Muted elation

Published : Feb 23, 2007 00:00 IST

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.-M. VEDHAN

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.-M. VEDHAN

There is cautious optimism in Tamil Nadu over the final award despite conflicting views being aired by political parties.

IT was Friday, February 2, and there was a quiet sense of optimism in the Cauvery Technical Cell office in an old bungalow at Egmore in Chennai. As if to confirm the optimism, two men were painting a bust of the moustachioed Colonel W.M. Ellis in front of the office. One of them carefully painted the words on the pedestal: "Col. W.M. Ellis, C.I.E., Royal Engineer, Architect of Mettur dam, River Cauvery... " The painting of the bust, after long neglect, was not without significance. On February 5, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal was to pronounce its final award on the sharing of the river water by Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Puducherry. If the Krishnarajasagar dam symbolises the aspirations of farmers in Karnataka, its counterpart in Tamil Nadu is the Mettur dam, serving as the lifeline for thousands of farmers in the Cauvery delta districts in the State.

When the final award was announced and it became known that Tamil Nadu would receive 192 tmc ft of Cauvery water from Karnataka at Biligundlu, there was a sense of elation, a feeling that the State had received justice. But there were no celebrations.

The reaction of Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, who has handled the sensitive issue for the past 38 years in different capacities, first as Public Works Minister and then during five terms as Chief Minister, was circumspect. "The justice we have got after a long time gives us consolation," he said. When asked whether the final award gave him "full satisfaction", the 82-year-old Karunanidhi's reply was: "I will be fully happy only when the people of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka unitedly accept this award."

On the final award, he said: "It comes as a consolation because we have got justice over a demand we have been making for a long time." On the proposed "bandh" in Karnataka, he had a ready pun: "I want the Tamilians in Tamil Nadu and the Kannadigas in Karnataka to be "bandhus" [kin]. Hence I appeal to them not to organise the bandh," he said. He recalled that he had held negotiations with 11 Karnataka Chief Ministers since 1968 to break the deadlock, and paid a tribute to former Prime Minister V.P. Singh who set up the Tribunal in 1990.

Political parties and farmers' organisations said the absence of a "distress-sharing formula" in the award was "a serious flaw", though the final award did say that in years of lower rainfall the four riparian States would "proportionately reduce" their shares of the waters. There were important reasons for the disappointment at the absence of a more specific "distress-sharing formula". It was the absence of such a formula that allowed Karnataka not to implement the interim award in the years of "distress" (when rainfall was low) between 1991 and 2006. This led to Tamil Nadu farmers losing either the "kuruvai" or the "samba" crops, or both, in the years when both the southwest monsoon and the northeast monsoon failed.

K. Balakrishnan, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Kisan Sabha, affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said that because the interim award did not specify a distress-sharing formula, "there was no way out" of the tangled skein that the issue had become. He insisted that the proposed Cauvery Management Board should be given the power to implement any distress-sharing formula that might be devised later. "The Tamil Nadu government and political parties in the State should constantly pressure the Centre to force Karnataka to implement the award and a distress-sharing formula that may be arrived at in future," said Balakrishnan. Inter-State water disputes became too complicated if they were allowed to persist, he said, adding that the Centre should make Karnataka obey the final order. He said that 192 tmc ft was "an acceptable share" for Tamil Nadu. The Tribunal had arrived at the final award only after studying extensively the documents supplied by the four States and listening to the arguments of their counsel. There was no other forum that could render better justice.

The final award has generated an expectation among the farming community in the State that it would set at rest a dispute that has defied a solution for so long. Balakrishnan said, "For more than 40 years, there has been an unstable situation in the delta in Tamil Nadu. Farmers could not plan their operations with any guarantee. Now that the final award has been pronounced, we hope farmers will have an assured supply of water."

S. Ranganathan, general secretary of the Cauvery Delta Farmers' Welfare Association, the first organisation to file a case in the Supreme Court in 1983 for the constitution of a Tribunal, said the final award should have been "more specific" about what would be done in years of deficit rainfall.

The final award, coming after a long-drawn, bitter dispute, has renewed the demand for nationalisation of inter-State rivers, interlinking of rivers in the southern peninsula, and the `lining' of canals. Financial institutions were unwilling to provide loans to the Tamil Nadu government for the lining of canals in the delta because of the uncertain situation that resulted from the non-implementation of the interim order by Karnataka.

The interim order said that Tamil Nadu should get at the Mettur dam 205 tmc ft from Karnataka in a water year, from June to May. This effectively meant that it was enough for Karnataka to release 180 tmc ft from its reservoirs to Tamil Nadu, because there would be an additional flow of 25 tmc ft between the Biligundlu gauging station in Karnataka and the Mettur dam. Out of this 205 tmc ft, Tamil Nadu was supposed to release 6 tmc ft to Puducherry. This meant that Tamil Nadu would get 199 tmc ft at Mettur or 174 tmc ft at Biligundlu.

The final order says Tamil Nadu will get 192 tmc ft at Biligundlu, plus 25 tmc ft as the flow between Biligundlu and Mettur. This will bring up a total of 217 tmc ft at Mettur. If Tamil Nadu gives away 7 tmc ft to Puducherry, as per the final award, it will have 210 tmc ft at Mettur. (In sum, it will receive 11 tmc ft extra under the final award than it would have under the interim order, going by the Mettur readings.) It was this piece of statistics that Karunanidhi used to argue that the final award came as a "consolation" to Tamil Nadu.

By and large, political parties reacted on predictable lines, depending on whether they were allies of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) or its rival, using the figures in the final award either to argue that the State had received justice or to establish that it had been betrayed.

While welcoming the final award, the CPI(M) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) underscored the need to ensure that Karnataka implemented it. N. Varadarajan, CPI(M) State secretary, was confident that the final award would provide a permanent solution to the dispute. The Centre and the State governments should set up the necessary administrative mechanisms to ensure not only that Tamil Nadu got 192 tmc ft at Biligundlu in a normal year, but also that it got its due share in a year of deficit, Varadarajan said. D. Pandian, CPI State secretary, said that the Centre should immediately set up a Cauvery Management Board to implement the final award.

The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), though an ally of the ruling DMK, opposed the award. PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss said the award disappointed the people of Tamil Nadu: he wanted the DMK to convene an all-party meeting to decide what should be done about it. Thol. Thirumavalavan, leader of the Dalit Panthers of India, another ally of the DMK, hedged his bets. He said the final award did not quite "do justice to Tamilians" but was a "consolation" to them.

L. Ganesan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) welcomed the award.

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) opposed the award. However, AIADMK general secretary and former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, who opposed the award and demanded that the DMK government should resign, wanted the Centre to notify the award in the gazette.

She said the State would lose 20 tmc ft under the final award and attacked the apportionment of 30 tmc ft to Kerala. "Kerala neither is in a position to receive 30 tmc ft nor does it have enough ayacut to irrigate them. This water will go into the sea and be wasted. Tamil Nadu should provide 6 tmc ft of water from the Bhavani river to Kerala. This is great injustice. Farmers fed by Bhavani Sagar will be betrayed in future. All sections of farmers in Tamil Nadu are, therefore, going to suffer," Jayalalithaa said.

MDMK general secretary Vaiko said the final award has come as a shock and a disappointment. "The people of Tamil Nadu have been denied justice." DMDK founder Vijayakant said that while Karnataka had perennial rivers like the Krishna and the Tungabhadra besides the Cauvery, Tamil Nadu had only the Cauvery. "In the final award, we have lost what we had got earlier. This is the truth," Vijayakant claimed.

Karunanidhi and Public Works Minister Durai Murugan refuted Jayalalithaa's claims. Karunanidhi pointed out that if Mettur readings were to be taken into account, Tamil Nadu would get 11 tmc ft more under the final award than under the interim award. "It is funny that Jayalalithaa should demand that the final award should be gazetted even while rejecting it," the Chief Minister said. Durai Murugan argued that Kerala would not receive 6 tmc ft of water from Tamil Nadu's share. "The 6 tmc ft will come from within Kerala's share of 30 tmc ft. Contrary to Jayalalithaa's claims, this water cannot go into the sea. It cannot go back in the same direction from which it comes. This water comes from Kerala to Tamil Nadu. If Kerala does not use it, it will reach Tamil Nadu," said Durai Murugan.

Farmers' organisations such as the Cauvery Protection Committee and the Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Kisan Sangh opposed the award. The former said that a "deeper" reading of the final award would show that it was a setback to the State. The latter feared that the award would render Tamil Nadu a barren State.

Farmers in the tail-end areas of the Cauvery delta were disappointed that the award had not provided for enough water in June when the kuruvai crop is sown.

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