At slightly under 800 kilometres, the Cauvery is the smallest of India’s major rivers. But it is the subject of the oldest and the most bitter water dispute in the country.
Two pre-Independence agreements, a post-Independence tribunal (whose final order was 17 years in the making), and countless Supreme Court orders notwithstanding, the sharing of the Cauvery waters between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka happens in the most ad hoc manner and in a climate of unrelenting hostility. Two decades ago, hostilities peaked and lawyers were kept busy till late summer when the demand and supply equation was at its direst. Now there is an unresolvable permanence about the dispute.
There isn’t enough rainfall in the entire basin for even a seasonal sweeping away of distress and animus. Add to it, the cumulative karma of unchecked abuse of the river on both sides, and you have a perfect disaster. The views on both sides of the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border are shaped less by geography and hydrology but mostly by competitive demonology.
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