As Tamil Nadu, Karnataka fight over sharing Cauvery's water, farmers struggle to grow summer crops

Claiming deficient inflow, Karnataka has refused water to Tamil Nadu yet again, hitting the production of its paddy crop.

The Cauvery river water dispute reached the Supreme Court yet again on August 26, when it admitted a petition filed by Tamil Nadu.

The South Indian state asked the court to direct its neighbour, Karnataka, to release water due to it according to the 2007 order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal – which came after a protracted legal battle between the two states about sharing water from the river.

In its petition, Tamil Nadu has accused Karnataka of diverting water from the river for purposes other than irrigation and drinking, thereby denying its neighbour its rightful share of the resource. This water is crucial for farmers in the Cauvery delta, spread across seven districts of Tamil Nadu, to sustain their kuruvai or summer crop cycle, when they usually grow paddy.

Karnataka, on its part, has consistently cited inadequate supply as the reason for failing to release the water. When a delegation of Tamil Nadu farmers met him last week, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah categorically rejected their demand for water, citing low rainfall in the catchment areas.

The court will take up the petition for hearing on Friday.

Genesis of the trouble

This is just the latest chapter of the dispute over water-sharing between the two states, which has been going on since the 1970s and has its origin in two agreements signed between the erstwhile Madras Presidency and the Princely State of Mysore in 1892 and 1924, which lapsed in 1974.

The Cauvery river originates in Karnataka and goes on to flow through Tamil Nadu, before meeting the Bay of Bengal. In the 1960s and ’70s, Karnataka built four dams across the river: Kabini, Harangi, Hemavathi and Suvarnavathy. This purportedly diverted some of the water from flowing into the lower riparian state of Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu then asked the Congress-ruled government at the Centre to form a tribunal to look into the diversion of water and ensure that it gets its due share. When the Centre did not heed to its demand, it approached the Supreme Court, which, in May 1990, ordered the creation of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal.

In 1991, the tribunal passed an interim award ordering Karnataka to release 205 tmc ft (an acryonym for one thousand million cubic feet) of water every year to Tamil Nadu. This prompted strong and in some places, violent protests in Karnataka, which delayed the release of water. In response, in 1993, J Jayalithaa, who was the chief minister of Tamil Nadu in that year too, held a fast at Chennai’s (then Madras) Marina Beach, which lasted 80 hours, before the Centre assured that it would look into the state’s concerns.

For the next 14 years, both sides continued to spar over water-sharing and the legal battle continued, until the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal announced its final award in 2007. The tribunal pegged the total availability of water in the Cauvery at 740 tmc ft, of which Tamil Nadu was to receive 419 tmc, Karnataka 270 tmc, Kerala 30 tmc and Puducherry seven tmc. The tribunal also allotted 10 tmc for environment protection and adjusted four tmc for run off to the sea. The order meant that Karnataka would have to release 192 tmc ft of water from its catchment to Tamil Nadu every year.

The award took into account the irrigation and drinking water needs of all the states involved. However, the tribunal failed to comprehensively and authoritatively state how the water was to be shared in "distress years", when the flow in the Cauvery was deficient owing to inadequate rainfall.

The tribunal stated that if water had been deficient in a particular year, the resource would have to be shared "proportionately" between the states – meaning Tamil Nadu would continue to get 56% of the water, Karnataka 36% and Kerala 4%.

Room for argument

On the face of it, this seems reasonable, but the problem arises when Karnataka claims, as it did this year, that the water in the river is not even enough to meet its drinking needs.

For instance, in its latest petition before the Supreme Court, Tamil Nadu said that it had not received the mandated amount of water from the Cauvery between June and August, resulting in a shortfall of about 50 tmcft.

Tamil Nadu has complained that the last time Mettur dam, the point where Cauvery enters the state in Salem, was opened on June 12 (as has been the custom in the state) was in 2011. Since Tamil Nadu receives a bulk of its rainfall in October, during the retreating North East monsoon, it relies on Karnataka for water, especially for irrigation, during this period.

Officials in the Karnataka Water Resources Department, however, have said that the demand for June-August could not be entertained because it was based on a year in which normal rainfall had been received. At a press conference after an all-party meeting in Karnataka convened by the government on August 27 after the Supreme Court agreed to hear Tamil Nadu’s petition, Siddaramaiah said that while Karnataka expected an inflow of 192 tmc ft of water in Kabini, Harangi, Hemavathi and Krishnaraja Sagar dams by August 24, only 108 tmc ft had accumulated.

Of this, the dams had only 51 tmc of usable water and hence it could not meet Tamil Nadu’s demand, he said.

A quick glance at the Indian Meteorological Department's website seems to bear this out. Hasan and Kodagu, two important catchment districts for the Cauvery in Karnataka, have respectively recorded a 23% and 27% rainfall deficiency.

However, a senior official in Tamil Nadu's Public Works Department said that Karnataka has consistently used this “modus operandi”. In the latest petition filed before the Supreme Court, Tamil Nadu said that Karnataka diverted the water towards "undeclared projects" and then showed a deflated figure in the reservoirs to deny Tamil Nadu its rightful share.

"The release of water from the Mettur dam in summer has been delayed over the last five years,” the official said. “Currently, the water stands at 71 feet, with inflows being a paltry 7,200 cusecs. We are discharging about 1,250 cusecs, but this is not for irrigation. Unless we get water by the first week of September, the summer crop will be affected.”

Mettur has a storage capacity of 120 feet, but water is released for irrigation only when the level exceeds 90 feet.

Farmers bear the brunt

As the state government trade charges and battle it out in court, farmers in Tamil Nadu have borne the biggest brunt the crisis. Former legislator and Communist Party of India (Marxist) member, K Balakrishnan, who led the delegation of farmers that met Siddaramaiah last week, stated that the farmers have faced increasing debts and a drastic reduction in their income due to the loss of the summer crop.

For long, Cauvery delta farmers had been managing three paddy crops a year. "In the last few years, some have managed to grow only one crop,” Balakrishnan said. “While big farmers cultivate with borewell pumps, those with small holdings are the worst affected.”

Balakrishnan said the tribunal's failure to work out a more expansive formula for distress years has given an excuse to Karnataka to withhold supply repeatedly. "Even in a bountiful year, there is resistance from various groups in Karnataka to open its dams,” Balakrishnan said. “To keep such groups happy, the government plays along," he said.

The CPM leader added that there was a loss of about 1.8 lakh hectares of cultivation in the Cauvery delta due to non-release of water by Karnataka.

Politics over water

While erratic monsoons may have exacerbated the dispute between the two states, political interests have kept a lasting solution at bay.

As the Congress and the BJP have a bigger presence and hence a larger stake in Karnataka than in Tamil Nadu, the governments led by these parties at the Centre have been slow in implementing crucial orders in the dispute.

For instance, though the tribunal delivered its final award in 2007, it took six years for the United Progressive Alliance government to notify it in its gazette. The tribunal envisaged the formation of a Cauvery Management Board to regulate water release and avoid dispute, but that has has not been put set up.

In 2013, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu moved the Supreme Court over the delay in setting up the board. Karnataka has since hardened its stand against the setting up of the board and has appealed to the Centre not to take a call on it in its independent capacity till the court comes to a decision.

Moreover, unlike in Karnataka, where parties come together to fight for the state's rights, the feud between the AIADMK and the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has made coordinated action impossible. For instance, while Karnataka has seen several all-party-meetings on the issue, there has been no such attempt in Tamil Nadu for at least six years now.

Adding fuel to the fire is the attempt by Karnataka to build another dam across the Cauvery at Mekedatu in Kanakapura town to meet Bengaluru's drinking-water needs and to produce hydro electricity.

Balakrishnan said the two governments have to resolve the matter among themselves. "Keeping the interest of farmers on both sides in mind, the governments should initiate a serious dialogue,” he said. “This is the only way to find a permanent solution.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Putting the patient first - insights for hospitals to meet customer service expectations

These emerging solutions are a fine balance between technology and the human touch.

As customers become more vocal and assertive of their needs, their expectations are changing across industries. Consequently, customer service has gone from being a hygiene factor to actively influencing the customer’s choice of product or service. This trend is also being seen in the healthcare segment. Today good healthcare service is no longer defined by just qualified doctors and the quality of medical treatment offered. The overall ambience, convenience, hospitality and the warmth and friendliness of staff is becoming a crucial way for hospitals to differentiate themselves.

A study by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions in fact indicates that good patient experience is also excellent from a profitability point of view. The study, conducted in the US, analyzed the impact of hospital ratings by patients on overall margins and return on assets. It revealed that hospitals with high patient-reported experience scores have higher profitability. For instance, hospitals with ‘excellent’ consumer assessment scores between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with ‘low’ scores.

This clearly indicates that good customer service in hospitals boosts loyalty and goodwill as well as financial performance. Many healthcare service providers are thus putting their efforts behind: understanding constantly evolving customer expectations, solving long-standing problems in hospital management (such as long check-out times) and proactively offering a better experience by leveraging technology and human interface.

The evolving patient

Healthcare service customers, who comprise both the patient and his or her family and friends, are more exposed today to high standards of service across industries. As a result, hospitals are putting patient care right on top of their priorities. An example of this in action can be seen in the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. In July 2015, the hospital launched a ‘Smart OPD’ system — an integrated mobile health system under which the entire medical ecosystem of the hospital was brought together on a digital app. Patients could use the app to book/reschedule doctor’s appointments and doctors could use it to access a patient’s medical history, write prescriptions and schedule appointments. To further aid the process, IT assistants were provided to help those uncomfortable with technology.

The need for such initiatives and the evolving nature of patient care were among the central themes of the recently concluded Abbott Hospital Leadership Summit. The speakers included pundits from marketing and customer relations along with leaders in the healthcare space.

Among them was the illustrious speaker Larry Hochman, a globally recognised name in customer service. According to Mr. Hochman, who has worked with British Airways and Air Miles, patients are rapidly evolving from passive recipients of treatment to active consumers who are evaluating their overall experience with a hospital on social media and creating a ‘word-of-mouth’ economy. He talks about this in the video below.


As the video says, with social media and other public platforms being available today to share experiences, hospitals need to ensure that every customer walks away with a good experience.

The promise gap

In his address, Mr. Hochman also spoke at length about the ‘promise gap’ — the difference between what a company promises to deliver and what it actually delivers. In the video given below, he explains the concept in detail. As the gap grows wider, the potential for customer dissatisfaction increases.


So how do hospitals differentiate themselves with this evolved set of customers? How do they ensure that the promise gap remains small? “You can create a unique value only through relationships, because that is something that is not manufactured. It is about people, it’s a human thing,” says Mr. Hochman in the video below.


As Mr. Hochman and others in the discussion panel point out, the key to delivering a good customer experience is to instil a culture of empathy and hospitality across the organisation. Whether it is small things like smiling at patients, educating them at every step about their illness or listening to them to understand their fears, every action needs to be geared towards making the customer feel that they made the correct decision by getting treated at that hospital. This is also why, Dr. Nandkumar Jairam, Chairman and Group Medical Director, Columbia Asia, talked about the need for hospitals to train and hire people with soft skills and qualities such as empathy and the ability to listen.

Striking the balance

Bridging the promise gap also involves a balance between technology and the human touch. Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, who also spoke at the event, wrote about the example of Dr. Devi Shetty’s Narayana Health Hospitals. He writes that their team of surgeons typically performs about 900 procedures a month which is equivalent to what most U.S. university hospitals do in a year. The hospitals employ cutting edge technology and other simple innovations to improve efficiency and patient care.

The insights gained from Narayana’s model show that while technology increases efficiency of processes, what really makes a difference to customers are the human touch-points. As Mr. Hochman says, “Human touch points matter more because there are less and less of them today and are therefore crucial to the whole customer experience.”


By putting customers at the core of their thinking, many hospitals have been able to apply innovative solutions to solve age old problems. For example, Max Healthcare, introduced paramedics on motorcycles to circumvent heavy traffic and respond faster to critical emergencies. While ambulances reach 30 minutes after a call, the motorcycles reach in just 17 minutes. In the first three months, two lives were saved because of this customer-centric innovation.

Hospitals are also looking at data and consumer research to identify consumer pain points. Rajit Mehta, the MD and CEO of Max Healthcare Institute, who was a panelist at the summit, spoke of the importance of data to understand patient needs. His organisation used consumer research to identify three critical areas that needed work - discharge and admission processes for IPD patients and wait-time for OPD patients. To improve wait-time, they incentivised people to book appointments online. They also installed digital kiosks where customers could punch in their details to get an appointment quickly.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.