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Karnataka's contention

Print edition : Oct 27, 2001 T+T-

IN Karnataka, a period of severe drought owing to the failure of the monsoons was followed by fairly heavy and widespread rain. From June 1 to September 30, the rains have been either normal or above normal in all districts except Bidar, Raichur, Dharwad, Uttara Kannada and Shimoga. There has, therefore, been a marked improvement in the storage levels of the reservoirs in the Cauvery basin. However, owing to the drought, Karnataka was not able to fulfil its commitment to release water according to the quantity and schedule prescribed by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal.

Tamil Nadu's contention is that Karnataka has failed to release about 60 tmcft of water between June and September as stipulated in the Tribunal's interim order, leading to a kuruvai crop loss worth Rs.300 crores. At the meeting of the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) on October 10, Karnataka argued that the late monsoon rain that occurred downstream of the Karnataka reservoirs would have actually increased the water level in the Mettur reservoir. "At the Cauvery Monitoring Committee meeting held on September 6, Tamil Nadu's request that Karnataka release 15 tmcft of water by the end of September was met," said H.K. Patil, Minister for Medium and Major Irrigation. "In fact we have also complied with their subsequent demand, which was to release 1 tmcft a day until October. They have received and continue to receive more than 1 tmcft every day since then," he added.

At the CRA meeting, Karnataka argued that the inflow into the State's reservoirs was less by 22 tmcft compared to last year and that it was the lowest in the past 10 years. The total storage in the four reservoirs was only 77 per cent of their capacity. Karnataka requires this quantity for committed needs, particularly since the State cannot expect more rain, unlike Tamil Nadu, which gets rain from the northeast monsoon.

The Prime Minister spoke about the need to share the water on a pro rata basis during periods of scarcity, an obvious reference to the shortages brought on by the spell of drought that Karnataka faced this year. Despite this, the Tribunal, soon after the CRA meeting, directed Karnataka to ensure inflows to the Mettur reservoir as stipulated in its interim order of 1995. In other words, the Tribunal made it clear that drought conditions had no bearing on the present problem, that Karnataka must release water and that there can be no relaxation in respect of either the quantum of water to be released to Mettur dam or the schedule.

Chief Minister S.M. Krishna has written to the Prime Minister saying that the State's obligation should be calculated only by December and not on a monthly basis. He also pointed to the Tribunal's order of 1995, which has said that in any year shortfalls and excesses could be adjusted before the close of the season. He referred to the letter from the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary to his Karnataka counterpart on September 17, asking for the release of 1 tmcft of water a day, which quantum Karnataka had indeed supplied. The actual quantum of water released, he argued, was far in excess of that figure.

The presence and role of the CRA, it appears, has not made any difference to the pattern of the dispute over sharing the waters. The dispute flares up when a poor monsoon leads to a shortfall in the release of water and eases with a good monsoon. This pattern is unlikely to change as farmers in both States plan their agricultural operations on the basis of optimistic assumptions. While farmers in Tamil Nadu hope that the State will receive its due of 205 tmcft of water or more, the hope in Karnataka is that the southwest monsoon will meet its agricultural needs, fill its reservoirs and enable it to meet the requirements of Tamil Nadu.

"Both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are prisoners of history," said B.K. Chandrashekhar, Karnataka's Minister for Information Technology. Chandrashekhar has seen the Cauvery dispute through some of its most contentious phases and has helped strengthen the processes of conciliation between the people of the two States. "The Tribunal will of course look into the States' rights to prescriptive use of the water. While the problem of sharing unused water can be solved, it is the sharing of used waters on a new basis that is bound to be contentious. Its successful implementation will depend on the strength of farmer-to-farmer and people-to-people dialogue and understanding."