Interview: Captain S. Raja Rao

‘Karnataka is open about its water usage’

Print edition : October 14, 2016

CAPTAIN S. Raja Rao, who has over 40 years of hands-on experience in the protection and use of water resources in Karnataka, is an expert on the Krishna and Cauvery inter-State water disputes. He is of the firm opinion that Karnataka has been given a raw deal in the sharing of the Cauvery waters. He has also served as Chief Engineer, State Water Resource Development Organisation (WRDO), Engineer-in-Chief, Upper Krishna Project, and Managing Director, Krishna Bhagya Jala Nigama. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

The Cauvery dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu dates back to nearly two centuries. Karnataka has always maintained that it feels let down.

Both the 1892 and the 1924 Agreements were between two unequal partners. Right from the letters exchanged in the late 1800s, the Mysore kingdom was given a raw deal by the British Madras Presidency. Mysore needed to take the permission of the Madras Presidency for every little developmental work, even desilting of tanks. Even in 1974, many restrictions were placed on Mysore State [later Karnataka]. Even the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal [CWDT] has placed restrictions on the amount of land under sugarcane cultivation [40,000 acres]—no summer paddy, only semi-dry crops in the Kabini and Hemavathy command areas, no water for lift irrigation schemes, no drinking water for two-thirds of Bengaluru.

Has Karnataka not increased its area under sugarcane cultivation?

Yes. The area increased is for new projects.

Karnataka is also against feeding Cauvery water for some of its lift irrigation schemes?

Yes. But this is only a recent development. These schemes are meant to benefit farmers who have sacrificed their land for irrigation projects.

Karnataka has been opposing the creation of a Cauvery Management Board and Regulatory Authority. Are you in favour of a board?

Yes, a board should be established for the proper implementation of the CWDT award. Most inter-State rivers have such boards in place. We need an independent board to remove the suspicion from either side and to monitor the releases. Karnataka is already participating in the Tungabhadra Board.

But Tamil Nadu, especially the Thanjavur delta region, has been using the Cauvery water for centuries. How can you ask it to cut back now?

It is true that Tamil Nadu has been using the river water for agricultural operations for centuries. That is also why it has been clamouring, citing its [Tamil Nadu’s] prescriptive rights and prior appropriation. But that does not mean that Karnataka, where the yield is higher than Tamil Nadu’s, should be restricted in building reservoirs and storing water. Tamil Nadu farmers are growing three crops. Karnataka farmers, in a distress year like this year, are struggling to grow one crop.

Tamil Nadu has always accused Karnataka of not releasing water in time to save its samba crop.

It happens only when there is no water in Karnataka. Tamil Nadu gets rain from the north-east monsoon and can use groundwater for its samba crop.

While the CWDT has allotted Karnataka and Tamil Nadu 270 and 419 thousand million cubic (tmc) feet of water respectively, there still seems to be unease on either side on the actual water that each State has been using.

Karnataka has been very open about its water usage in all its projects. But why is Tamil Nadu quiet on the amount of water that falls on the Thanjavur delta, which according to irrigation experts, is around 320 to 330 tmc ft of water. There is no way we can measure this water at any one point, but it is substantial. And during a cyclone, the waters may run off into the sea and cannot be used in the same year. But they recharge the ground and can be used in the coming year. But this water is not added to Tamil Nadu’s share. In my estimate, Tamil Nadu is using only 20 tmc ft every year although more is available.

The CWDT has only taken a third of Bengaluru into consideration while allocating water. Why?

This is grossly unfair. Under the Telugu Ganga scheme, Chennai gets 15 tmc ft of water from the Krishna basin, which is hundreds of kilometres away and not located in the Krishna basin; Rajasthan gets water from the Naramada though it is not part of the basin. So why should a different yardstick be used in the case of Bengaluru.

You spoke of Karnataka being ready with fresh schemes. Where will the additional water come from?

For a start, by a proper representation before the Supreme Court when the State’s special leave petition is heard. Before the CWDT, the State can seek a clarification and get an additional 25 to 30 tmc ft of water. Some additional water can be extracted both in the reservoir portion and in the command area of the State’s four reservoirs in the Cauvery basin by better water management.

Ravi Sharma