Chanakya IAS Academy Blog


Relevance and use of the article in UPSC prelims and mains examination: Dear aspirants, this topic is not only about water crises more than that it is a blot on india's global image. The Cauvery water dispute is symptomatic of some of the biggest problems that India is grappling with,. The water wars, farmer suicides and cynical identity politics that have grown from a legal battle over the sharing of a river’s water have echoes all over the country. If India seeks to rise to the position of a global superpower it needs to learn from the current conflict.

The issue and current situation:

  • Two of India’s largest southern states, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, are locked in a bitter legal battle over the waters of the river Cauvery – a battle that has been spilling over to the streets.
  • On the 12 September, Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka and a city known as India’s Silicon Valley, was beset by spectacular arson and rioting.

River system and historical aspect:

  • The nature of the dispute between the states through which the river Cauvery flows is complex and dates back to agreements signed between the Madras Presidency and the Princely State of Mysore in 1892 and 1924. The 1924 agreement lapsed in 1974. 16 years later the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal was constituted, and after over a decade, in 2007, it came up with a formula for dividing water between states. The Central Government notified this award in 2013.
  • However, no party to the dispute is entirely satisfied with the award and the dissatisfaction has been exacerbated over the last couple of years due to below average rainfall.
  • Karnataka, for one, has been largely dry and the district where the Cauvery originates is likely to be declared drought hit. Paucity of water has serious adverse implications for agriculture and has led to the states arguing over a distress sharing formula.
  • A lot has been written about the technicalities of the dispute and appropriate mechanisms of resolving it, and even more about the spectre of violence and breakdown of law and order.

Water scarcity issue:

  • The most important reason for this is the increase in demand for water from all sectors including agriculture, industry and urban areas. In the last few years, urbanisation is taking place rapidly all over the country and more so in the southern states.
  • The level of groundwater is depleting at an alarming rate as it continues to be tapped indiscriminately, and unchecked river pollution has rendered large quantities of available water unusable.
  • 54% of India faces high to extremely high water stress and the national supply of water is predicted to fall 50% below demand by 2030. Yet, the country is not taking concrete steps towards becoming a low water economy.
  • As urban centers and industries expand, more and more water is being diverted for their use. Meanwhile, farmers continue to grow water intensive crops across India, including in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, with rice dominating the produce in both states.


  • The result is widespread water wars of which the Cauvery water dispute is but one example. Similar, intractable interstate and intrastate arguments over river water are playing out in other parts as well.
  • The second calamity feeding the frenzy over the water of the Cauvery is the deep-rooted and widespread agrarian crisis in the country. Nearly half of India’s population is dependent on agriculture but the share of agriculture as a percentage of the GDP is low has been declining.
  • Farmer suicides are a common part of daily news and the suicide rate in Karnataka has been the highest in a decade. Near absence of adequate insurance, steep fall in the prices of cash crops, delayed payments, a looming debt crisis, small land holdings, lack of transportation, and delayed or scarce inputs such as fertilisers and seeds are among several interrelated reasons why 2 out of 3 farm households are unable to make ends meet.
  • What makes matters worse is that only about 46% of all agricultural land is irrigated, while the rest of it depends directly on rainwater. Failed monsoons lead to failed crops, and failed crops often prove to be the proverbial last straw in the lives of struggling farmers.
  • Failed monsoons, in turn, are a national manifestation of the global crisis of climate change. The country is heavily dependent on seasonal rainfall and as that gets more and more unpredictable, floods and drought, alternatively wreak havoc on farmlands and lives in rural India.
  • However, the impetus to riot – courting arrest and danger, is not entirely explained by the despair in rural India. Cynical identity politics has become a mainstay of Indian democracy and there is no easier way to appeal to vote banks than to encourage animosity along pre-existing social faultlines– most often of caste, region and religion.

Solutions and Conclusions:

  • As vested interests — hoping to accumulate power and eventually capital — keep the discord alive, farmers and the urban poor stand to lose more and more. But evidently, the state government cannot solve this issue merely by deploying armed guards.
  • There is an urgent need to rethink policies relating to agriculture, water and climate change as well as develop and strengthen appropriate institutions that can respond effectively to the crises threatening India’s future.
  • The Cauvery water dispute is more than an escalated local issue. It is an urgent cautionary tale. If India seeks to rise to the position of a global superpower as it ostensibly aspires to, it will need to pay immediate attention to the moral of this story.
  • Whenever there is a deficit of water, we only think about water supply augmentation which is our standard water management technique, whether it is for drinking, industrial or agricultural use. We should streamline the distribution system, and have a mechanism to reuse water.
  • Our irrigation system and canal networks are age-old. We need to modernise the canal network and introduce new and modern control structures so that we know how much water is required for each crop and for land, so that only that much water is supplied.

Question for prelims:

Consider the following statements:

  • The River Cauvery originates at Talakaveri in Coorg District of Karnataka in Brahmagiri Range of hills in the Western ghats.
  • Its riparian states and UTs of cauvery are Karnataka, Kerala, Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu.
  • Amaravati, Arkavathy, Bhavani, Chinnar, Hemavati are the major tributaries of cauveri river.

Which of the following statements is/are correct:

  • Only 1
  • Only 1 and 2
  • 1, 2, 3
  • None of the above is correct

Question for Mains:

“Rivers are called as a lifeline for human existence and wars over water are not a new thing in any country but if we look at cauvery water issue it looks more a human made crises”. Do you agree with this statement and do you thik that perfect water management can resolve this issue. Discuss.

Suggested answer:

  • Discuss about cauvery water issue considering historical aspect.
  • Recent crises. Water scarcity issues.
  • Politics involved in it and various aspects.
  • How it puts a dent on india global image and on economy.
  • Suggestions to resolve issue.
  • conclusion.

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Read 1474 times Last modified on Thursday, 20 October 2016 10:42

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