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Expertise Over Politics


The Supreme Court’s decision not to intervene in the order issued by the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA), which instructs Karnataka to release 5,000 cubic feet of water per second (cusecs) to Tamil Nadu until September 27, is a commendable move. The Supreme Court has wisely chosen to defer to the expertise of this specialized body in managing water resources, especially in a year marked by deficient rainfall.


  • GS2- Cooperative Federalism
  • GS3-Water Resources

Mains Question:

What is the current state of inter-state water dispute over the Cauvery river? Suggest measures to deal with this recurring issue. (10 marks, 150 words).


  • Karnataka had appealed to the highest court, arguing that it faced a significant deficit of over 53% in water inflows to its reservoirs this year due to a weak southwest monsoon. Consequently, it claimed it couldn’t afford to release 5,000 cusecs for another 15 days.
  • To its credit, Karnataka had been complying with the CWMA’s order, despite pressure and protests from some political parties and organizations.
  • Earlier in August, Tamil Nadu had approached the Court seeking directives for water release from Karnataka’s reservoirs to meet its water requirements for the latter half of August and the entire month of September.
  • The Court had then requested a report from the CWMA, which clearly outlined the extent of the water scarcity this year.

Current Status:

  • The current CWMA order is set to expire on September 27, and the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC), an auxiliary body to the Authority, is scheduled to meet on September 26 to reassess the situation.
  • This dispute highlights the recurring issue of equitable water sharing during monsoon-deficient years, underlining the need for a consistent formula for resource allocation.
  • In years of ample rainfall, there is minimal contention about Karnataka adhering to the water-sharing guidelines established by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, as modified by the Supreme Court in 2018.
  • Much of this water release happens naturally through downstream flow during periods of heavy rainfall when the reservoirs are full.
  • It is during deficient years that the involved states look to the Court for favorable rulings, even if the CWMA does not provide them.

Way Forward:

This annual cycle of adjudication and seasonal litigation should not become the norm. The CWMA should seize this opportunity to develop a permanent formula for assessing deficits in any given year. Even the method of assessing this deficit is a matter of disagreement between the two states. It is now incumbent upon the CWMA and CWRC to collect data on rainfall, inflow, and storage to formulate an equitable approach to allocating the shortfall.


It’s inevitable that neither state will be completely satisfied with the quantum of water release ordered by the CWMA. However, at this juncture, it is crucial for political considerations to yield to the expertise of those managing the region’s water resources.

April 2024