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Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

Ahead of SC’s Cauvery ruling, Karnataka and TN tense over water share

The Cauvery water dispute, which has been going on for a century, has drawn battle lines between the two states as both wait with bated breath for the apex court’s final verdict

india Updated: Feb 05, 2018 08:38 IST
KV Lakshmana
KV Lakshmana
Hindustan Times, Chennai/Bengaluru
Tamil Nadu farmers are crying hoarse for 15 tmcft of water to save the standing samba crop, but the state government is in a bind given the precariously low storage level in the Mettur dam.
Tamil Nadu farmers are crying hoarse for 15 tmcft of water to save the standing samba crop, but the state government is in a bind given the precariously low storage level in the Mettur dam.(S Raja/ Hindustan Times)

The century-old Cauvery water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnatake could see a final settlement soon as the Supreme Court is expected to give its verdict on the issue any time this month. Ahead of the judgment, the two states are tense with anticipation and apprehension as it will impact the fortunes of millions of farmers on either side.

Passions are running high. In poll-bound Karnataka, the Congress-led government can ill-afford to upset farmers now and in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the Opposition is mounting a frontal attack on a wobbly AIADMK government.

It is in this scenario that Tamil Nadu chief minister Edapaddi Palaniswami last month sought an audience with his Karnataka counterpart Siddaramaiah to urge him to release 80 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) of Cauvery water that was due to Tamil Nadu, as per the final award of the Cauvery River Water Disputes Tribunal.

Citing poor storage in its reservoirs and its own irrigation requirements and the drinking water needs of an expanding Bangaluru, Karnataka has allegedly defied the Supreme Court order and refused to release water.

The farmers in the Cauvery delta farming fields here were hoping for a good crop this year after six successive drought years, who desperately need water to save the standing Samba crops (rice grown between August and January), may once again be disappointed.

Siddaramaiah appears to be playing for time and is unlikely to meet EPS before the Supreme Court verdict – citing his preoccupation with state budget slated for February 16.

“There will be no meeting before the verdict. We are expecting 470 tmcft of water for Karnataka in the final award as against the 270 tmcft given by the tribunal,” says Brajesh Kallappa, the Congress spokesperson from Karnataka.

Karnataka water resources minister MB Patil told mediapersons that Karnataka was not in a position to release any more Cauvery water. Tamil Nadu had already received 113 tmcft so far, which was more than what is stipulated under a distress formula, he added.

Experts say it is not without reason that Tamil Nadu farmers see Karnataka as the villain.

They say that Karnataka has built new dams and reservoirs, de-silted its water bodies and canals and with a political unity of purpose was better prepared for the battle.

Tamil Nadu farmers are crying hoarse for 15 tmcft of water to save the standing samba crop, but the state government is in a bind given the precariously low storage level in the Mettur dam. That’s one reason why chief minister EPS has lobbed the ball in Karnataka’s court, but the Opposition in Tamil Nadu is not impressed.

The DMK’s working president MK Stalin said the state government should have forced Karnataka through the Centre by taking an all-party delegation to Delhi.

MDMK leader Vaiko charged Prime Minister Narendra Modi with treating Karnataka with kid gloves as he was eyeing votes to capture Karnataka that goes to polls in two months.

“What to speak of irrigation, people will not even have drinking water,” Vaiko said, painting a dismal picture.

While politicians on either side whip up emotions, some counsel negotiated settlement – farmer to farmer meetings to thrash out a solution in a true give and take spirit.

Kodihalli Chandrashekhar, a farmer leader from southern Karnataka, blamed the politicians for the mess, saying, “If farmers on both sides sit down, a solution can be found without any trouble.”

Chandrashekhar said that governments were responsible for the spate of suicides by farmers in both states. Industrialists are helped, but not farmers, he rued.

Like Chandrashekhar, S Ranganathan, the 82-year-old general secretary of the Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association and the original petitioner for setting up a Cauvery tribunal in the Supreme Court, calls for a dialogue as well.

He says nearly 80% of the crops in Cauvery delta need water for three more wettings or they will die before being harvested.

Ranganathan says the Cauvery delta is among the most efficient rice-producing fields in the world and it would be better to save Tamil Nadu’s status as the rice granary of south India, just as it must be ensured that Bengaluru thrived as the IT powerhouse of the country. Karnataka’s dry weather and soil quality would be better suited to millets rather than water-guzzling crops like paddy and sugarcane, he adds.

Despite these arguments, battle lines are drawn ahead of the verdict. Karnataka’s Mandya region, the epicentre of violent protests by farmers and pro-Kannada groups in 2016, is already tense. The state police has stepped up security in the region.

First Published: Feb 04, 2018 23:34 IST

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