After angry warnings from the Supreme Court including a reference to the impending “wrath of the law,” Karnataka said today that it will follow orders to release water from the River Cauvery to neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

Karnataka had, till yesterday, refused to comply with instructions issued last week by the top court to share 6,000 cusecs of water for six consecutive days. Last night, the government changed that after claiming that recent rain meant it could afford to share.

Its sudden change of heart came after the Supreme Court made it clear that it would brook no further dissent.

Early in September, the top court agreed with Tamil Nadu’s request for a larger portion of water from the River Cauvery which originates in Karnataka and flows across the border. The Karnataka government headed by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah reluctantly followed the decree; riots quickly erupted including in the state capital of Bengaluru where two people died.

Property worth crores was lost in the violent demonstrations, and the usually-busy border between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka turned into a volatile zone, with bus services suspended and factories in neighbouring areas closed.
When the Supreme Court issued another order asking for more water to be provided to Tamil Nadu, Karnataka refused, claiming that its own four reservoirs were running low and that major metros were receiving barely enough water.

The court’s attempts to use the centre to broker a compromise have failed.

Yesterday, the centre said that it could not follow judges’ wishes to set up a board of experts to study and handle the dispute because parliament’s approval is needed for an authority with that sort of clout. When asked why it had not revealed this earlier, the centre said, “It was a mistake.”

The Tamil Nadu government has accused the centre of siding with Karnataka because elections are due there, and the centre hopes to displace the current Congress government.

The tug-of-war over the River Cauvery’s resources is nearly a century old. In 2007, a tribunal created by the Supreme Court delivered its decision on how water should be shared, but all four states involved including Puducherry and Kerala have challenged the allocation.