Waiting for Cauvery waters

Published : Sep 29, 2001 00:00 IST

As Karnataka refuses to release Cauvery waters to save paddy crops on vast areas in Tamil Nadu and the Centre seems to be reluctant to intervene, the Jayalalithaa government decides to seek Supreme Court help.

THE Cauvery issue is on the boil again. With Karnataka refusing to release water from its reservoirs, the kuruvai paddy crop on about 80,000 hectares of land in the delta region in Tamil Nadu has started withering and cultivators are facing financial ruin. Worse still, there is no chance of the farmers in Tamil Nadu raising the main samba crop on about 3.2 lakh hectares if the Karnataka government sticks to its stand.

With the Centre showing no inclination to intervene despite Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee being the Chairman of the Cauvery River Authority (CRA), and the Monitoring Committee, which met on September 6, not directing the Karnataka government to release water, Tamil Nadu decided to approach the Supreme Court. This decision was taken on September 18 by the Cabinet because the Mettur reservoir had almost reached the dead storage level.

A couple of hours after the Cabinet meeting, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's office received a fax message from the Union Ministry of Water Resources, which said that the CRA would meet on September 22. But Tamil Nadu maintained that it was "too late" for the CRA to meet, considering the fact that the dead storage level had been reached at Mettur.

An official press release said "no concrete step" had been taken either by the Centre or the Karnataka government to release the stipulated amount of water to Tamil Nadu. The Cabinet noted with "distress" that a delegation of all party leaders from the State met Vajpayee on September 10, but he took no action on their memorandum urging him to ensure that Karnataka released 1 tmc ft (thousand million cubic feet) of water every day to save the kuruvai crop. The Prime Minister did not reply to Jayalalithaa's request on September 14 for an emergency meeting of the CRA.

Thus, "as a last resort", the Cabinet decided to seek the apex court's urgent intervention to ensure the release of adequate water.

The Chairman of the Cauvery Technical Cell, Professor D. Mohanakrishnan (left), inspecting the water level in a pit near the Mettur dam (right) in Tamil Nadu, along with the Chief Engineer of the Central Water Commission, M. Gopalakrishnan. The water level in the dam has fallen considerably in the absence of release of water by Karnataka.

The decision was endorsed by S. Ranganathan, secretary, Cauvery Delta Farmers' Welfare Association, who was angry that the Karnataka government had rejected as "not true" Tamil Nadu's averment that it had no water and that the kuruvai crop had started withering. He wanted the Tamil Nadu government to impress on the Supreme Court that at least 10 tmc ft should be released immediately to save the crop.

Tamil Nadu officials accused the Centre of "inaction" in an issue that threatened the livelihood of thousands. The Tamil Nadu government holds that the storage position in Karnataka reservoirs is comfortable. Jayalalithaa argues that while 58 tmc ft would suffice Karnataka, its reservoirs had as much as 97 tmc ft.

However, Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna took the stand that Karnataka had no water to spare and that the State was facing a drought. Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister D.B. Chandre Gowda seized on a statement from Jayalalithaa that Tamil Nadu would start its procurement drive of kuruvai by September 15, and asked, "Then, where was the need for releasing more water?"

Farmers and officials in Tamil Nadu say Jayalalithaa's statement did not mean that all of the kuruvai paddy had been harvested. The crop on about 80,000 hectares required "wetting" until October 15 and this had started withering. An official in Chennai said, "We announced the procurement policy because a part of the crop has been harvested. This is a policy which we have to necessarily state. Jayalalithaa has not said that all of kuruvai has been harvested."

Ranganathan said that there seemed to be some confusion about the extent of the standing kuruvai crop. "The present spell of kuruvai harvest has created the mistaken notion that the kuruvai season is over and no further water is needed for that crop." That had given rise to some confusing statements from Karnataka, he added.

Ranganathan made four points:

* Kuruvai raised and cultivated essentially with filter points on about 20,000 hectares had been harvested.

* On another 20,000 hectares, nurseries were raised with filter points but planting was done after water was released from the Mettur reservoir from June 12, 2001. This crop was fairly ripe and did not require further wetting.

* In the old delta region of Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts the kuruvai is raised on more than 80,000 hectares after the release of water from Mettur. It is this crop that requires water until October 15.

* Besides the Thanjavur delta area, the kuruvai crop is planted in Tiruchi, Pudukottai, South Arcot and the Karaikal region of Pondicherry, for which also water is needed.

Ranganathan said Karnataka's wrong assumption could be "dispelled" only by sending a team of officials headed by the Public Works Minister to explain the position to the Karnataka government.

Blaming the Centre for this ruinous situation, officials say Jayalalithaa wrote to Vajpayee as early as July 23, requesting him to pay "individual attention" as Chairman of the CRA to ensure that Karnataka implemented the interim order of the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal. The Centre also did not act on Tamil Nadu's repeated pleas to convene an emergency meeting of the Cauvery River Monitoring Committee, comprising officials from the Centre, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and the Union Territory of Pondicherry. An official said, "The Monitoring Committee knew the (grim) position in Mettur because we send the details every day. But it did nothing."

Fifteen precious days were lost before the Centre woke up and convened a meeting of the Monitoring Committee on September 6. The official said, "We expected the Committee to tell Karnataka that it must release water." But all it decided was that it would wait for another five days, hoping that there would be rain in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. As on September 18, there was no sign of rain in both States.

An official said if water was released even on September 18, samba too could be planted on 40,000 hectares out of the target of 3.2 lakh hectares. "We will wait for the northeast monsoon for the rest of the (samba) crop," he said.

Public Works Department officials said that from June until September 15, the water Tamil Nadu had received from Karnataka was 68 tmc ft less than what was stipulated by the Interim Order of the Tribunal.

THE dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu on the sharing of the Cauvery waters is more than three decades old. The three-member Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal, which was constituted in 1990, directed the Karnataka government in an Interim Order to release 205 tmc ft of water to Tamil Nadu in a water year (June to May) and prescribed monthly and weekly releases. Karnataka refused to accept this order. It asked how it could let down 205 tmc ft in a year of deficient rainfall.

It looked as if a solution was found to this protracted problem when on August 11, 1998, the CRA was formed, comprising the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Pondicherry.

The CRA was to decide how to share the available water in a distress year, aided by a Monitoring Committee consisting of officials from the Union Water Resources Department and the Chief Secretaries and irrigation officials of the Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Pondicherry.

Knowledgeable sources say that although the Tamil Nadu government woke up to the situation in July itself, it adopted a wrong strategy. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi said Jayalalithaa was content writing letters to Vajpayee and Krishna. She should have demanded the convening of the CRA at the beginning and should have met Krishna, he said.

Inconsistency marked Jayalalithaa's stand. Jayalalithaa, who had vehemently opposed the setting up of the CRA in August 1998 when her All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was part of the Vajpayee government, now derided the CRA as "powerless", an "unnecessary mechanism", "a toothless wonder" and so on. She told the Assembly on August 23, 2001 that she left the BJP alliance on this issue.

On September 11, she said the CRA had met only twice in the last three years. "This is shameful," she said. When it met last time, it directed Karnataka to release water within 30 days but it did not happen. "The CRA has no power to implement its own directive. So I say that the CRA should be disbanded." She insisted that the Draft Scheme of 1997 and insisted that it should be implemented. It was abandoned after Karnataka and Kerala opposed it. She declared that Tamil Nadu would approach the Supreme Court as it had become unavoidable.

But three days later, she wrote to Vajpayee seeking his personal intervention as CRA chairman "to convene an emergency meeting" of the CRA. She told Vajpayee, "I am sure you are aware of the precarious situation prevailing in the Cauvery delta and the plight of the delta farmers who are helplessly watching the crops wither and who are faced with economic ruin. The effect of this on the economy of the State will be disastrous. Apart from the loss the kuruvai crop, prospects of the main samba crop also look bleak." Then on September 18, she decided to approach the Supreme Court.

What showed Tamil Nadu in bad light was the unseemly polemical row that erupted between Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa. The DMK and the AIADMK had agreed in the Assembly not to politicise the Cauvery issue, but Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa sparred openly. If the DMK taunted her for not leading the all-party delegation to meet Vajpayee, she accused Karunanidhi of "relaxing at home" and not attending the Assembly to discuss this crucial issue. She pointed out that the DMK's representative in the delegation was only Tiruvarur legislator S. Asokan and none of its 11 Lok Sabha members, including Central Ministers.

Karunanidhi asked whether Jayalalithaa had ever attended an all-party meeting he had convened when he was Chief Minister to discuss the Cauvery issue.

Informed sources said a permanent solution to this festering problem would not be found until the Tribunal gave its final award. This was not likely before July 2002. What has led to the delay in the Tribunal giving its final award was the Kerala government's delaying tactics, the sources said.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment