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Our needs first, Tamil Nadu’s later: Karnataka farmers steely resolve

Ahead of the Supreme Court verdict, people in Mandya are hopeful it will protect Karnataka’s interests.

india Updated: Feb 06, 2018 08:08 IST
KV Lakshmana
KV Lakshmana
Hindustan Times, Mandya
Cauvery Water Dispute,Cauvery River,Cauvery Water
Karnataka’s farmers want the Supreme Court to protect their interests as they believe that the Centre and Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal are ‘against them’. (Arijit Sen/ Hindustan Times)

Sakkare Nadu or City of Sugar, Mandya, mourned the death of farmer leader Konasala Narasaraju, 58, on January 30.

Narasaraju, who had been at the forefront of Karnataka Rajya Rythu Sangha’s agitation for Cauvery water, had died five days ago. A firebrand farmer leader, he had always insisted the state’s farmers had the first right on Cauvery water.

Mandya is no stranger to farmer suicides and one-and-a-half years ago, Narasaraju had warned of more such deaths if water was sent to Tamil Nadu instead of Karnataka’s needy farmers in the Cauvery basin comprising Mandya, Mysore, Chamarajanagar.

People mourning him promised to be as determined.

“Water for me first and then for anyone else,” said his son, Chetan Kumar, a farmer and schoolteacher. “There could be fresh trouble as the Supreme Court verdict may go Tamil Nadu’s way because their lawyers are better. This year monsoon has been good, but if it is bad like in the past few years, it will be difficult to give water to TN no matter what anyone says.”

Passions ran high among the mourners, who congregated at Pravasi Mandir in Mandya town, as they formed a human chain for peace and communal harmony.

A mention of Cauvery water-sharing dispute and the impending Supreme Court verdict sparked off an intense discussion. Most participants insisted Tamil Nadu was at fault.

Two years ago, when the Supreme Court ordered Karnataka to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu, violent protests erupted in Bengaluru and Mandya, where pro-Kannada activists torched business establishments owned by Tamilians and attacked vehicles bearing Tamil Nadu registration. The IT sector too witnessed disruptions, hurting the brand Bengaluru image.

Ahead of the SC verdict, people in Mandya are hopeful it will protect Karnataka’s interests.

Ramakrishnayya, state secretary of Karnataka Rashtra Rythu Sangha, said, “Giving Tamil Nadu the water it demands is just not possible.”

According to him, it “is not just nature, even the Centre and the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal are against us”. Fellow farmers nodded in agreement. “If the rain is good, we can give water to Tamil Nadu. If the rain is poor, how can we give it to them? We will not allow water to be given to Tamil Nadu until all our farmers get all the water they need,” said Ramakrishnayya.

Local leaders are equally rigid. KS Puttannaiah, MLA of Melukote in Mandya and a farmer himself, argued for reducing the quantum of water allocated to Tamil Nadu from the present 192 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) to 165 tmc ft. “Let us wait for the judgment. We will take a call only after seeing the order,” he said.

Educationist TV Mohandas Pai said he hoped the SC would “correct the injustice meted out to Karnataka” way back in 1924, when Tamil Nadu (then Madras Presidency) got the judgment it wanted through the good offices of the British.

Mandya farmers believe the top court will consider the reality that Karnataka is the biggest dry land state in the country after Rajasthan and do justice.

Not all voices are rigid, though. Kodihalli Chandrashekhar, a farmer leader from southern Karnataka, believes a solution will have to be reached through a dialogue between farmers of both states. This is in line with what S Ranganathan, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Cauvery Delta Farmers’ Welfare Association, also believes. However, like Ranganathan, Chandrashekhar too blamed politicians “for the current mess”.

Former IAS officer of Karnataka cadre, Renuka Viswanathan, now an aspiring MLA from the Aam Aadmi Party, said, “Politicians always feed on conflicts, whip up emotions and try and find a convenient enemy to target.” She said the issue should be left to the farming communities of the two states to resolve it themselves.

“But one thing for sure is both states need to use water efficiently and plan their crops well,” said the former bureaucrat, who worked with the Planning Commission, now scrapped and replaced by Niti Aayog.

First Published: Feb 06, 2018 08:07 IST