Story of Mettur Dam and Inter State Cauvery dispute

The Mettur Dam is oldest dam India which is located across the river Cauvery in the place of Mettur in Salem District of Tamil Nadu, India. The dam had a long history from the year 1834 to the year 1934.The construction work of the Mettur dam was commenced in the year 1925 and the entire work was completed and opened for irrigation by the Governor of Madras, Sir George Stanley on 1934.The Mettur Dam is also one of the largest dams in the and having a total length of 1700 meters long. It irrigates 1,310 km2 (510 sq mi) of land each year. Its installed capacity for hydro-power generation is 32 MW. The maximum level of the dam is 120 ft (37 m) and the maximum capacity is 93.4 tmc ft.

Background of the Dispute

The Mettur Dam is frequently in news during the recent past because of the Cauvery water dispute between the States of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Consequent to building dams, including the Kabini Dam, across the Kaveri River in Karnataka, the Mettur Dam does not receive adequate water during lean seasons. Thus, the Dam nearly goes dry during certain parts of the year, when water is most needed by the farmers and general public of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. This has created serious dispute and tension between the neighbouring States of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

  • The Cauvery Basin is an Inter-State Basin covering areas in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Union Territory of Pondicherry.
  • Use and development of Cauvery Waters were regulated by agreements of 1892 and 1924 between the erstwhile Princely State of Mysore and province of Madras. The State of Kerala was not a party to this agreement.
  • The 1924 Agreement expired at the end of 50 years and Government of Tamil Nadu made a formal request in July, 1986 under the provisions of Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956 for constitution of a Tribunal. Central Government constituted the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal in 1990
  • Soon after the tribunal was set up, Tamil Nadu demanded a mandatory injunction on Karnataka for the immediate release of water and other relief’s. This was dismissed by the tribunal. Tamil Nadu then went back to the Supreme Court which directed the tribunal to reconsider Tamil Nadu’s plea.
  • The tribunal reconsidered Tamil Nadu’s plea and gave an interim award in 1991 and calculated the average inflows into Tamil Nadu over a period of 10 with 205 billion ft³ for Karnataka had to release Tamil Nadu in a water year. The tribunal further directed Karnataka not to increase its irrigated land area.
  • Karnataka deemed this extremely inimical to its interests and issued an ordinance seeking to annul the tribunal’s award. The Supreme Court strucked down the Ordinance and Karnataka was thus forced to accept the interim award and widespread demonstrations and violence broke out in parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu following this.
  • In 1997, the Government proposed the setting up of a Cauvery River Authority which would be vested with far reaching powers to ensure the implementation of the Interim Order. But Karnataka strongly protested against the proposal and Central Government then made several modifications to the powers of the Authority and came up with a new proposal to set up two new bodies, viz., Cauvery River Authority and Cauvery Monitoring Committee.
  • In the summer of 2002, monsoon failed in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Reservoirs in both states fell to record low levels and inevitably tempers rose. Tamil Nadu demanded that Karnataka honour the interim award and release to Tamil Nadu its proportionate share. Karnataka on the claimed that the water levels were hardly enough to meet its own demands and ruled out releasing any water in the circumstances that prevailed.
  • The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal announced its final verdict in 2007 according to which, Tamil Nadu gets 419 billion ft³ while Karnataka got 270 billion ft³. But the government of Karnataka, unhappy with the decision, filed a revision petition before the tribunal seeking a review.
  • A meeting of the CRA was called on 2012 but the Karnataka chief minister walked out of the meeting. The focus now shifted to the Supreme Court which ordered Karnataka to release 1.25 billion ft³ of water every day unless CRA revised it. Karnataka started the release of water but pressed for another meeting of the CRA. In the next meeting, Karnataka government refused to release any water succumbing to the large scale protests that had mounted in the Kaveri districts of the state. Tamil Nadu aghast at the defiance went back to the Supreme Court. Karnataka now resumed the release of water for a few days, but stopped it again as a protesting farmer committed suicide by jumping into the reservoir and the protests threatened to take a dangerous turn.
  • The centre stepped in and asked Karnataka to release the water. The SC meanwhile, in response to Tamil Nadu’s petition asked the CRA for details of the water release and water levels in the reservoirs. The CRA in turn ordered for the inspections of the reservoirs. While the CRA inspected the reservoirs in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu refused to grant them permission to inspect its reservoirs. On 30 September the Supreme Court ordered Tamil Nadu to co-operate with the CRA and Tamil Nadu gave in.

On Sep 24, 2012, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister directed the officials to immediately file a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to Karnataka to release Tamil Nadu its due share of water. On Sep 28, 2012, the Supreme Court slammed the Karnataka government for failing to comply with the directive of the CRA. Left with no other option, Karnataka started releasing water. This lead to wide protests and violence in Karnataka.

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