By Ravishankar Iyer
In the movie ‘300’, a Persian messenger arrived at Sparta demanding ‘earth and water’. Spartans retorted to this demand by killing and throwing him into a well. What followed this, was an assaulting war. This movie bears uncanny resemblance with the current protests taking place in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka on the sharing of the Cauvery river’s water. The agitation of these protests has wrecked havoc in the daily lives of the citizens. It has even caused innocent people to lose their lives. But this is just the beginning. The ice has just started to break. This is just a glimpse into the fearful future which will probably witness a full-fledged water war.
The Cauvery Water dispute is a long-pending, unresolved water-sharing conflict. It concerns three states – Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and one Union Territory – Puducherry. The inception of the Cauvery issue can be traced back to 1892. The first agreement was signed between Madras Presidency and Mysore state. As per this agreement, Mysore state went on to build a dam with 11 TMC of capacity. A second agreement was signed between Madras Presidency and Mysore state in 1924. It was set to lapse after a run of 50 years.
As the 1970’s period approached, the lapse of the 1924 agreement came closer to its lapse. Since Kerala and Puducherry also laid claim on the share of Cauvery, a Cauvery Fact Finding Committee was constituted. This committee’s main job was to inspect the ground realities and come up with a report. Cauvery Fact Committee found that Tamil Nadu’s irrigated lands had grown from 1,440,000 acres to 2,580,000 acres. At the same time, Karnataka’s irrigated land stood at 680,000 acres. The committee submitted its report in 1972.
Also, further studies conducted by the expert committee were presented. To this end, the states reached an agreement in 1976. However, a new government regime in Tamil Nadu refused to give a consent to terms of the agreement paving way for further dispute. Later in 1986, the Tamil Nadu government appealed the Central government to constitute a tribunal for solving the issue under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956. However, the tribunal was not set-up until Supreme Court took cognizance of the matter and ordered the Central government to do so in 1990.
The Cauvery Waters Tribunal was constituted on June 2, 1990. After 16 years of hearing and an interim order, the Tribunal announced its final order in 2007. It allocated 419 TMC ft water to Tamil Nadu and 270 TMC ft to Karnataka. Kerala was given 30 TMC ft and Puducherry got 7 TMC ft. The Tribunal had come to a conclusion that total availability of water in Cauvery basin stood at 740 tmc ft. However, both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka filed a review petition before the Tribunal.
What Triggered the Protest?
The issue kept troubling the region as Karnataka stopped the release of water again. The TN government led by CM J. Jayalalithaa decided to sue the Karnataka government for contempt of court. With the Karnataka government continuously failing to release the water to Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa filed an interlocutory petition in the Supreme Court in August 2016 seeking the release of water as per guidelines of Cauvery Tribunal. Announcing its verdict in the case, the SC has now directed Karnataka government to release 15,000 cusecs of water to its neighbouring state for 10 days.
Why is Cauvery Important To Tamil Nadu ?
The main reason can be attributed to the cropping pattern of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Crops in both states such as sugarcane and paddy are heavily water dependent. Farmers have to either go for drip irrigation or adopt alternative farming methods like permaculture or organic farming. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are third and fourth largest producer of sugarcane in India. Between September to October, the farmers in Tamil Nadu follow the Samba season wherein the farmers start with the Samba crop cultivation. With Tamil Nadu still awaiting the north-east rains, the Cauvery river’s water proves to be the only savior for these farmers. Top 11 dams in Karnataka have a total of 704.89 TMC water as compared to 190.11 TMC in Tamil Nadu. To this end, the two most important questions that pop out are discussed below.
The Woes of Karnataka
The primary reason behind woes of Karnataka can be attributed to the population growth of Bangalore city. The increase in population inevitably leads to the rise in demand of water. According to 2011 census, Bangalore district’s population ballooned in the last decade to around 9.59 million in 2011.
With nearly all the lakes being dried up and ground water level depleting, Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) goes as far as 100km to get water from Cauvery to supply drinking water to Bangalore.
However, Cauvery water alone is not enough to cater to the complete drinking water needs of Bangalore. It is estimated that there are 3 lakh borewells that go as deep as 1,000 feet, and many water tankers plying in Bengaluru supplying drinking water to the residential colonies. It is also estimated that 35% of water meant for the city is wasted in leakages. As per this estimation, 500 MLD out of 1400 MLD that Bangalore draws gets wasted due to leakages and the other 150 MLD is drawn by industries. In short, Bangalore citizens gets 750 MLD of water every day.
Please note that both the states are poor in terms of water recycling. Karnataka provides 4 lakh litres of water from Malaprabha river to Pepsico unit in Dharwad and Tamil Nadu provides 15 lakh litres per day from Tambirabharani river to Pepsi. This issue has come to be a matter of intense political dialogue and election issue in both the states. In the past, many prominent people (actors, farmers etc.) from both states have supported their respective agenda. This issue can be solved by mutual talks and it is time for the central government to step in.
Possibility of Rapprochement
Also, for long-term solutions, a new pattern can be proposed for sharing water between the two states. This new pattern should consider two factors – the total area under agriculture which is dependent on Cauvery water and the amount of rainfall received in that area. This will be helpful in releasing a dynamic amount of water rather than a fixed amount. For instance, consideration of the fact that Karnataka has not received good rainfall this year, will help people understand and comprehend that releasing water from Cauvery will not be a feasible solution.
Encouraging rain water harvesting and implementing RO plants on large-scale can certainly aid in fulfilling the water demand. Since paddy and sugarcane crops consume a large amount of water, the above alternatives should be implemented by the government. Both the states should learn lessons from this incident and take pro-active measures to mitigate this problem.
A handshake from both the sides is what we need at this moment to erase the possibility of a dark future of water war.
Ravishankar Iyer is working as an IT consultant in an MNC. He has interest in politics and current affairs.
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