Expertise, Equity, and the Cauvery Water Dispute

Expertise, Equity, and the Cauvery Water Dispute


The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Cauvery Water Management Authority’s (CWMA) directive for Karnataka to release 5,000 cubic feet of water per second to Tamil Nadu has drawn attention to the role of experts in resolving water disputes.


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 (CWC)

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:

  • Karnataka’s Concerns and Compliance
  • Tamil Nadu’s Request and the CWMA’s Report
  • The Need for a Permanent Formula
  • Dispute Resolution Beyond Yearly Adjudication
  • Measures to solve the issue.

Karnataka’s Concerns and Compliance:

  • Karnataka expressed reservations regarding its ability to release 5,000 cubic feet of water per second for an additional 15 days, given its substantial inflow deficit.
  • Nevertheless, the upper riparian State adhered to the CWMA’s order despite political and organizational pressures.

Tamil Nadu’s Request and the CWMA’s Report:

  • Tamil Nadu had earlier approached the Court seeking directions for water release from Karnataka’s reservoirs to meet its allocated quota for the latter half of August and all of September.
  • The Court sought a report from the CWMA, which outlined the extent of this year’s distress. The current order from the CWMA is effective until September 27.

The Need for a Permanent Formula:

  • The recurring nature of disputes during deficit years highlights the necessity for a consistent formula to distribute water shortfalls equitably. Even the assessment of deficits differs between the two States.
  • It is imperative that the CWMA and the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC) develop an acceptable formula for deficit allocation based on comprehensive data on rainfall, inflows, and storage.

Dispute Resolution Beyond Yearly Adjudication:

  • The reliance on yearly adjudication and seasonal litigation to resolve water-sharing disputes is unsustainable.
  • The CWMA must seize the opportunity to create a permanent formula to address deficits in a given year.
  • While neither State may be entirely satisfied with the CWMA’s directives, it is imperative that domain expertise supersedes political considerations.

Measures to solve the issue:

  • One of the major methods for resolving water disputes is through negotiations and bilateral talks between the concerned states which involves dialogue, discussion, and the exchange of proposals to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.
  • A comprehensive agreement must be carved out, that involves careful and fair adjusting of the water-sharing formula to ensure equitable distribution of water among the states involved.
  • As a primal way of handling this situation, it is highly important to first address water scarcity issues. Both the states can work together on water conservation and management practices which includes- efficient use of available water resources, promotion of water-saving technologies in agriculture, and preventing of water wastage.
  • Effective monitoring mechanisms must be placed to oversee water use and distribution. And non-compliance with the agreed terms should be met with appropriate consequences.
  • Engaging the public and stakeholders in the decision-making process can help build support for any agreement reached.
  • Long-term planning that takes into account the changing hydrological conditions and population growth alongside Independent scientific and technical assessments can aid in resolving the issue objectively.


The Cauvery water dispute serves as a reminder of the critical role played by expert bodies like the CWMA in resolving complex water allocation issues. In deficit years, the need for a consistent formula to address shortfalls is evident. It is crucial that politics yields to expertise, and the CWMA and CWRC collaborate to establish a fair and permanent deficit allocation formula. This would reduce the recurrence of disputes and provide much-needed stability in water-sharing arrangements.