IN the belief that their geographic advantage entitles them to first claim on the Cauvery, the farmers of the river basin districts in Karnataka are vehemently opposed to the release of water to the lower riparian State of Tamil Nadu until their irrigation requirements are adequately met.
"When there is not enough water to meet our requirements, it is unfair to order the release of water to downstream Tamil Nadu," appeared to be the common refrain of farmers in Mandya and Mysore districts, where crops rely on the Cauvery river. Karnataka farmers do not mind sharing the water with Tamil Nadu if their irrigation needs are taken care of.
The majority of the farmers in the region appear to be aware of the contents of the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, and they are not happy with the reduction in the quantum of release that Karnataka has been asked to make to Tamil Nadu - 192 tmc ft, down from 205 tmc ft stipulated by the interim award of 1991.
The Tribunal's decision to allocate 419 tmc ft to Tamil Nadu, restricting Karnataka's share to 270 tmc ft, has ruffled feathers in the farming community in Mandya and Mysore districts. Farmers of Karnataka are questioning the Tribunal's decision to allocate what seems to them to be a staggeringly large share to the lower riparian State at the cost of farmers in the land of the Cauvery's origin.
Thirty-year-old Anand Kumar grows sugarcane on 36 guntas of land in Gauripura in Mandya district. "I manage to grow about 40 tonnes of sugarcane, which fetches me around Rs.40,000 a year if there is adequate supply of water," he said. Twice during the past five years, Anand Kumar lost his crop because there was a drought. "I have to obtain a loan from the bank for agricultural inputs. Apart from the mounting debts, I will have nothing to feed my family if my crop is lost," he said. He sees the Tribunal's order as a threat to his livelihood.
Veera Mahesh, 35, is a literate farmer who owns three acres of land in Srirangapatna taluk. He thought the Tribunal's decision was "unfair" and wondered how it would be possible to release water to Tamil Nadu on a monthly basis, particularly during the dry months from January to May.
Earlier, irrigation authorities released water to Mahesh's fields once in every 10 days. Now, it is once every 12 days. "There is just not enough water for us to share," he said, adding that he would not mind water being released to Tamil Nadu if the irrigation requirements of the farmers of the region were fully met.
Sixty-year-old Marigowda from Kodishettypura in Mandya district has sown ragi on four acres of land in an elevated area not covered by the irrigation network. "If I had access to irrigation, I would have grown either sugarcane or paddy," he said. Marigowda is not directly affected by the Tribunal's order, as his crop is rain-fed, but he supports the demand of the farmers whose fields are irrigated by the Cauvery water.
Krishnappa is an agricultural labourer from Palahalli village in the region, who earns about Rs.80 a day working in the fields. Like the others, Krishnappa is not against the release of water to Tamil Nadu but would like the requirements of farmers in the region to be met first.
Mudde Gowda has an acre of land barely 6 km from Mysore city, on which he grows paddy. "What can farmers in Karnataka do if there is no water in Tamil Nadu? We need whatever water is available here. How can they order the release of water to Tamil Nadu when our requirements are not met?" he asked. His field is beside the Mysore-Bangalore highway, barely a few hundred metres away from the Outer Ring Road in Mysore, an area that has been witnessing fast growth.
But Mudde Gowda, who earns barely Rs.30,000 a year from farming, has resisted tempting purchase offers for his land by real estate agents. "I have been offered Rs.80 lakhs. But, I don't want to sell," he said.Laiqh A. Khan