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Southwest Monsoon Deficit and Karnataka’s irrigation demands

  • Published
    23rd Oct, 2023

The dwindling storage in Karnataka’s Cauvery basin reservoirs owing to drought prevailing in the State has caused concerns in the downstream areas, besides typically escalating the legal tussle over inter-State sharing of the river water. But the plight of the sensitive ecosystem of Kodagu, which is the main catchment area as well as place of origin of the river, is yet to get due attention.

What is the issue?

  • Karnataka faced a significant 42% deficit in southwest monsoon rainfall, surpassing the state's average 25% deficit.
  • Also, June and August recorded severe deficits of 80% and 82%, leading to decreased water levels and affecting rainfed paddy farming.
  • Kodagu, a vital catchment area and the river's source, heavily relies on rainfed paddy cultivation, raising sustainability concerns. Rainfed paddy fields also serve as miniature reservoirs and support the local ecosystem.
  • This deficit isn't limited to impacting the district's ecosystem but extends to affect the river's flow across state borders in the entire Cauvery basin.
  • Adequate rainfall is crucial for the Krishnaraja Sagar (KRS) reservoir to meet irrigation and drinking water demands downstream, including Bengaluru. Experience has revealed that inter-state sharing of Cauvery water is less contentious during good rains in Kodagu.
  • Naturalists well-versed with the Kodagu landscape are concerned about decline in rain-fed paddy cultivation in Kodagu which they say is a micro reservoir system that sustains the ecosystem of Kodagu and the Cauvery River. 
  • An age-old practice of cultivating paddy in the valleys with the help of rainwater. These paddy fields act like small ponds as we impound rainwater in them for three to four months.
  • These paddy fields will feed streams and rivulets which in turn strengthen tributaries of Cauvery. But the cause of concern now is that cultivation of paddy has reduced by nearly 50%.

Why there is decline in rainfed paddy cultivation?

  • Farmers are shunning paddy mainly because it is not remunerative. The high labour cost and man-animal conflict near the Nagarahole National Park are also forcing them to shun paddy cultivation.
  • Another major reason for shunning the paddy cultivation is rapid commercialisation which is making farmers to either sell off or take up construction activities on paddy fields which are more suited for construction than the slope.


  • Paddy Cultivation Impact: The decline in paddy cultivation is affecting the summer flow of the Cauvery River and the Kodagu ecosystem.
  • Sustainable Development Needed: implement a sustainable development model, supporting paddy cultivation in select villages with incentives. This approach can attract others and ensure a continuous Cauvery flow during summer.
  • Rapid Commercialization and Landslides: There's growing concern about rapid commercialization in Kodagu. Outside investors are converting agricultural land for commercial purposes, leading to significant constructions in ecologically sensitive areas.
  • Restricting Large Constructions: It's proposed that while conversion of agricultural land for residential purposes is acceptable, converting it for extensive constructions like large resorts should be restricted.
  • This highlights the environmental challenges linked to shifts in land use and commercialization in Kodagu.

Importance of Rain fed agriculture in India

  • Rainfed agriculture occupies about 51 percent of country’s net sown area and accounts for nearly 40 percent of the total food production. Rainfed agriculture is complex, highly diverse and risk prone.
  • It is characterized by low levels of productivity and input usage coupled with vagaries of monsoon emanating from climate change; resulting in wide variation and instability in crop yields.
  • In view of the growing demand for food grains in the country, there is a need to develop and enhance the productivity of rainfed areas.
  • If managed properly, these areas have tremendous potential to contribute a larger share in food production and faster agricultural growth compared to the irrigated areas which have reached a plateau.

About River Cauvery

  • Origin: The Cauvery River originates in the Western Ghats at Talakaveri in the state of Karnataka, India.
  • Flow: It flows through the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India and enters the Bay of Bengal.
  • Length: The total length of the river is approximately 800 kilometers.
  • Basin: The Cauvery River basin is one of the most important and fertile river basins in India, supporting agriculture and serving as a vital water source.
  • Key Tributaries: Some of the main tributaries of the Cauvery include the Kabini River, Hemavati River, and Arkavati River.
  • Water Dispute: The Cauvery River has been a subject of dispute between the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, mainly due to the sharing of its waters for irrigation and drinking purposes. The Krishna Raja Sagara Dam near Mysore is one of the key reservoirs built on the Cauvery River.
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