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The Timeless Conflict of the Cauvery.

“I hear her weep,

With blood flowing through her eyes. Blood of two states fighting for her mother,

I hear her weep,

Day and night watching her children fall out.

She weeps for us while we spill blood trying to share her”.

One of the most exciting matches in an IPL (Indian Premier League) cricket match can be awarded to Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK). The match kicks the heat up a notch on the field as well as off the field. Fans of both teams indulge in bitter arguments, trolls, and memes on the internet, and a few healthy physical encounters. But the rivalry doesn’t limit itself to a game of cricket. It extends itself to border issues between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, friction in the state between the migrants over language, and the most controversial and burning conflict- The Cauvery River Strife.

Considered as one of the seven holy rivers in India, River Kaveri is also known as Cauvery, takes birth at Talakaveri, in the Brahmagiri range in the Western Ghats, Kodagu district, and flows through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Covering a 44,000 square kilometers basin area in Tamil Nadu and a 32,000 km basin area in Karnataka, the Kaveri River stretches out to 802 kilometers. The inflow from Karnataka was 425 TMCft and from Tamil Nadu is 252 TMCft. With a catchment area of 81,155 square kilometers and many tributaries such as Harangi, Kabini, Arkavathi, Hemavathi, the Kaveri River basin covers a total of three states and a union territory. The river basin covers a majority of the area in Tamil Nadu with 43,868 square kilometers followed by Karnataka with 34,273 square kilometers Kerala, 2,866 square kilometers, and Puducherry, 148 square kilometers. Worshipped as a sacred river in South India, river Kaveri rises at Talakaveri in Karnataka and flows through the state of Tamil Nadu by dividing it into north and south through its course before it meets the Bay of Bengal at Poompuhar in Mayiladuthurai district. A lifeline for agriculture and the farmers, the sharing of the river has created a series of riots and disputes between the states since the 1900s.

During the 19th century, the British controlled both the regions of Madras and Mysore. Several irrigation plans were mapped out for the appropriate utilization of the river to help both the regions through which the river flowed. But the plans were brought to a halt due to a severe drought and famine during the mid-1870s. By 1881, the Mysore province was back under the rule of Mysore kings who decided to bring back the irrigation plans to life. But the decision was confronted with resistance by the Madras presidency. The British Government who controlled Madras intervened and an agreement was drawn which allowed Mysore to deal with irrigation prospects and gave Madras a practical power to be consulted by the Mysore rulers before the development of any projects. Thus, fueled by the British Government, in 1892 the agreement to share the river Cauvery was signed by both the Madras presidency and the Mysore Kingdom. But over time, the agreement did not bear fruit for both the parties and resulted in the formation of a new agreement in 1924.

Credits: Google Images

In 1910, the construction of the Kannambadi dam across the Cauvery was proposed by the Mysore province. At a similar time, Madras proposed an irrigation project on the river and a plan to construct a storage dam at Mettur. The objection between the two authorities was mediated by the Indian Government, who asked the two states to reach an agreement themselves. But a failure in doing so resulted in the appointment of the Court of Arbitration to intervene in the issue. Sir Henry Griffin administered the formulation of the agreement in February 1924, valid for the next 50 years. The agreement of 1924 consisted of 10 clauses, and for the next 50 years, 75 percent of the Cauvery water was allotted to Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, while 23 percent would be given to Mysore. The remaining portion was designated to the state of Kerala, then Travancore. River Kaveri supports a major life system and supports a greater economic strength in all the regions it flows.

The origin of the conflict lies in the two agreements of 1892 and 1924. With both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu disagreeing over certain terms and the controversies thus began. While the former claimed that the agreement of 1924 was limited only to 50 years and is no longer applicable, the latter adhered to the clauses of the agreement and suggested that they be reviewed and not completely changed. Post-independence, in 1956, boundaries were drawn across the states and Coorg became part of Mysore based on the linguistics in the region. Similarly, the demography changed and Kerala now held a major stake in one of the tributaries of river Cauvery, Kabini originating in Kerala. Parts of Puducherry also fell under the river basin and therefore demanded a fair share of its water. The heat of the situation reached the Central government by the late 1960s when the 50-year validity of the 1924 agreement was inching closer to expiry. As a result, negotiations and discussions continued over the sharing of the river for 10 long years.

In the year 1970, a Cauvery Fact-Finding Committee (CFFC) was formed to survey the real-time conditions and come up with a report. Under the authority of Jagjeevan Ram, the then Irrigation Minister of the Central Government, a series of discussions led to the creation of a final draft of the report by CFFC. During the early 1980s, Karnataka started the construction of Harangi Dam in Kodagu which was opposed by Tamil Nadu who then demanded the formation of a Tribunal to deal with such issues. And in the year 1986, a farmer’s association in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu consulted the Supreme Court and stressed the formation of a tribunal. But the case remained fruitless till 1990.

After several discussions, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal was set up by the Supreme Court under the supervision of Justice Chittatosh Mookerjee. Every state claimed its stake and presented its demands to the tribunal. While Karnataka claimed 465 TMC, Kerala claimed 99.8TMC, Puducherry claimed 9.3 TMC, and Tamil Nadu claimed that the clauses of the agreement of 1892 and 1924 be followed which allowed 566 TMC for Tamil Nadu and Puducherry; 177 TMC for Karnataka and 5 TMC for Kerala. The tribunal formation led to a demand by Tamil Nadu and asked Karnataka to immediately release water which was later dismissed. When the Supreme Court was approached by Tamil Nadu, it asked the tribunal to revisit the plea. On careful examination, the tribunal gave an interim award on 25 June 1991 in favor of Tamil Nadu and ordered Karnataka to release 205 TMC in a good water year. The calculations for the average inflow to Tamil Nadu during the years 1980–81 and 1989–90 were considered. But the extreme years of drought and famine were ignored. This was considered partial to Karnataka and sought to abrogate the tribunal’s award. But the award was upheld and the ordinance raised by Karnataka was squashed by the Supreme Court. The 1991 Anti-Tamil Violence was a child of this decision.

Image Credits: Google Images

Following the tribunal award, riots broke out targeting Tamilians in many parts of Karnataka. Mobs created violence by attacking Tamil laborers in Bangalore. The pro-Kannada organizations followed the orders of Vatal Nagaraj who called for a bandh on December 13, 1991. Roaming the streets carrying sticks, the Kannada flag bearers targeted vehicles bearing Tamil Nadu license plates, shops, and businesses owned by Tamilians, and areas with a Tamil majority. The event forced the thousands of those who belonged Tamil community to flee the state and left more than 17 Tamilians dead. The beginning of subsequent riots started here.

The year 1995-1996 saw a major monsoon failure in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. But the need for water led Tamil Nadu to approach the Supreme Court with a demand to release 30 TMC to the state. Denied by the Supreme Court, the state was asked to approach the tribunal for any water-related issues. After a thorough investigation, the tribunal ordered Karnataka to release 11 TMC to Tamil Nadu. But this was not accepted by Karnataka due to an acute shortage of water. Hence, Tamil Nadu approached the Supreme Court again which asked Prime Minister P.V.Narasimha Rao to intervene in the matter. A careful scrutinization of the matter with the two chief ministers of the state resulted in the release of 6 TMC of water instead of 11 TMC to Tamil Nadu that year. Karnataka found the interim award by the tribunal flawed and never adhered to the tribunal’s orders (except 1995-1996). Thus, a Cauvery River Authority was proposed which was given the powers to take control of the dams if the interim orders were not obeyed. But this power was soon brought down by the Government who revised the authority of the committee and formed two new bodies namely the Cauvery River Authority and Cauvery Monitoring Committee. The former included the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers of the states and the latter consisted of engineers and other officers who were responsible for taking into account the ground realities.

The monsoons failed again in the year 2002 and the states were again at a tiff with each other. Though the reservoir levels were extremely low, Tamil Nadu demanded Karnataka to respect the interim award and release water in such conditions. And yet another meeting was called by the Cauvery River Authority which ended in a dramatic way when Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha walked out of the meeting. The Supreme Court had to interject again and ordered the release of 1.25 TMC every day. But a revised order to release 0.8 TMC per day instead of 1.25 TMC was issued by the Cauvery River Authority. But Karnataka found this impartial during the need of the hour and openly denied the order of the authority. Protests erupted in Cauvery regions and slowly spread to other districts. Karnataka stopped the release of water and things took an ugly turn in the state. The Supreme Court order to resume the release of water was disregarded by Karnataka resulting in an upheaval in both states. Buses were blocked from either of the states, Tamil channels and screening of Tamil movies were blocked and soon film actors of both the fraternity joined the protests with Mandya being under the spotlight.

With both the states agreeing and disagreeing over the sharing of the river, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal announced its final verdict on 5 February 2007. And the verdict goes thus, 419 TMC of the water was allotted to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka got a share of 270 TMC. The yearly share of water was allocated at 192 TMC by Karnataka to Tamil Nadu divided carefully depending on the season. In the year 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered Karnataka to release 9000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu every day. But due to the drought conditions, this was objected to by Karnataka. But by the order of the Supreme Court, Karnataka was forced to release the aforementioned quantity.

The genesis of the 2012 riots lies in this verdict. Pro-Karnataka organizations formed a “Kannada Okkoota” and called for a Karnataka bandh on October 6th, 2012. The plea made by the Karnataka Governments was rejected by the Prime Minister and as retaliation, Karnataka stopped the release of water immediately.

Image Credits: Google Images

The event precipitated itself to 2016 when the state of Karnataka organized a state-wide bandh on 9 September. Protests broke out in Bangalore, Mandya, Mysore, and other parts of the state. Farmers and their families committed suicide in the parts of the Cauvery districts. A staggering 30 buses were set on fire across the state. Public places were attacked and damaged. Curfew was imposed in Bangalore and section 144 was brought in place to bring the riots under control. The gravity of the situation led to the formation of The Cauvery Supervisory Committee by the Supreme Court to look into the matter more seriously. The committee ordered a release of 3000 cusecs per day for 10 days. Further, the Supreme court ordered to release of 6000 cusecs per day over 7 days. However, the Karnataka Government passed a resolution to stop the release of water to Tamil Nadu quashing the Supreme Court’s order. A special session was held to look into the petition filed by the Karnataka Government against the Supreme court order to release 6000 cusecs every day. To and fro discussions pushed the final verdict by the Supreme Court to the year 2018.

The much-awaited announcement by the Supreme Court was delivered on 16 February 2018. It reduced 14.75 TMC allocation to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka was ordered to release 177 TMC instead. The final numbers looked as follows: Karnataka with 284.75 TMC, Tamil Nadu with 404.25 TMC, Kerala with 30 TMC, and Puducherry with 7 TMC. With a mixed reaction in both the states, the 122-year-old crisis was now settled and accepted with a heavy heart.

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