It happened in 1991 and in 2002. It happened again in 2012. Now it is happening in 2016.
When the monsoon does not deliver to its full potential, neighbours turn foes in the Cauvery River basin in south India. The Cauvery riparian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are once again pitted against each other over the sharing of waters from the Cauvery river due to a weak monsoon that has left reservoirs in south Karnataka with less than the required amount of water.
In a normal monsoon year (June to May) the amount of inflow of water into three reservoirs in the Cauvery basin in south Karnataka is 242 thousand million cubic feet (tmc). As per the February 5, 2007 final orders of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT), Karnataka has to release 192 tmc of water to Tamil Nadu in a normal monsoon year.
According to Karnataka Law Minister T B Jayachandra, the reservoirs in the Cauvery basin in Karnataka has only about 51 tmc of water at present, which is sufficient only for the drinking water needs of people in south Karnataka and not enough for release to Tamil Nadu.
According to records for the reservoir levels maintained by the Karnataka government the water storage in the Krishna Raja Sagar dam – the primary reservoir in the Cauvery basin – is only 37 per cent of the reservoir capacity at 18.28 tmc as of September 6. At the same time last year the reservoir had 25.68 tmc of water against its full capacity of 49.45 tmc.
The 2007 final orders of the CWDT, which are being contested in the Supreme Court by Karnataka, has not specified the Cauvery water sharing formula for years when the monsoon is weak. According to legal experts in Karnataka, this lack of clarity on sharing the Cauvery waters in distress years lies at the heart of the tussle that springs up now and again between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu on this issue.
With the Supreme Court directing the Karnataka government on September 5 to release 15,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu in the next 10 days to meet the needs of the samba crop in Tamil Nadu, the Congress government in Karnataka finds itself in the same piquant situation as the BJP government did in the state in 2012.
Then, amidst farmer protests, the BJP government had released 9,000 cusecs of water between September 29 and October 8 to Tamil Nadu to comply with a Supreme Court directive that was issued after Karnataka refused to follow orders of the Cauvery River Authority.
Apart from stalling for time and hoping that the Cauvery river basin gets a strong windfall of rain at the tail end of the monsoon, the Congress government in Karnataka has few options other than to release water to Tamil Nadu and then face the ire of the farmers in the Cauvery basin.