, Karnataka was asked to release water to Tamil Nadu, which was not followed. But upon Supreme Court’s order Karnataka had to release water. There were lots of violence and agitations in Bangalore. Tamilians residing in Bangalore fled back to their mother state. However, similar events kept happening till 2007.

On 5th February, 2007, the Tribunal announced the verdict on the share of water as under-

  • Tamil Nadu- 419 TMC
  • Karnataka- 270 TMC
  • Kerala- 30 TMC
  • Puducherry- 7 TMC
  • Environmental purposes- 14 TMC to be kept as reserved.

Both Karnataka & Tamil Nadu expressed their dissonance and filed a review petition before the tribunal. On 19th September, 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was also the Chairman of Cauvery River Authority directed Karnataka to release 9000 cusecs of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu water daily. As there were droughts in the state, so Karnataka refused to comply with the PM’s request. 

Again in August, 2016 Tamil Nadu filed a petition in the  Supreme Court of India to direct Karnataka to release water. However, Karnataka Chief Minister proclaimed that its dams were empty. This led to massive protests in Tamil Nadu.

On 5th September, 2016 Supreme Court directed Karnataka to release 15000 cusecs/day till 15th September,2016. The order was later modified to release 12000 cusecs/day till 20th September.  There were riots in Bangalore. Curfew was imposed in the Silicon Valley of India. There was a mass outrage. Public life came to a standstill. There were fires, destructions. Shops and vehicles belonging to Tamil Nadu were vandalized. The agitation played its havoc disrupting the economic and social workflow of India’s progress.

Its high time when the public should actively take part in helping their respective state government to reach a mutual consensus. It is not just my state or your state, it is our India as a whole that eventually suffers because of such catastrophic protests or demonstrations.

About the author


Hi I am Nilay. I have launched this platform to enrich the society with GYAAN (Knowledge) with respect to most relevant events and concepts influencing our day to day life.

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