Cauvery River Waters: Seeking Clarity in Distress-Sharing Formula

Cauvery River Waters: Seeking Clarity in Distress-Sharing Formula


Due to the lack of sufficient Southwest Monsoon Rain this year, the catchment areas of the Cauvery River in Karnataka and Kerala have taken a hit. Apparently, the reinforcing of the Distress – Sharing Formula by the Supreme court is the need of the hour.


  • Tamil Nadu had urged the Supreme court to direct measures on Karnataka for releasing of 24,000 cubic feet per seconds(cusecs) from its reservoir’s.
  • Karnataka refused by citing poor inflow of water due to reduced rainfall in the catchment areas of Kodagu (Origin point) where it had seen a 44% rainfall deficit from June to August.


GS-02, GS-01- (Water Resources, Inter-State Relations, Dispute Redressal Mechanisms, Tribunals, Co-operative Federalism)


Cauvery and its tributary Arkavathi, Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, Central Water Commission


Mains Question:

Discuss the challenges and recent developments in the Cauvery River water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and analyze the potential solutions related to the distress-sharing formula. (10 marks)

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Historical Context
  • Previous Attempts at Distress-Sharing
  • Current Standoff and Disagreements
  • Role of CWMA and Need for Transparency

Historical Context:

  • The historical context of the Cauvery River water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka is crucial to understanding the ongoing issues. This decades-long conflict stems from differences in water-sharing agreements and has seen multiple attempts at resolution, including the involvement of judicial bodies like the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal in 1991.

Previous Attempts at Distress-Sharing:

  • The article mentions a significant episode in 2002-03 when a distress-sharing formula was explored due to the scarcity of monsoon rains over a three-year period. This situation severely affected water reservoirs in Karnataka, primarily the Krishnaraja Sagar (KRS), Kabini, Hemavathy, and Harangi reservoirs. Tamil Nadu, the lower riparian state, also faced water shortages in its Mettur dam. This historical context underscores the recurrent nature of water-related distress in the region.

Current Standoff and Disagreements:

  • The current standoff between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka revolves around the idea of a distress-sharing formula. Tamil Nadu proposes considering the deficit in inflows to Karnataka’s reservoirs compared to the average flows over the last 30 years. It also accounts for the rainfall pattern in different catchment areas of the Cauvery River.
  • In contrast, Karnataka contends that the overall distress situation cannot be accurately determined until the end of January. It insists on incorporating the outcome of the northeast monsoon (October-December) along with that of the southwest monsoon (June-September) in the calculations. Karnataka, as an upper riparian state heavily reliant on the southwest monsoon for various needs, emphasizes the importance of addressing its water requirements for the upcoming months.
  • The Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) comes into play, attempting to address these disagreements. However, its approach has not fully satisfied either Tamil Nadu or Karnataka. While it directed Karnataka to release a certain volume of water during specific periods, concerns and disputes persist.

Role of CWMA and Need for Transparency:

  • This authority, established in June 2018, comprises officials and technical experts tasked with addressing water-related issues in a rational and objective manner. However, it has not yet made substantial progress in finding a resolution.
  • To enhance transparency and build trust, the article suggests that the CWMA should publish the proceedings of its meetings on a public website. This transparency would help dispel misconceptions and provide clarity on the matter, considering that the Cauvery River has historically been a subject of emotional and political contention.



It is imperative to find a distress-sharing formula at the earliest to resolve the dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. However, a cooperative approach is more than just the need of the hour for such a longstanding dispute.