Centre, States and river waters

Print edition : April 04, 1998
PERSPECTIVE

The AIADMK's demand that the Centre take over the States' rights over river waters goes against its own stand that favours State autonomy.

THE All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), like other Dravidian organisations, is supposed to stand for State autonomy and against centralisation. It is, however, curious that the party now demands that the existing rights of States over river waters in their territory should be taken over by the Centre.

I am referring to the series of demands that the AIADMK placed before its senior alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as part of its conditions for sending its letter of support to the BJP to form a government at the Centre. One of the conditions was that the BJP, when its government was formed, should agree that rivers flowing through the States would become the Centre's property and would be controlled by the Centre.

This reminded me of the fantastic statement made by Tamil Nadu leaders when I was Chief Minister of Kerala in 1957 and 1967. Their statement was that the waters of the rivers in the State of Kerala flowed into the sea and were thus "wasted", and, if they were diverted to Tamil Nadu they could be utilised fully to provide water for irrigation, drinking water supply and so on. However, such diversion will mean that the saline water in the Arabian Sea would intrude into the fresh-water rivers of Kerala. This would turn the beautiful paddy fields of Kerala into deserts. The demand made by the Tamil Nadu leaders meant that Kerala should be turned into a desert for the benefit of Tamil Nadu.

Naturally, I could not agree to that proposition. I, however, understood Tamil Nadu's need for water for drinking purposes and for irrigation. I, therefore, agreed to provide water to the thirsty fields of Tamil Nadu and, more important, for the provision of drinking water in some of the Tamil Nadu towns close to the Kerala border.

That was how certain agreements were arrived at between the representatives of the two States. I remember that the Minister who represented Tamil Nadu at the time, C. Subramaniam, remarked that the agreements arrived at in the presence of himself and myself were a "Deepavali gift" from Kerala to Tamil Nadu. I considered it necessary to give some water to my sisters and brothers in Tamil Nadu - an action which I have never regretted and shall never regret.

It was, however, impossible for me to allow the green paddy fields of Kerala to be turned into a desert, so that the thirsty men and women, as also the paddy fields, of Tamil Nadu got the water that they desired.

LIKE my friends in Tamil Nadu in the 1950s and 1960s, AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha today talks of Kerala "allowing its water resources to go waste" in the Arabian Sea when they can be put to efficient use by Tamil Nadu. These friends forget that river waters constitute a national asset that can be used for many purposes.

Irrigation of agricultural fields is, of course, important. Equally important are the provision of drinking water and the supply of water for industrial use. Besides, in a coastal State like Kerala, it is also necessary to prevent sea water from entering paddy fields and turning them into deserts.

To what use the internal water resources of a State have to be put is a question that has to be decided by the State concerned, under the federal Constitution of India.

It is, therefore, not clear how a Dravidian party such as the AIADMK could suggest that this right of the State of Kerala be extinguished and that the Centre be empowered to determine the use of all the rivers in all the States of India.

For the BJP, however, this will be acceptable because it is a party that is trying to extinguish the rights of the States in favour of the Centre. Would the AIADMK and its erstwhile government in Tamil Nadu have allowed this to be done in relation to other resources of Tamil Nadu? On the other hand, would it not resist such an incursion into the rights of Tamil Nadu, whether it is done by a BJP government or any other government at the Centre?

Jayalalitha and her friends should understand that the Constitution allows every State to use its resources, which include water resources, in the way it considers it proper. Any attack on this right of the States is contrary to the very principle on the basis of which the AIADMK, like other Dravidian organisations, is supposed to be functioning.

IS it not significant that Jayalalitha had not made such a demand on the Central Government all these years when she was either the leader of the ruling party or the leader of the Opposition in Tamil Nadu? Why does she make such a demand now?

This shows the thoroughly opportunistic character of the alliance between the BJP and the AIADMK: while the former is an ardent advocate of a "strong Centre", the latter claims to be fighting for the rights of the States against the Centre.

For its part, the BJP may, in line with its political opportunism, concede the demand, which in fact will strengthen its own philosophy of a "strong Centre" against the States. The masses who follow the AIADMK will, however, realise that such a concession to the proponents of the idea of a "strong Centre" will boomerang on their own struggle for State autonomy.

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