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The century old Cauvery river water-sharing dispute between TN & Karnataka is a good example of how capable we are at complicating our own lives.

A good place to understand the background and the issues involved is the excellent document available on the website of the Indian Ministry of Water Resources (see link below). It is useful to read & digest this document before exposing oneself to other (possibly colored) opinions of journalists, experts, politicians, lobbies, armchair commentators & others.


A few predominant thoughts come up repeatedly while reading the 130+ page document.

  • The humongous amount of time & effort sucked by the dispute over the last 120+ years
  • The extraordinary number of intelligentsia (judges, advocates, water experts, scientists, agriculturists, engineers, farmers, politicians etc.) involved to help settle the dispute
  • The escalating complexity of the issues involved
  • The apathy and incompetence of some individuals who could have made a difference
  • The snowballing crises of rapid & uncontrolled industrialization, consumption & urbanization
  • The stark reality of the convoluted issue which may never be fully resolved

Simply put, the dispute is about how to share a fast diminishing resource – water. While the formula for water-sharing may not be easy, we do know what other measures can be taken to lessen the distress. Some of these measures are known to politicians, bureaucrats, scientists, water experts & agriculturists for decades.

  1. Price water based on usage
  2. Conserve water
  3. Explore alternative sources – desalination, rain water harvesting etc.
  4. Improve irrigation
  5. Penalize wastage
  6. Improve water management in urban & rural areas, etc.

Why are we not doing any of these? Because these are painful & unpopular decisions which require courageous leaders. The present (& previous) leaders at the state & centre don’t have the courage to enforce such policies for the fear of losing political support.

We need leaders who are willing to take the long view, stake their reputation & career, take difficult but essential decisions, talk & convince people on the need to endure temporary pain such policies may bring about, and execute well.

In a democracy, such high-calibre leaders are created typically at times of dire circumstances.

The waters of Cauvery are already at boiling point.

Cauvery Dispute – Backgrounder