Cauvery dispute: Court calms the waters temporarily
After holding out repeatedly against Supreme Court orders on releasing the Cauvery waters to neighbouring Tamil Nadu, Karnataka has finally given in and agreed to open the tap. Earlier the assembly had said water would be released just for drinking purposes. Such disputes between the two states have occurred in the past whenever rainfall has been deficient. And on each occasion the problem cropped up in September, when the kuruvai and the samba crops in Tamil Nadu are cultivated. In 2002, Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu chief minister then and now, and her Karnataka counterpart SM Krishna had to request the intervention of then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee to settle the dispute.
The Cauvery river system comprises the river Cauvery and its tributaries such as the Hemavati, Bhavani, Kabini and Amravati. The root of the problem is that Tamil Nadu has a long history of irrigated agriculture and Karnataka, the upper riparian state, started late in that field. The history of this goes back to the 19th century, and the Madras Presidency and the State of Mysore had made an agreement in 1892 and another one 1924. Karnataka has from time to time raked this up, saying those had been unfair to them.
The late S Guhan, an IAS officer, had written a book titled The Cauvery Dispute: Towards Reconciliation, which had suggestions for Tamil Nadu such as improving the irrigation system, better farm management practices, conserving groundwater and preventing the runoff of rainwater. He also regretted that the two states could not evolve a formula on the basis of trust and goodwill in accordance with the Helsinki Rules, 1966, drawn up by the International Law Association. Institutions such as the Cauvery River Authority and Cauvery Monitoring Committee have been set up and yet, almost 10 years after the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal gave its final award, no solution is in sight. And it should be remembered that the problem is not just of Cauvery. Odisha and Chhattisgarh are locked in battle over the waters of the Mahanadi. The same is the case with Andhra Pradesh and Telangana with regard to the Krishna and Godavari. The country’s water crisis has been caused partly by a distorted irrigation policy. There are rain-shadow areas such as Vidarbha where irrigation projects exist only on paper. Another problem is that water resources are being given by several states to bidding parties. In the early 2000s, Andhra Pradesh (then undivided) did away with its irrigation development corporation. This means an increasing number of borewells, dug chiefly by rich farmers, and as a result, the groundwater level went down, adding to the farmers’ difficulties. Clearly the Central Water Commission has not been equal to the task. It should be surmounted by a National Water Commission.