ISSN 2330-717X

Cauvery Water Dispute: The Ambedkar Way? – Analysis


By Roomana Hukil


The recent repulsion of the decree conferred by Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh on 19 September 2012 on the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) has rekindled the entire water discourse again. This sudden eruption by both states – Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, raises some stern questions on the already vague future of the Cauvery water dispute which is becoming a matter of serious concern now.

The PM’s directive demanding Karnataka to release 9000 cusecs of water daily to Tamil Nadu till 15 October 2012 incited extensive violent protests, riots and dharnas in both states along with garnering much media attention. Adding to the directive, the Cauvery Monitoring Committee (CMC) sanctioned an award where Tamil Nadu would receive 8.85 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) of water from 16 to 31 October 2012. While Karnataka seeks further review into the order, Tamil Nadu approached the apex court over Karnataka’s non compliance with the SC directives. This article tries to highlight the current state of affairs and the reasons for failure in establishing a compromise between the two states. It also recommends possible solutions, that can help to quench the ongoing dispute.

Reasons for the Stalemate


Among the many factors that jeopardised a mutually acceptable agreement from being successfully adhered to by both the states is the strong presence of vote-bank politics amongst the regional as well as national parties. As far as Karnataka is concerned the upcoming 2013 assembly elections are a major deterrent. It is argued that even if the Karnataka government were to release the amount of water as directed by the Tribunal; it would create factions thereby allowing the former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa to score brownie points over his rivals, both within and outside the BJP. As a result, the Shettar government is shying away from adhering to the official decree; making matters even more complex. On the other hand, temperatures are on the rise in the political realms with rampant protests by DMK chief M Karunanidhi, PMK Founder Dr Ramadoss and MDMK Chief Vaiko.

National parties, such as the Congress, have always maintained silence on the Cauvery issue by not highlighting it as an issue of ‘national interest’. But of late, it has been accused for ‘politicising the matter and adopting double standards (as pointed out by Deputy Chief Minister K S Eshwarappa). In retort, it has slammed the BJP government for committing a series of lapses in presenting the state’s case before the SC and the Cauvery tribunal. While the BJP blamed the PM, head of CRA for ordering directives to release water without checking ground realities. This divide is also reflected at the regional level.

While Karnataka ardently believes that being an upstream riparian state it should hold prime governance rights over the course of the water, without being restricted of its share under any circumstance. Tamil Nadu, basing its argument on the prescriptive rights principle, advocates that being the first to commence irrigation development in the region and having put the water course into beneficiary application for the entire peninsula, its right to share of the waterway should not be curtailed on any ground either. If both the states accept their given share according to the ‘distress sharing formula’, such a state of conflict would never exist.


However, the irony lies with the off-set of the monsoon. The late monsoon arrival in both the regions this year has caused a catastrophic division between both state governments. This demonstrates the inextricable link between the irregular and impromptu nature of the monsoon and the spurring of the conflict in that particular year.

Addressing the Failures

In such a log-jammed scenario, it is vital to examine the impending ground realities and how the issue can be sorted out. Although several policies have been proposed to foster peaceful ties seeking a permanent solution between both the states, it is Ambedkar’s policies which can (though doubted during various stages in the past) bring a lot of sense to the whole discourse.

Ambedkar envisioned a path that insisted on ‘the water sharing equity aspect’. He emphasised on developing a constitutional mechanism by allocating autonomous governance rights to the centre to ensure water sharing equity was met even in distressed years. For this purpose, he introduced an integral approach of optimal utilisation of water resources and suggested the establishment of independent authorities. He believed that prescribing the central government as a leading authority in the development of water resources on interstate rivers, based on a constitutional framework, would lead to seemingly unlikely chances of disagreement.

Thus, the only way to utilize the distress sharing formula is by having it constitutionalised. The presence of local-civil society groups and regional bodies only entangles the dispute further as there is a lack of established institutional and legal framework which can guide the states to function without disparity.

 Roomana Hukil
Research Intern, IPCS
email: [email protected]


IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

2 thoughts on “Cauvery Water Dispute: The Ambedkar Way? – Analysis

  • October 29, 2012 at 5:09 am

    The survey report is OK,Further Dr.Ambedkar has rightly said about distress share.But distress changes in every year, find commonformula is very difficult.First the origin sate demand has to be met,like drinking water, and atleast one a crop right quantitity of water, down stram satte has to tell it’s agriculturist to the patrren of crop at the distress time.Further using of water for industrial purpose when there is shortage of rain.Involving the real farmers in the committe is good.

  • October 30, 2012 at 6:47 am

    In Indian democracy, even the Center cannot be entrusted in taking unbiased decisions especially as regional parties play a larger role in central government. The CRA is an autonomous body, and previously they were about to be given powers to even take control of the dams, if a state does not comply with its orders. Currently the powers of CRA are limited. However this incident has highlighted the fact that precious resources like water should be handled by independent autonomous body backed by scientific data and who are capable of taking decisions outside of vote bank politics. All the dams should also come under their purview.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.