Pennaiyar River water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka

The time limit fixed by the Supreme Court to constitute an Inter-state river water dispute tribunal for the dispute over Pennaiyar River has expired. The settlement could not be achieved through talks.


  • The Supreme Court’s deadline for setting up a tribunal to hear the Inter-State River water dispute over the Pennaiyar River has passed. Negotiations were unsuccessful in reaching a settlement.
  • Tamil Nadu filed a lawsuit in 2018 against Karnataka’s construction of check dams on the river.
  • The Karnataka government is intending to build a dam on the Markandeya River, which is the major tributary of Pennaiyar River.
  • Tamil Nadu has thus called for the creation of an Inter-State River Dispute Tribunal.

About Pennaiyar/ Ponnaiyar River

  • Pennaiyar River is also known as Thenpannai.
  • Origin: Originates on the eastern slope of Nandidurg Mountain which is located in the Chennakaseva Hills of Karnataka and then it flows through Karnataka to enter Tamil Nadu to finally enter the Bay of Bengal.
  • As per the Central Water Commission’s Basin Report, Pennaiyar Basin is the second largest interstate East flowing river basin among the 12 basins lying between Pennar and Cauvery basins.
  • 77% drainage basin of the river lies in Tamil Nadu.
  • Bounded By: Basin of the river is bounded on the North-West and South by various ranges of the Eastern Ghats like the Velikonda Range, the Nagari hills, the Javadu hills, the Shevaroy hills, the Chitteri hills and the Kalrayan hills.
  • Rocks found in the river Basin:
  • Archaean rocks- Pyroxene granulites, Quartzite, Ferruginous Quartzite, Amphibolites, Gneiss and Hornblende biotite gneiss with younger intrusive of Pegmatite and Dolerite in the central and western parts.
  • Cretaceous formations- argillaceous, calcareous sandstone with clay and limestone.
  • Tertiary formation- sandstones and the formation of river alluvium and coastal alluvium.
  • Soil types found in its basin: Inceptisols, Alfisols, Entisols and Vertisols.
  • Pennaiyar river basin lies within the tropical monsoon zone: 1) Monsoon period- June to December and 2) Non-monsoon period- from January to May.
  • Some tributaries of the river:  Markandanadhi, Kambainallur, Pambar, Vaniyar, Kallar, Valayar Odai, Pambanar, Aliyar, Musukundanadhi and Thurinjalar.

Concerns of Tamil Nadu

  • No exclusive ownership: The flowing water from an Inter-State River is a national asset. Tamil Nadu informed the Supreme Court that Karnataka had no right to exclusively decide on how to use the Pennaiyar’s waters.
  • Karnataka moved forward with the project in a sou-motu manner without disclosing the specifics of its new schemes or projects or obtaining the lower riparian state’s consent, which constitutes an infringement on the rights of inhabitants. Any constructions by Karnataka will block natural flows to downstream.
  • A river also contains its tributaries and streams: The 1892 agreement governs and controls the Markandeyanadhi, which has catchment areas in both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
  • Inter-State Water Disputes Act Violation:Building reservoirs in one of the tributaries of the Pennaiyar River is a breach of the Act. 

Arguments by Karnataka:

  • Karnataka has questioned the maintainability of the suit as well as Tamil Nadu’s application. At a cost of Rs 240 crores, Karnataka has been granted permission to construct the dam over the Markandeya River in order to hold 500 million cubic metres of water.
  • It argued that since 75–80% of the project had already been finished, it should be permitted to finish the remaining 20%. The Karnataka government argued that neither the conditions of the 1892 nor 1933 accords had been broken.
    • According to the 1933 agreement, Tamil Nadu does not need to provide its permission before building a dam to supply drinking water.
    • If there would be no irrigation under the agreement of 1892, the Madras Government’s approval will not be necessary for the building of any anicut.
  • According to the Karnataka Government, Tamil Nadu makes up 75% of the river basin’s catchment area, hence the dam built over the Markandeya River won’t have much impact on the lower riparian State-Tamil Nadu.
  • Since drinking water is given the greatest priority under the National Water Policy of 2002, the Karnataka government argued that it should be permitted to proceed with the project.

Inter State River Water Dispute Act

Constitutional Provisions on adjudicating river water disputes

  • Article 262 of Constitution provides for adjudication of inter-state water disputes. It makes two provisions:
  • Parliament may by law provide for the adjudication of any dispute with respect to the use, distribution and control of waters of any inter-state river.
  • Parliament may also provide that neither the Supreme Court nor any other court is to exercise jurisdiction in respect of any such disputes.

Water under constitution

  • Water is included in Entry 17 of State List under 7thSchedule. It can be subject to Centre’s arbitration if, and only if, it involves a clear case of conflict or dispute as mentioned under Entry 56 of Union List. 
  • Entry 56 of Union List relates to regulation and development of Inter-state rivers and river valleys to the extent to which such regulation and development under control of the Union is declared by Parliament by law.
  • Based on Article 262, Parliament has enacted Inter-State River Water Disputes Act (1956) & River Boards Act (1956).

Salient Features

  • Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956 to resolve water dispute through (adjudication by the Tribunal) that would arise in use, control and distribution of an interstate river or river valley. The Award of the tribunal is final and binding after its publication in the official gazette of central government with having same force as the order or decree of the Supreme Court.
  • Constitution of Tribunal: When any request under section 3 is received from any State Government in respect of any water dispute and the Central Government is of opinion that the water dispute cannot be settled by negotiations, the Central Government shall, within a period not exceeding one year from the date of receipt of such request, by notification in the Official Gazette, constitute a Water Disputes Tribunal for the adjudication of the water dispute
  • Scheme based on Tribunal’s Decisions: Central Government may by notification in Official Gazette, frame a scheme to give effect to decision of Tribunal.

Current River Water Dispute

  • Mahadayi river- Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
  • Mahanadi river- Odisha and Chhattisgarh
  • Vansadhara Water dispute- Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.
  • Krishna Water Disputes- Telangana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
  • Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal Project- Haryana and Punjab

Related PYQ:

Gandikota canyon of South India was created by which one of the following rivers?
  • A Cauvery
  • B Manjira
  • C Pennar
  • D Tungabhadra

Show Answer
The correct answer is C.

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