Another series of legal battles between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over sharing water from the Cauvery river will begin on July 11, when the Supreme Court takes up the matter for final hearing. Last year, tensions between both states had come to a head when Karnataka repeatedly refused to release Tamil Nadu's share of water, citing inadequate supply. Despite several directives from the Supreme Court, the Karnataka government refused to follow through.
With the water crisis in Karnataka worsening by the day, there is little hope that its government will release Tamil Nadu's share of the water. Tamil Nadu, meanwhile, is undergoing one of its worst droughts in recent memory, resulting in an agrarian crisis of massive proportions. The inability of both states to conduct an honest and mature conversation on the amount of water they should share during distress years has prevented a final solution.
One can trace back the dispute to colonial times, which has festered from one year to the next. In times of distress, old wounds reopen, and the two states re-engage in the violent politics of regional identity. Has the hope for a political solution between the two states faded away into oblivion? Only a meaningful dialogue process can resolve the dispute. However, some believe that there is little hope for such dialogue since the conflict has become an emotive electoral issue.
The political class from either state believes that they only gain from grandstanding on the issue. Moreover, such disputes are not surprising given the scarcity of water. As a result of rising population, the per capita availability of water is shrinking every year. Although some states receive more water than others, there are others that may lay claim because historically they have had better access to it. One can expect more disputes of this nature in the future.