Case Name: Cauvery Water Dispute
I. CASE BACKGROUND
Water has become a vital resource for economic growth and sustainable development. Southern India is currently engaged in conflicts involving shared water resources. This case study focuses on the Cauvery River Dispute. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, both Southern Indian States, rely on the Cauvery River for their water supply. Failed monsoons in 1995 ignited old debates between the two states over water access. The dispute is still in progress as the states battle out their arguments in the Supreme Court. The issue becomes more complicated and intense due to the displacement of local farmers who depend on the water from the Cauvery River for their livlihood. Crops are withering, and tempers are inflamed. Threats of violence have transformed into aggressive protests ending in death, and still there is no solution.
Water as a Resource
In accordance with the principles adopted at the International Conference on Water and the Environment (Dublin, January 1992), it was agreed that "fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment"(1). Water is a resource which is absolutely necessary for the sustained development of a state. Regrettably, the statistics regarding the availability of fresh water in the world are staggering. It is estimated that 1 billion people do not have access to clean water, and 1.7 billion do not have sanitation(2).
The situation in India is a primary example of these startling statistics. The most significant environmental problem in India today is inadequate water supplies for sanitation and drinking. Official reports indicate that in 1993, 42.9 percent of urban India and only 3.5 percent of rural India had access to sanitation facilities. Similarly, 84.9 percent of the urban population and 82 percent of the rural population of India had clean drinking water (3).
Of the water available to India, the agricultural sector consumes 85 percent of the supply. Demand for water from agriculture is expected to rise from 46 Mham in 1990 to 85.5 Mham in 2025(4). In addition to the agricultural water demand, portions of India are also industrial centers which require a substantial amount of water. As rapid growth in India continues, this demand is projected to rise 3 fold by 2025(5).
Water Condition Indicators
Recognizing the issues surrounding water, sustainability indicators can aid in the understanding of future water availability and need. Three indicators are commonly utilized when examining water resources: the water barrier, the import dependence index, and the use to resource ratio. These measures provide an empirical explanation for the current water siltation in the world, and act a guides for effective solutions.
The water barrier measures water sufficiency (6). The measure is the simplest of the three approaches in that it looks only at the available water resources in order to identify the areas that are stretching the limits of the water supply in a given area. Subsequently, the amount of water is then compared to the projected population data and used to identify countries that are likely to experience water barriers in the future. The index is derived by the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization):
Index (m per capita) Condition > 1700 NO STRESS 1000 -- 1700 STRESS 500 -- 1000 SCARCITY < 500 ABSOLUTE SCARCITY
Using this measure, analysts have determined that South East Asia has a water barrier measure of 440 (7). According to the index provided above, South East Asia suffers from "Absolute Water Scarcity."
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Use-to Resource Ratio:
A second sustainability indicator that measures water availability is the Use-to-Resource Ratio. The ratio should be used as a compliment to the water barrier index in that it compares the amount of water required with the level of water available in a country. The measure factors the uses of the water withdrawal (climate, population, industry, agriculture, etc) in order to establish the impact of use levels. The very basic assumption produced by the ratio is that the more a country withdraws, the more likely it is to experience water scarcity. Sustainability, however, must not depend upon how much water is removed, but rather how much water is replaced at a reasonable quality level.
The ratio allows for regional and country conditions. As a result, there are no strict cut off points where scarcity levels are assigned. Rather, a ratio of 25% is considered to be a valid indication of water stress, and a ratio of 5% or below represents solvable water issues (8).
India was assigned a ratio of 18% in 1993. While this measurement does not identify India as suffering from severe water stress, India's percentage is well above the solvable water level.
The third and final sustainability indicator is import dependence which addresses the reliability of water resources. if a country is dependent upon a neighboring country or state for a substantial portion of its water resources, then its water security is subjected to all the possible variables in that other area. Therefore, a country's water security is vulnerable and erratic, both of which are potential problems for sustainability. The index is defined as "the percentage of total renewable water resources originating outside a nation's borders"(9). The higher the import dependence index number, the greater the possibility for water related conflict.
India is only given a import dependence score of 11%, however, this is not a good indication of the internal conflicts brewing within India over water resources. This measure only addresses national border disputes over shared water. Refer to Water and Conflict and the Cauvery River Dispute Case.
Water and the Environment
Farmers, water managers, and industry has little incentive to reduce their use of water since profitability is currently dependent upon larger yields. Continued overuse of water in this manner is guaranteed to take a terrible toll on the environment. Without reforms in water management, improper drainage will lead to waterlogged fields and salt buildup in the soil. This type of land degradation will continue to reduce agricultural yields. If these practices persist into the future, there may be land that is unable to be cultivated (10). In addition, water misuse can have severe effects on surrounding ecosystems such as altered water flows and water quality degradation (11).
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Water and Conflict
As water becomes increasingly scarce, national conflicts are expected to rise. Industry, agriculture, and citizens are in competition for the resource that is so desperately needed for further development. National tensions over the distribution of water can quickly escalate into discord between groups dependent on a shared resource (12).
Water tensions are brewing over shared rivers and basins in many countries around the world. Over 200 bodies of water are shared by two or more countries or areas (13). Strife over water is plaguing states to include the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and South East Asia. Of particular concern for this case is the dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, two states in India, over access to the Cauvery River.
Cauvery River Dispute
The Cauvery River is one of the most contentious water supplies in Southern India. The Cauvery watershed is divided between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (both Southern Indian States). Tamil Nadu does not control any of the Cauvery headwaters, yet is in possession of the tributaries Bhavana and the Moyar. Similar to other divided watersheds (Mekong--Southeast Asia and Colorado--Western United States), there is peace in times of good rains. However, when the monsoons fail, violence erupts (14). There is a tendency now for water issues to reach a crisis which requires a quick fix, rather than pursuing a long term solution (15).
The Cauvery River Dispute has been a serious issue since 1974 when a 50 year old agreement between the Madras president and the princely Mysore state collapsed (16). Karnataka asserts that the 1924 agreement entailed a discontinuation of the water supply to Tamil Nadu after 50 years. The conflict between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka compounds a century old dispute over the vital interests of farmers in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka (17).
In light of the longevity and complexity of the Cauvery River dispute, it is appropriate to highlight the underlying positions of each of the states involved:
While temples are the main attraction to Tamil Nadu, agriculture is the primary means of sustenance. Tamil Nadu relies on the Cauvery River to sustain its agricultural needs. Beyond the Cauvery, Tamil Nadu has very few resources for complex irrigation systems to maintain its water supply. Cauvery is the lifeblood of Tamil Nadu's agriculture, and agriculture is the lifeblood of Tamil Nadu. It is mandatory for Karnataka to abide by the decisions made by the Tribunal and Supreme Court. Karnataka is not above the law, and should be made to release at least 205 TMC of water to Tamil Nadu to save standing crops. Tamil Nadu asserts that water sharing is a national issue that requires the intervention of the Government of India.
Recently, the failed monsoons have created severe drought situations in much of Karnataka. The reservoirs of the Cauvery Basin only reached 23.2 TMC feet of water. The total requirement for Karnataka in 1994 was 24 TMC of water. Therefore, Southern Karnataka and Bangalore City are short of drinking water (18). Water is such a desperate issue that is Karnataka were to release water to Tamil Nadu it would be at the expense of Karnataka's economic growth and its own citizenry (19).
Karnataka contends that the shared river dispute should be made a national issue. It refuses to accept the decisions of the Tribunal because it is not an independent decision making body outside of the influence of either state. Karnataka asserts that it will not abide by any decisions until a National Water Policy is established that would apply to all shared water resources, not just the Cauvery.
After the elapse of the 50 year old agreement, the Cauvery River continued to be a source of conflict for the two states. In April 1991, the Supreme Court of the Government of India reassigned a tribunal to settle the dispute as mandated in the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act. The Tribunal heard arguments from both states, and reached the decision that Karnataka must release 205 TMC of water from the Cauvery reservoirs to Tamil Nadu on a monthly basis (20).
Karnataka declined to accept the ruling of the Tribunal. The Government of Karnataka argued that the Tribunal issued a decision that was not implementable. Due to failed monsoons, many parts of Karnataka were left without adequate water supplies. If the government were to release more than 100 TMC of water to Tamil Nadu, then it would be disadvantaging its own people (21).
The rejection of the Tribunal's decision pushed the negotiations on a downward spiraling path that eventually led to aborted talks. As mentioned previously however, water issues seem to only erupt when there is a lack of adequate rain. In 1992, 1993, and 1994, the rain was sufficient to pacify the the dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka (22).
The most recent conflict over the Cauvery River was in 1996, and continues still today. Beginning in 1995, the monsoons failed to fill the Cauvery tributaries possessed by Tamil Nadu. On January 1, 1996, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Roa asked Karnataka to release an immediate six tmcft (one thousand million cubic feet) of water to Tamil Nadu to save the standing crops. In addition, the Prime Minister announced the immediate formation of an expert council to "spot assess" the status of the standing crop of both states to include the level of water needed to sustain the crops (23).Small and medium sized farmers are suffering due to a lack of water. Crops are withering as tempers flare. As a result of this desperation, threats have turned into acts of violence. Agitation is occurring in cities such as Mandya and Bangalore (24). Students from colleges in Bangalore rioted and smashed window panes of a Tamil Nadu government van . Rioting by citizens of Karnataka ended in attacks on Tamilians that resulted in death (25). The violence continued when officials from Karnataka threatened to block any release of water to Tamil Nadu. Farmers from Mandya besieged the banks of the Cauvery River as a precautionary measure to assure that no water was released. The Cauvery Action Committee headed by Mr. G. Made Gowda, Congressional MP from Manya, formed a "human chain" in Mysore City (26).
It should be noted that despite the stalemate in negotiations and the violence that erupts, Karnataka has been releasing water from the Cauvery River to Tamil Nadu in installments for the last twenty years. The dispute between the two states is over the quantity of water released. The conflict between the people, particularly the farmers, is that there is a release at all.
The inspection process and water dispute continues today. Karnataka still rejects the Tribunal. The state is now suggesting that an independent monitoring committee be established (27). The Committee would be called the Cauvery River Committee and should take the form of a regulatory authority. The experts on the Committee should be outside the control of either state and the Tribunal. The Karnataka Government has suggested that the Committee be comprised of high ranking people with expertise in law, administration, agriculture, and irrigation engineering (28).
Tamil Nadu is now shifting its case from the Supreme Court and Tribunal to the Parliament (29). Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has threatened mass agitation if Karnataka does not comply with the Supreme Court's mandate (30).
As both states continue their struggle over the shared water dispute over the Cauvery River, it is likely that national intervention will be necessary. It has been noted by both states that the National Government of India must become involved in order to secure the future security of the farmers in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (31). Shared water is a national issues that goes beyond the Cauvery River. Numerous rivers in India are shared by two or more states. Similar to Cauvery, disputes and violence are a norm. Water supply is a national issues that is going to require a national response.
3. Duration: 1974 -- Present
The immediate Cauvery River dispute began in 1974 with the elapse of the 50 year old agreement between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and continues still today (32). However, an extended examination of the Cauvery River dispute reveals that the root of the problem began in 1837 with the focus of healthy forests and agriculture. Grazing and dryland agriculture in the watershed was restricted. Further measures were taken to conserve water in the region such as restricted coffee production at higher elevations to decrease the excessive water runoff. These sentiments were carried through the years to include a Treatise by the forest department and Chief Conservatory of Forests for Madras that advanced the conservation of water in Southern India (33).
a. Continent: Asia
b. Region: Tamil Nadu and Karnataka
Tamil Nadu: This Southern Indian state brims with green paddies and palm fields in the East, alluvial plains stretch to the Coromondel Coast to the West, and high rocky hills cover the Northern portion of the state. Tamil Nadu borders Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh.
Karnataka: This state is considered the economic power of southern India. Bangalore, its capital city, is the fastest growing city in India. Growing high tech sectors are centered in Bangalore such as pharmaceutical and chemical industries. Due to the "industry friendly" atmosphere in Karnataka, major international firms are finding it a beneficial location for business. International firms in Karnataka include Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Cargill Corporation (34).
This industrialization is not without consequence for Karnataka. These firms and industry sectors require a mass amount of water; water that is scarce in this region. In times of weak monsoons, the fragile water situation in Southern India is exposed. In order to preserve the industrial growth and protect commercial use in Karnataka, local officials ration water to citizens on a rotational basis.
c. State: India
5. Actors: Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (India)
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6. Type of Environmental Problem
a. Source Problem: water loss
b. Sink Problems: water access
7. Type of Habitat: Tropical
8. Act and Harm Sites:
Action Site Affect Harm India India Farmers from both states are lacking necessary amounts of water to sustain their crops. The result has been outbreaks of riots in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as well as failed crops. See Cauvery River Case.
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9. Type of Conflict: Intrastate
10. Level of Conflict: Low
The level of conflict in the Cauvery River Dispute must be classified as low. The extent of conflict in the dispute is rioting and aggressive vandalism. While some of these acts have resulted in death, the numbers of fatalities do not indicate "war-like" conditions.
11. Fatality Level: about 10
12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:
The rioting and violence that has occurred in the Southern region of India is directly related to resource access. Tamilians have threatened mass agitation if their access to water is not increased, and the people of Karnataka have rioted in response to the threat of decreased water access.
Causal Loop Diagram:
13. Level of Strategic Interest: State
14. Outcome of Dispute: In Progress
The dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the Cauvery River continues today. The dispute flares when the monsoons fail, and pacify when the rains are plenty. Therefore, the recent outburst between the states in 1996 inflamed the dispute yet again, thus keeping the conflict in progress.
IV. Related Information and Sources
15. Related ICE Cases
Assyria and Water Wars
Nile River and Conflict
Litani and Conflict
16. Relevant Websites And Literature
The Hindu Index
International Food Policy Research Institute
Briscoe, John and Harvey A. Garn. "Financing water supply and sanitation under Agenda 21." Natural Resources Forum 19.1 (1995).
"Cauvery Row: Karnataka moots monitoring Panel" Deccan Herald. (September 3, 1997) [online] Available: http://deccanherald.indiaworld.co.in/deccanherald/sep03/river.htm.
"Cauvery Water Dispute Will Flow to Parliament" Rediff (1997) [online] Available:http://www.rediff.co.in/news/apr/09cauv.htm
Dublin Statement. A/Conf.151/PC/112, annex, Principle No.1.
"Experts Group Set Up for Spot Study: PM Asks Karnataka to Release 6 Tmcft to TN." The Hindu Index. (02-01-96).
Gately, David. International Food Policy Research Institute. News Release: "Potential for International and National Water Conflicts is High in Coming Years According to Research Organization." (June 14, 1995) [online] Available: http://www.cgiar.org/IFPRI/PRESSREL/061495c.htm.
"Karnataka to Release 6 Tmcft Water to T. Nadu" Hindu Index. (January 3, 1996). [online] Available: http://www.indiaserver.com/hindu/1996/01/04/THF01.html.
"Karnataka Proposes Independent Body on Cauvery" Mahya Pradesh Chronicle
(August 28, 1997) [online] Available:
Moorthy, N. Sathiya. "TN Lets Centre Worry About Cauvery Dispute" Rediff. [online] Available: http://126.96.36.199/news/jul/03sathi.htm.
Nayar, Kuldip. "Rivers of Dispute" (December 12, 19950 [online] Available: http://www.indiaserver.com/bline/1995/12/29/BLFP04.html.
Pelkey, Neil. "The Cauvery Water War." University of California. [online] Available: http://www.des.ucdavis.edu/staff/pelkey/cauvery.htm.
Raskin, Paul, Evan Hansen and Rovert Mrgoli. "Water and Sustainability: Global Patterns and Long-Range Problems. National Resource Forum. 20:1 (February, 1996).
Reidhead, William. UN Environmental Programme (UNEP). "State of India's Environment (A Quantitative Analysis)." Report #95EE52. (August 1996).
Shri Krisha Marandi (hearing). 15.07.91. no*t03. [online] Available: http://alfa.nic.in/ht/101s/scan/ses1/03150791.htm.
Shri Krisha Marandi (hearing). 10.12.96. no*t16. [online] Available: http://alfa.nic.in/ht/11ls/ses3/1610129.htm.
"The Politics of Water" The Hindu (August 18, 1996) [online] Available: http://www.webpage.com/hindu/daily/960818/05/05182511.htm
"TN Flays State Stand on Cauvery Authority" Deccan Herald [online] (September 3, 1997) Available: http://deccanherald.iniaworld.co.in/deccanherald/Sep03/cauvery.htm.
"Unshared Waters." Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay). July 18, 1997.
XI LOK SABHA DEBATES. Mansoon Session. (July 12, 1996). [online] Available: http://alfa.nic.in/ht/11ls/ses2/1212079601.htm.
1 Dublin Statement. A/Conf.151/PC/112, annex, Principle No.1.
2. Briscoe, John and Harvey A. Garn. "Financing water supply and sanitation under Agenda 21." Natural Resources Forum 19.1 (1995).
3. Reidhead, William. UN Environmental Programme (UNEP). "State of India's Environment (A Quantitative Analysis)." Report #95EE52. (August 1996).
6 Raskin, Paul, Evan Hansen and Rovert Mrgoli. "Water and Sustainability: Global Patterns and Long-Range Problems. National Resource Forum. 20:1 (February, 1996).
10 Gately, David. International Food Policy Research Institute. News Release: "Potential for International and National Water Conflicts is High in Coming Years According to Research Organization." (June 14, 1995) [online] Available: http://www.cgiar.org/IFPRI/PRESSREL/061495c.htm.
14. Pelkey, Neil. "The Cauvery Water War." University of California. [online] Available: http://www.des.ucdavis.edu/staff/pelkey/cauvery.htm.
15. "The Politics of Water" The Hindu (August 18, 1996) [online] Available: http://www.webpage.com/hindu/daily/960818/05/05182511.htm
16. Moorthy, N. Sathiya. "TN Lets Centre Worry About Caurvery Dispute" Rediff. [online] Available: http://188.8.131.52/news/jul/03sathi.htm.
17."Unshared Waters." Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay). July 18, 1997.
18. Shri Krisha Marandi (hearing). 10.12.96. no*t16. [online] Available: http://alfa.nic.in/ht/11ls/ses3/1610129.htm.
20. Shri Krisha Marandi (hearing). 15.07.91. no*t03. [online] Available: http://alfa.nic.in/ht/101s/scan/ses1/03150791.htm.
22. Shri Krisha Marandi (hearing). 10.12.96. no*t16. [online] Available: http://alfa.nic.in/ht/11ls/ses3/1610129.htm.
23. "Experts Group Set Up for Spot Study: PM Asks Karnataka to Release 6 Tmcft to TN." The Hindu Index. (02-01-96).
24. Shri Krisha Marandi (hearing). 10.12.96. no*t16. [online] Available: http://alfa.nic.in/ht/11ls/ses3/1610129.htm.
25. Nayar, Kuldip. "Rivers of Dispute" (December 12, 19950 [online] Available: http://www.indiaserver.com/bline/1995/12/29/BLFP04.html.
26. "Karnataka to Release 6 Tmcft Water to T. Nadu" Hindu Index. (January 3, 1996). [online] Available: http://www.indiaserver.com/hindu/1996/01/04/THF01.html.
27. "Cauvery Row: Karnataka moots monitoring Panel" Deccan Herald. (September 3, 1997) [online] Available: http://deccanherald.indiaworld.co.in/deccanherald/sep03/river.htm.
28. "Karnataka Proposes Independent Body on Cauvery" Mahya Pradesh Chronicle
(August 28, 1997) [online] Available:
29. "Cauvery Water Dispute Will Flow to Parliament" Rediff (1997) [online] Available:http://www.rediff.co.in/news/apr/09cauv.htm
30. "TN Flays State Stand on Cauvery Authority" Deccan Herald [online] (September 3, 1997) Available: http://deccanherald.iniaworld.co.in/deccanherald/Sep03/cauvery.htm.
31. Shri Krisha Marandi (hearing). 10.12.96. no*t16. [online] Available: http://alfa.nic.in/ht/11ls/ses3/1610129.htm.
32. Moorthy, N. Sathiya. "TN Lets Centre Worry About Caurvery Dispute" Rediff. [online] Available: http://184.108.40.206/news/jul/03sathi.htm.
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