The river Cauvery starts from Brahmagir rangers of the Western Ghats in Coorg district of Karnataka and traverses through Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry to join the Bay of Bengal at Kaveripattnam. It is the life line of South India just like Ganga for North India. It is one of the seven sacred rivers of India and is known as Dakshina Ganga. Total length of Cauvery is about 800 Kim’s out of which it covers 380 Kim’s in Karnataka before reaching the Karnataka -Tamil Nadu border. The river forms a boundary between the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu up to a distance of 64 Kim’s. Then it traverses a length of about 357 Kim’s in Tamil Nadu before joining the Bay of Bengal.
The Cauvery basin extends over 32,273 sq km(42.2%) of Karnataka,2886 sq.km(3.5%)in kerela,43868 sq.km(54.3%) of Tamil Nadu and 148 sq.km of Pondicherry amounting to a total of 81,155sq.km in all. In the year 1924 an agreement was arrived at by British ruled madras presidency on the one part and Mysore state ruled by maharaja of Mysore on the other for the utilization of water of river Cauvery. The 1924 agreement was followed up to the reorganization of states on linguistic basis after which Mysore state become Karnataka. Karnataka considers the 1924 agreement to be one sided imposed by an imperial government upon a vassal state. Hence in the year 1974 Karnataka put forward its claim that the 1924 agreement having completed its 50 years had lapsed and that the state was more bound by terms and provisions thereof.
To the claim of Karnataka the state of Tamil Nadu reacted adversely and hence the issue was referred to the supreme court of India. The Supreme Court directed the government of India to constitute a tribunal to settle the dispute. Accordingly Cauvery water dispute tribunal was constituted. In June 1991 the tribunal gave its interim order on the following lines:
- Karnataka would release 205 thousand cubic feet of water of Tamil Nadu's Mettur reservoir in a year from June to May.
- Water would be released in four equal installments.
- Karnataka on its part will not increase its area under irrigation above 11.2 Lakh acres till the final settlement of the issue.
- Tamil Nadu would release 6 thousand cubic meter feet of water for Pondicherry.
The order would remain operative till the final adjudication of the dispute.
Karnataka government in protest against the interim order moved an application to the tribunal in June, 1994 seeking modification to the interim order for releasing 205 Tmcft of water. It requested for reducing the quantum of flow and for modifying the manner of release of water as also for giving liberty to increase area under irrigation beyond 11.2 Lakh acres, in the Cauvery basin. Karnataka also emphasized that the interim order should be modified so to stipulate that Tamil Nadu should not increase its area under irrigation by Cauvery beyond the average of four years ending 1989-1990. So that existing utilization of water as envisaged in the order could be ensured.
Tamil Nadu, on its part, filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court in July 1994 requesting for an interim directive to Karnataka government, for releasing Cauvery water. It was emphasized that there was enough water in the Cauvery basin which Karnataka could easily spare for Tamil Nadu where water is needed for its short term korowai crop.
Main problem between the two states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu started with the fear of failure of south west monsoon in July-August 2002. In the opinion of experts the problem can be attributed to scanty rainfall during south-west and north monsoon. On September 3, 2002 the Supreme Court directed Karnataka government to release 1.25 tmcft into Mettur dam till the Cauvery river authority gave its verdict. Later the apex court ordered that Karnataka would continue to release 0.8 tmcft till November 7, 200, where after the release could be resumed in accordance with schedule drawn under the Cauvery dispute tribunal's interim order. On February 6, 2003 the Supreme Court directed Karnataka government to release 4500 cause of water at the Mettur dam till the Cauvery river authority headed by the prime minister look a decision at its meeting on February 10, 2003. As per the Supreme Court’s order the decision of prime minister on the release of water would be final.
Tamil Nadu pleaded before the Supreme Court that ever since the interim order had been passed by the Cauvery tribunal in June, 1991. Karnataka had never fully implemented the tribunal order and that whatever Tamil Nadu had received was only the surplus from the four reservoirs of Karnataka. it was also pointed out that while Karnataka was entitled to utilize 83 tmcft of water according to the distress sharing formula but it had utilize 115 tmcft more. As a result the entire Kuruvai crop on 11 Lakh acres was destroyed and standing samba crop on 5 Lakh acres was facing the same fate.
Karnataka on its part asserts that they have released more water than was stipulated in the interim order. They also pointed out that storage of the four reservoirs was hardly sufficient to meet the state's own drinking water requirement. However, as a gesture of good will they would release 1200 cusec water per day till the CRA took any decision.
Then the dispute goes on and there seems to be no solution in sight. Selfish motive and political consideration come in the way of proper decision. To find a solution acceptable to both the contesting states is very difficult. however it is the need of the hour that chief ministers of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu adopt the policy of give and take, rise above the selfish motives of their respective states, give due consideration to the difficulties of each other and work in all earnestness for a viable and mutually beneficial formula for distress sharing. This is possible only on the basis of mutual understanding and constructive cooperation just like the decision taken by the chief minister of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh to shun the path of confrontation and resolve the water sharing dispute. According them, "we have decided to hold a dialogue to sort out issues. Confrontation will only complicate problems and delay a solution ". They have decided to modernize the Tungabhadra canals.