Millennium Post

Cascading dispute

The Cauvery water dispute has worsened after another monsoon-deficit year in southern Karnataka. The Supreme Court on Monday slammed the Karnataka government for citing public unrest and turmoil as reasons for seeking a modification of its September 5 order to release 15,000 cusecs from its reservoirs to Tamil Nadu. It, however, modified its order, by directing Karnataka to release 12,000 cusecs a day till September 20.

Meanwhile, the dispute continues in both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and takes dangerous turns as sporadic incidents of attacks took place. In Tamil Nadu, an unidentified group hurled petrol bombs at a hotel in Chennai in the early hours of Monday. In Rameswaram, about eight members of the Naam Tamizhar Katchi, the Tamizhaga Vazhvurimai Katchi, and the Tamil National Movement, attacked the Karnataka-registered vehicles, including two buses. Police immediately sprang to action. However, no one was injured in the incident. Security has been tightened in vulnerable areas. Karnataka's border with Tamil Nadu along Chamarajanagar district has been sealed in the wake of fresh disturbances reported in the Cauvery basin districts. Tamil residents attacked in Pandavapura and their six shops attacked and destroyed. All Tamil Nadu-bound bus services have been stopped.  Kerala-bound buses that go through Tamil Nadu have also been stopped. Whether night services to Kerala should operate will depend on the situation. 

Pro-Kannada groups are in protest against the release of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu, bringing Karnataka to a complete standstill. The Congress-led Karnataka government has agreed to play ball and said it will not oppose the strike. But the effects of the state-wide bandh have been felt acutely by its citizens. Keeping transport services off the roads, many schools and government offices remained closed, apart from other commercial establishments. What the protest engenders from is that pro-Kannada organisations urged the state to first protect the interests of its own people. This is the kind of dispute that typically arises when there is deficit monsoon in the region. 

A flashpoint arises when rains are inadequate in the catchment areas of the river, leaving four key Cauvery basin reservoirs below capacity. The four major reservoirs in the Cauvery basin have received only 114.66 thousand million cubic (tmc) ft of water. Under normal circumstances, these reservoirs would carry 215.70 tmc ft of water. As a result of this shortfall, the Tamil Nadu government, in an attempt to protect the interests of farmers in the Thanjavur region, went to the Apex Court. The complaint stated that Karnataka has failed to comply with the water release plan for a normal monsoon season detailed in the 2007 order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal.

It goes without saying that there is a need to devise a sustainable agricultural solution for the Cauvery basin, as the river does not seem to have the potential to meet the farming requirements of the concerned states. Given the scarcity of water, such disputes are but predictable. As a result of rising population, the per capita water availability in India is shrinking every year. Although some states receive more water than others, there are others that may lay claim because historically they have had better access to it. A fundamental reason behind this never-ending dispute is the inability of both states to arrive at a consensus on the amount of water they should share during distress years. 

This is further exacerbated by the fact that there is no independent and permanent mechanism to ensure reasonable levels of sharing. The Apex Court could at most give guidelines and settle secondary disputes, but since water is a state subject, the management and resolution of such a matter rests with the concerned states. 
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