Century-old Cauvery dispute remains in limbo
The efforts to resolve the century-old dispute over sharing of
Cauvery waters between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu across the table
appear to be jinxed with the failure of talks between the chief
ministers of the two states at Madras on Sunday, January 5.
The issue is back to square one with Tamil Nadu deciding to seek
a remedy through the tribunal and Karnataka having already decided
to boycott the tribunal.
This is the third abortive attempt to find a negotiated settlement
for the vexatious issue at a political level in the post Independence
Earlier attempts in 1974 and 1989 also failed to break the deadlock.
Hopes that Karnataka Chief Minister J H Patel and his Tamil Nadu
counterpart M Karunanidhi would strike an agreement in the context
of changed political scenario were belied as they could not find
any meeting ground despite five rounds of intense negotiations
initiated at the instance of a Supreme Court directive.
The issue came close to solution during the five rounds of talks
though it broke down on Sunday reportedly over differences on
the percentage of sharing.
A solution to the dispute was in sight way back in 1974 when a
draft agreement was almost ready when the late Jagjeevan Ram was
the federal irrigation minister. The agreement, which also provided
for setting up of a Cauvery Valley Authority, fell through for
want of ratification as the subsequent government in Tamil Nadu
rejected it on the ground that it was evolved during the president
rule in the state.
The 802-km-long river, which takes birth at Talacauvery in Kodagu
district in Karnataka and traverse mainly through Karnataka and
Tamil Nadu has been the bone of contention between the two states
for well over a century now.
The issue reached a crucial phase in 1990 when a three-member
tribunal was set up by the federal government headed by V P Singh
after Tamil Nadu reported failure of talks.
The tribunal gave its interim award after Tamil Nadu approached
it but the same was questioned by Karnataka. Both the Congress
government and the subsequent Janata Dal government headed by
H D Deve Gowda in Karnataka, however, released water on "humanitarian
With the change of the federal government after the Lok Sabha
elections, Justice Chittatosh Mukkherjee resigned as chairman
of the tribunal. Earlier the Supreme Court, while dealing with
a petition filed by Tamil Nadu directed the two states to settle
the issue through talks exhibiting a sense of statesmanship.
The Cauvery dispute was first referred to an arbitrator in 1910.
The then Madras government had objected to the Kannambadi reservoir
being built to its envisaged capacity of 41.5 TMCFT. Sir H D Griffins
was appointed as arbitrator and he began his proceedings in July
1913 and gave his award the next year.
The Madras government had then raised objections under 1892 agreement
on the ground that under the agreement no irrigation project could
be taken up without its consent. Though the objection was overruled,
it was later suspended following an appeal by Madras to the secretary
of state for India.
Then negotiations began between the two parties and the now contentious
agreement was signed in February 1924. A dispute again arose within
five years over interpretation of a clause and the issue again
went for arbitration. However both the parties settled the dispute
outside the court.
The 1924 agreement has been the bone of contention still between
the two states. While Tamil Nadu contended that the 50-year agreement
provided only for extension in 1974 and was still valid, Karantaka
wanted a Denovo approach on the ground that the agreement was
between two unequal partners as it involved the then princely
state of Mysore and the erstwhile Madras Presidency.
The dispute was again taken to the Supreme Court when Karnataka
began construction of dams across Hemavati and Harangi. It was
then Tamil Nadu demanded a tribunal for the first time and suspension
of work on these reservoirs.
Following Tamil Nadu's protests, Karnataka had to fund the projects
under the non-plan head and this caused a heavy strain on its
Several meetings between the two states in the Eighties to find
an amicable solution to the problem proved futile as there was
no meeting ground between the two.
In February 1990, the Supreme Court, while hearing a petition
on the issue, directed the two states to complete negotiations
before April 24. As subsequent meetings between chief ministers
of the two states did not yield any result, the federal government
told the Supreme Court to decide on the dispute. The Supreme Court
told the federal government to constitute a tribunal and it was
done in June 1990.