The recent Supreme Court ruling on September 6th 2016 for the release of 15000 cusecs of Cauvery River water to Tamil Nadu has triggered the century old water sharing dispute between the southern states of Karnataka and TN, leading the situation back to square one.
More arguments and emotions have flown than the water herself and perhaps the number of tribunals and committees constituted for resolving this much debated matter has far exceeded the number of dams constructed or water conservation steps taken in both TN and Karnataka put together.
The Cauvery issue dates back to the British times when during 1880s, any irrigation plans proposed by the Princely state of Mysore was always met with resistance by Madras Presidency.
In 1910, Mysore under Wodeyars and their chief engineer Sir.M.V.Vishveshwaraiah came up with an irrigation plan of constructing a dam at Kannambadi to hold 41.5 TMC of water but it was dissented by Tamil Nadu as they planned of building the Mettur dam with an 80 TMC of water. The Mysore province made a representation to the Government of India but was able to get a sanction of only 11 tmc of water however the foundation was laid as per the initial plans which sent the matter for an arbitration that upheld the 11tmc permission. But Madras appealed against this order.
In 1924 an agreement was arrived at although without complete agreement from the stakeholders and that was to be valid for the next 50years and by 1934 the Mettur dam with a capacity of 90TMC was built.
After independence huge parts of Bombay presidency and Hyderabad states joined Mysore and parts of Malabar that was earlier part of Madras went to Kerala.
But the water stalemate continued and now there were four contenders (states) for it.
In 1970 a Cauvery Fact Finding Committee (CFFC) was set up but each time Karnataka made storage or irrigation efforts via building dams, Tamil Nadu went to the courts demanding a Tribunal to be set up under the Interstate River Water Disputes Act.
In 1990 a 3 member tribunal was constituted during V.P.Singh’s regime. The Tribunal in 1991 awarded an average of 205billion cubic ft of water to be released to Tamil Nadu and that Karnataka cannot increase its existing irrigated land area of 4500sq kms.
During 1995-96 when Karnataka was hit by a monsoon failure it was hard-pressed to release the agreed levels as TN went to court yet again demanding release of 11billion sqft water. Karnataka pleaded its inability and P.V.Narasimha Rao had to intervene to negotiate it to 6billion sqft.
This insensitivity of Tamil Nadu upset Karnataka people who demanded re framing of the policies and reconsidering the obsolete interim award that was drawn during pre-independence times with a rigid calculation considering the then population with no clear cut process in the event of a distress as they found the interim award irrational and biased. Each time talks were called for amicable resolutions the TN and Karnataka CMs and representatives took turns to stage walk outs delaying and deferring any sane debates making the Cauvery issue an eternal trouble.
Ever since then the Cauvery issue has become less about water and more about votebank politics cashing on emotional, linguistic and ethnic rubbing _ the Cauvery is today a cash cow in the political stream and a king or queen maker in the Tamil Nadu political scenario as the politicians want the Ca word to be alive and kicking.
Let’s understand it from the people’s perspective:
The Cauvery River that takes birth in TalaKaveri in Coorg district of Karnataka is one of the seven holy rivers and the lifeline of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It is the main grid of irrigation for the farmers of Mandya and Tanjavur which form the rice bowls of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu respectively.
The 802kms long Cauvery is the Ganges of South India that runs 320kms in Karnataka and 423kms in TN before merging into Bay Of Bengal. Due to the highly fertile delta many water intensive crops like paddy and sugar cane are grown along Karnataka. In fact farmers in TN have been growing 3 crops in a year which has become the contentious issue now because currently the ground situation is that there is not enough drinking water for people of Karnataka and to release water to TN for a 3rd summer crop is adding insult to injury, say the Karnataka people while the TN representative argue that Cauvery is the lifeline of TN and that river water should be shared equitably irrespective of the water crisis and in line with the British time water sharing agreements which also in their view a historical right they hold on the river since times before Karnataka or Tamil Nadu was even formed.
People on both sides in Karnataka and TN have an emotional and spiritual connect with the river Cauvery, their life-giver but due to the water shortage issues and restrictions the farmers are unable to sustain the crops and their livelihood.
As per the Cauvery Water Sharing Tribunal awarding, today
• Tamil Nadu gets : 419 TMC
• Karnataka : 270 TMC
• Kerala : 30 TMC
• Puduchery : 7 TMC of water.
Although Karnataka has 53% river water sources and TN has only 30% river water sources Cauvery is an important river for Southern Karnataka which forms the lifeline for Mandya, Mysore and Bengaluru whose population is exploding by each day and hosts almost more than 20lakhs Tamils today. Also when Karnataka has 42% of Cauvery river basin it is entitled to only 37% of its water share while Tamil Nadu with 54% of Cauvery river basin gets a lion’s share even when 63% of Cauvery river basin area of Karnataka comes under drought affected zone whereas only 29% of the Cauvery basin of Tamil Nadu is drought affected.
But unlike Karnataka, Cauvery is the main river for Tamil Nadu and the population density of Tamil Nadu is something that should be considered as TN has 70% of the geographical area of the Karnataka with 120% of Karnataka’s population.
Although Karnataka has other water sources like Krishna Tungabhadra, Ghataprabha and Bhima the state is dependent on Southwest monsoons as the extent of arid land is second only to Rajasthan and face similar or worse conditions like TN with uncertain rainfalls.
Karnataka has so far done well in water conservation but it needs to tap on all the rivers and lake water bodies more efficiently as large numbers of Karnataka people still strive for basic drinking water. Statistics reveal that 85% water is used for irrigation and only 14% for drinking water purposes. The lake wealth of Bengaluru in particular and Karnataka at large is shrinking by the day. Any efforts to restore or rejuvenate the existing lakes is just a number on the paper in spite of the funds allocated for it as Bengaluru is gripped in the chaos of encroachment, real estate, sand and mall mafia in the name of city development added by the IT boom, and with little or no political will things are only deteriorating.
Tamil Nadu on the other hand has to buck up on water conservation and should invest more meaningfully on rain water harvesting projects, desalination of sea water and restoration of lakes than focusing on freebies and rice bag and Re.1 canteen politics. The 40000 lakes of TN have been reduced to just 10000 lakes today.
In spite of the water wars the agricultural GDPs of both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu who are chest beating about their farmers, reveals otherwise with the economic contribution of 16-17% to the state’s GDP.
Most water bodies are all silted and polluted, the Orthathupalyam dam across the river Noyyal(a tributary of Cauvery) is full of chemical waste so much that the farmers here protest for not opening the dam.
Lakes in Karnataka are worse than Chennai sometimes, the Bellandur Lake is so highly polluted and overflowing with foam that it burns on its own, this is caused not by industrial waste but by domestic waste disposal, all this water goes to Pennar river which serves for drinking purpose in TN, similar is the case with Adiyar and Coovam lakes of TN that are burning with toxic fumes.
The Cauvery River flowing between Erode and Pallipalayam in TN is highly polluted because of unchecked discharge of effluents into the river by the textile dyeing industry that contaminates drinking water of people living in downstream areas.
Also there have been allegations that the paths where the river flows have been let out to industrialization for soft drink giants like Coke and Pepsi by the Tamil Nadu government when it is thrusting the farmer’s card to the world.
Jayalalitha who won the TN CM’s post during the 90s by aligning with the Congress was able to garner the sympathy votes from Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, over time she has emerged as a seasoned politician who knows how to cater to the emotions of the Tamils.
Large parts of TN are still fanatically kept away from other Indian languages mainly to rekindle and reap benefits of the Tamil lingo-jingoism by playing with the emotions of Tamils and pitching them against Kannadigas.
Off late even Kannada politics has geared up to rebut this dirty gimmicks and the things are only getting more ugly.
Essentially it is a systematic failure on part of the Politicians and bureaucracy of both the states which has been conveniently colored with linguistic emotions and ethnic divides with no real intent to resolve the farmer’s plight at hand which forms the basis for our food security, environmental balance and the farmer’s livelihood.
Also when India and Pakistan do not have any problem, sharing river waters it is disheartening that neighboring states of the same nation are so sour about each other and up in arms. Denying and blocking water to a downstream state is totally unethical and uncalled for but Karnataka too is facing acute water shortage.
But bandhs and violent protests causing damage to public property or banning of Kannada movies in TN and vice versa are no answers and will only hamper the economy of the states thereby jeopardizing many livelihoods that run on daily wages and creates divide among people.
So the focus right now for both the states should be on introducing rain based crops, water rationing, water pricing, optimum utilization of river waters to sustain water based crops, reviving its alternative water bodies, strict implementation of rain water harvesting, bartering power for water and vice versa which could ease the raging tempers, adapting precision farming and micro irrigation like drip irrigation and various other conservation methods. River linking although sounds good but it requires lot of research and consideration of its pros and cons before any implementation as the current scenario of pollution levels in the water bodies is appalling and risky.
The Western Ghats is to South Indian Rivers what the Himalaya is to the North Indian Rivers and its preservation is of utmost importance for maintaining ecological balance and ensure adequate rainfall, as most rivers in South India are today robbed of their sand because of sand mafia which is the essence for any river to flow and maintain the fertility of the soil. Areas that used to receive extensive rainfall are today going dry today.
Every citizen of this country is bound by the Supreme Court’s order but the fact that a top lawyer like Justice Fali Nariman who charges approximately Rs.12-15lakhs per appearance, whose legal services were hired by Karnataka for the Cauvery water issue this time has in the past fought and won Jayalalitha’s disproportionate assets case that aided in reinstated her as TN’s CM, a lawyer who fought for DOW chemicals in the Bhopal Gas Leak case and helped lead the guilty Warren Anderson safely out of the country and today is incidental in the release of water from Karnataka to TN, these facts does not really inspire the common man’s faith on legal resources today.
In this context there is a need for devising a strong National Water Policy with a national water board consisting of representatives from every state. And in a crisis like this where two states are at loggerheads, then representatives from other states should intervene and aid decisions based on pure research and ground data without any linguistic politics or favoritism or the clout politics of money.