Karnataka water disputes with Tamil Nadu, Goa boil or simmer under surface

The Congress might hope that the Karnataka government’s decision to grant a “minority” status to the Lingayat and Veerashaiva-Lingayat castes will impact the BJP’s tactic to consolidate the state’s Hindus by dimming the caste fault lines.  The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) might persist in using issues like the advocacy of militant vegetarianism and “nationalism” to answer the caste challenge. 

Beneath the political potency that such factious subjects have, Karnataka is grappling with more serious state-related matters that impinge as much upon the Centre’s ability to adjudicate fairly and seek resolution.

One of the issues is a perennial one, involving the distribution of the waters from the rivers flowing through Karnataka and its neighbours. The issue works up emotions to the same degree as a communal one might and sets off conflicts between local communities. If the Cauvery water-sharing dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu — dating back to 1892 between the erstwhile Madras Presidency under the British Raj and the princely Mysore state — has exploded again into a war, the discord between Karnataka and Goa over dividing the water of the Mahadayi river simmers under the surface. The altercation might have blown up before the Assembly elections, had Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar not been out of action. Parrikar is away in the US for medical treatment.

Tamil Nadu’s principal Opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), called a “bandh” on April 6 to protest a Supreme Court ruling on Cauvery and the Centre’s “inability” to work for an amicable resolution despite being directed by the apex court to seek one. To retaliate, Karnataka activist Vatal Nagaraj has announced a shutdown on April 12 to force the Centre not to “succumb” to the DMK’s pressure for setting up the Cauvery Management Board. Nagaraj is not a peasant leader in the mould of Karnataka legends like K S Puttamaiah and Professor M D Nanjundaswamy because he is used to flagging issues that play on popular emotions and could fuel the rhetoric used by political parties. Cauvery is one of them because in 2017 Nagaraj protested against comments made by Sathyaraj, a Tamil film actor, during a Cauvery agitation spearheaded by the Tamil Nadu Actors’ Association. 

On February 16 this year, the Supreme Court tweaked the 2007 verdict of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (set up in 1990) and increased Karnataka’s share at Tamil Nadu’s expense. The court also directed the Centre to formulate a scheme for apportioning water between Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry but the Narendra Modi government sought a three-month extension, citing the Assembly elections as the reason. If and when it comes to the crunch, the political belief is that the BJP will likely tilt towards Karnataka, where its political investments far exceed those in Tamil Nadu. 

The 765-km-long Cauvery originates in Karnataka’s Kodagu district and flows through Hassan, Mandya and Mysore in the Old Mysuru region before entering Tamil Nadu. Old Mysuru has the lion’s share of 65 Assembly seats (out of the 224) and has traditionally seen a direct fight between the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular). The BJP just about exists in 10 seats.

Although it has featured less in the public domain, the Goa-Karnataka fracas over portioning out the Mahadayi waters has proved as intractable as Cauvery. The dispute, when it began in July 1980, was confined to the Malaprabha command area. Called the Naragund rebellion, the area’s farmers revolted against the then chief minister R Gundu Rao’s decision to collect a betterment levy without providing water from the Mahadayi. 

Goa was irked by Karnataka’s move to design and construct dams, canals and barrages that would route the Mahadayi waters to the Malaprabha basin and water the parched districts of Bagalkot, Gadag, Dharwad and Belgaum in “Bombay” Karnataka, bordering Maharashtra, to the north-west.

Goa’s contentions were that its population was dependent on the river’s natural course, diversion would impair the fragile ecosystem and deprive the state of the quantum of required water. Karnataka’s point was since Goa “allowed” the surplus water to flow into the sea, it should be channelled into the deficit Malaprabha basin. 

Eventually, the Supreme Court stayed the construction of dams and canals by Karnataka and set up a water dispute tribunal that Goa sought in 2010. Goa accused Karnataka of being a bully.

The BJP found itself between a rock and a hard resting place. Soon after the BJP formed a government in Goa in 2017,  the party president,  Amit Shah, asked Parrikar and Karnataka CM candidate B S Yeddyurappa to “settle” the matter. Parrikar did not meet Yeddyurappa but in deference to Shah’s directive he wrote a missive in which he stated that Goa was willing to release the Mahadayi water as long as it was used only for drinking in the drought-prone areas and not for irrigation. 

As Yeddyurappa flaunted Parrikar’s letter as a “resolution”, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah asked on whose authority had Yeddyurappa “acted” and whether he was the country’s prime minister. Nothing more was heard of the Mahadayi issue but the BJP leaders and workers of “Bombay” Karnataka have pressured the party to articulate their stand, failing which they may have a hard time answering people’s questions.

Milestones in Karnataka’s famous riparian discords with neighbouring states

Cauvery River

* 1974: The agreement signed between Madras Presidency and the princely State of Mysore in 1924 lapses.

* May 1990: Supreme Court directs Centre to constitute Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal, a demand made by Tamil Nadu since 1970.


* Jan: The CWDT rejects Tamil Nadu government's plea for interim relief. TN appeals in Court.

* Apr: Supreme Court directs the CWDT to entertain TN's petition for interim relief.

* Jun: The CWDT announces an interim award; Karnataka ordered to release 205 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet). Karnataka govt passes an ordinance to nullify the order. SC strikes down Karnataka's ordinance and upholds the interim award. Karnataka refuses to oblige.

* Dec 11: Interim award is notified in the Government of India gazette.

* Jul 1993: Tamil Nadu’s then chief minister J Jayalalithaa goes on a sudden fast at the MGR memorial in Chennai demanding Tamil Nadu's water share stipulated in the interim order.

* Aug 1998: Centre constitutes Cauvery River Authority to ensure the implementation of the CWDT award.


* Sep 8: Cauvery River Authority chaired by then Prime Minister Vajpayee directs Karnataka to release 0.8 tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu is unhappy with the order, says it will move Supreme Court.

* Sep 18: Protesting against the release of water to Tamil Nadu, a Karnataka farmer jumps into the Kabini Reservoir and dies.

* Oct 12, 2003: Water experts from the Centre express their helplessness.

* Jul 17, 2005: Karnataka rules out giving Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu.

* Feb 5, 2007: After 16 years, Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal gives final award, validates the agreements of 1892 and 1924 executed between the governments of Madras and Mysore.

* Feb 12: Karnataka protests tribunal final award. IT professionals join in.

* Mar 18: Jayalalithaa on token fast in Chennai demanding publication of the final award in the Centre’s official gazette.

* May 19: Jayalalithaa demands Cauvery River Authority (CRA) meet.

* Sep 19: After nine years, at the seventh CRA meet, Manmohan Singh directs Karnataka to release 9,000 cusecs of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu at Biligundlu. Both CMs, Jayalalithaa and Jagadish Shettar reject the directive. 

* Sep 28: Supreme Court slams Karnataka government for not complying with PM's direction.

* Feb 29: Centre notifies the final CWDT award. (CWDT). The Central government was mandated to constitute the Cauvery Management Board (CMB) simultaneously with the gazette notification of the final award of the Tribunal of Feb. 19.

* May 28: Tamil Nadu moves Supreme Court, seeks Rs 2480 crore damages from Karnataka for not following CWDT orders.

* Jun 28: Tamil Nadu files contempt petition in the Supreme Court against Siddharamaiah for his defiant stand before the Supervisory Committee

* Jul 2014: The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal meets in New Delhi to hear Centre, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala’s applications on the allocation od water for each state.

* Sep 6: Chief Minister Jayalalithaa requests PM Modi to advise the Karnataka Government to release 27.557 TMC ft. of water that was due to Tamil Nadu (till the end of August).

* Nov 18: Karnataka objects to TN’s plea. Says the flows into the Cauvery basin were drastically reduced because the south-west monsoon failed. 

* Sep 5, 2016: Supreme Court directs the Karnataka government to release 15,000 cusecs of water per day to TN for the next 10 days. 


* Sep 7: Karnataka begins releasing water amidst  state wide protests..

* Sep 11: Under political pressure, the Karnataka government petitions the apex court to modify its order.

* Sep 12: The court reduces the quantum of water from 15,000 cusecs to 12,000 cusecs per day; Tamil traders and businessmen in Karnataka are attacked.

* Feb 16, 2018: Supreme Court reduces the allocation of Cauvery water and directs Karnataka to release 177.25 tmcft to Tamil Nadu. The judgement clarified that Karnataka will henceforth have an enhanced share of 14.75 tmcft water per year while Tamil Nadu will get 404.25 tmcft, 14.74 tmcft less than what the tribunal had allotted in 2007.   

Source: Cauvery Issue-A Timeline by T Arvind, The Hindu, Feb 16, 2018

Mahadayi (known as Mandovi in Goa)


* Farmers in North Karnataka’s Dharwad and Gadag districts protest because the Karnataka government, with R Gundu Rao as the chief minister, had collected a betterment levy from them without providing water. Rao forms a committee headed by SR Bommai, Opposition leader.

* Bommai committee recommends linking Mahadayi to Malaprabha river.

* 1989: Bommai becomes chief minister, signs an MoU with Goa to construct a dam near Kalasa, Karnataka. Doesn’t take off because his government fall.


* S M Krishna takes up the Kalasa-Banduri Nala project.

* Goa government, headed by Manohar Parrikar, approaches Centre for constituting a Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal to apportion water between Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Then NDA government puts off clearance for the Kalasa-Banduri Nala project. 

* 2006: BJP-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government resumes construction of the project. Goa petitions Supreme Court for creating a tribunal.

* 2010: UPA government sets up the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal.

* 2016: Tribunal rejects Karnataka’s demand to divert 7.56 TMC of water from Mahadayi basin to Malaprabha river. Farmers protest all over North Karnataka.

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