Water and politics

Published : Oct 25, 2002 00:00 IST

Interview with Duraimurugan, former Public Works Minister of Tamil Nadu.

In the context of the Supreme Court's order directing Karnataka to release 0.8 tmc ft of water and Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna's defiance, T.S. Subramanian met Duraimurugan, a senior leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu, who as Public Works Minister from 1989 to 1991 and 1996 to 2001 dealt with the Cauvery issue.

Duraimurugan regretted that the Cauvery issue, which was an inter-State water sharing problem, had now assumed the dimensions of a political problem. "Although Krishna is a reasonable man, he is also a playing a political game now," he said. He accused Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa of being responsible for converting it into a political problem.

Duraimurugan accused Krishna of "deviating" on the interim order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal when the Karnataka Chief Minister spoke of inflows, outflows and flows generated in the intermediate and lower catchment of the Mettur reservoir. Excerpts from the interview:

What do you think is the reason for Krishna refusing to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu? There is a history of the Karnataka government refusing to implement the Interim Order of the Tribunal too.

From the beginning, this has been the attitude of the Karnataka government, whoever may be the Chief Minister. Earlier, the Cauvery problem was an inter-State problem on the sharing of river water. It has now become a political problem. Although Krishna is a reasonable man, he is also playing a political game now.

The Cauvery problem is not a new one. It has been there from 1892. When the Congress was in power in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka constructed so many dams across the Cauvery without the prior permission of the Tamil Nadu government although there was a provision in the 1924 Agreement that if Karnataka wants to build a dam, it should get the permission of the Tamil Nadu government. In 1967, the DMK came to power. It followed the Congress government's stand on the Cauvery issue. After M.G. Ramachandran (founder of the AIADMK) came to power in 1977, he said he would follow the DMK Government's policy. When the DMK came to power again in 1989, it endorsed whatever stand was taken by MGR. So up to MGR's death in 1987, the Cauvery problem was an inter-State water problem.

After Jayalalithaa became AIADMK general secretary, it became a political problem. She is the one responsible for it. In 1990, when the DMK was in power, an all-party meeting was convened by Chief Minister Karunanidhi. The AIADMK accepted the proposal to go as a delegation to New Delhi to press Prime Minister V.P. Singh to set up a tribunal to adjudicate on the Cauvery issue. In the last minute, the AIADMK representative refused to come along with me. (As Public Works Minister at that time, Duraimurugan was leading the delegation.) The Congress also joined the AIADMK. Only one Congress Member of the Parliament, Vyjayanthimala Bali, came with me. The day after we met V.P. Singh, the AIADMK and Congress representatives joined together and presented a memorandum to V.P. Singh demanding the setting up of a Tribunal. Unfortunately, they mentioned in that memorandum that the 1924 Agreement between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments had expired in 1974. (Successive governments in Tamil Nadu took the stand that the 1924 Agreement did not expire in 1974.) From then on, there have been so many problems.

When the Tribunal was set up in 1991, Jayalalithaa asked how Karnataka could be mandated to release water to Tamil Nadu. When she went on a fast in July 1993, she demanded monitoring and implementation committees on the Interim Order of the Tribunal. They were also not set up then. Jayalalithaa has achieved nothing on the Cauvery issue.

In Karnataka too, the Cauvery problem has become a political problem. When Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) was Chief Minister, he met D. Devaraj Urs, S.R. Bommai, J.H. Patel, S.M. Krishna and others (Karnataka Chief Ministers). He has met the most number of Karnataka Chief Ministers. It was Kalaignar who was responsible for the setting up of the Tribunal. He wanted the Tribunal to pass an interim order. But the Tribunal said it had no powers to pass an interim order. So we went to the Supreme Court and it said the Tribunal had the power to pass an interim order. When Kalaignar came to power again in 1996, we got the Cauvery River Authority to be formed to implement the interim order.

In Karnataka, the ruling party and the opposition do not blame each other on the issue. But here, it is Jayalalithaa who has built up this practice (of confrontation with the DMK on the issue). In Karnataka, there is political rivalry. But all the parties are one when it comes to the Cauvery.

If Jayalalithaa, who keeps blaming us for everything, can get more water for Tamil Nadu than we did, we are prepared to praise her for that. Instead of that, if she makes it a habit of finding fault with the DMK for everything, she may incur the wrath of the people of Tamil Nadu.

But what prevents Krishna from implementing the directives of the Supreme Court and the CRA?

I agree... This is the background to the Cauvery issue.

Jayalalaithaa has charged Krishna with "willfully flouting" the orders of the Supreme Court and the CRA.

Right from the beginning, she must have insisted on the convening of the CRA. She must have compelled (the Prime Minister) to convene the CRA...

She wrote several letters to the Prime Minister asking him to fix a meeting of the Cauvery Monitoring Committee and also convene the CRA. She is on record that since her letters met with ``no tangible response'', she personally took up the matter with the Prime Minister on June 12, 2002 in New Delhi and presented a memorandum to him for convening the CRA.

But from the beginning, she has been calling the CRA a toothless wonder and she wanted it to be "disbanded". When the CRA was convened in August, she could have discussed the issue there. But she walked out of the CRA meeting. She also went to the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court said it was within the purview of the Prime Minister (who is the head of the CRA to decide on the quantum of water release). So the Supreme Court was indicating indirectly that the CRA is the supreme body in the Cauvery issue. From now on at least, I think, the Chief Minister will not say that the CRA should be disbanded and that she would not take part in its meetings.

As far as Karnataka is concerned, as per my experience, all its Chief Ministers have been adamant that water should not be given to Tamil Nadu. Krishna seemed to be flexible. He has also become rigid now. But he shows his rigidity in a polished manner.

Krishna said the Karnataka government had been complying with the directives to ``the best of our ability'', keeping in view the reservoir position, inflows and outflows, and flows generated in the intermediate and lower catchment of the Mettur dam. He is nicely deviating from the Supreme Court's order. The Supreme Court does not say, "Take the inflow, outflow into account". These are all immaterial.

Jayalalithaa went to the Supreme Court to get Karnataka to implement the Tribunal's order. The Supreme Court left it in the hands of the CRA. But the CRA does not talk about inflows, outflows and flows. This argument is not fair on the part of Krishna. I know that he is a lawyer but he should not deviate on a subject like this.

Krishna has said that the readings at the Mettur dam were not acceptable to Karnataka and that the figures at the Biligundlu gauging station alone should be taken into consideration. But the Tribunal in its interim order has said Karnataka should ensure the release of 205 tmc ft of water at the Mettur dam. From the beginning, while we have been opposing (readings being taken at) Biligundlu, Karnataka has been very keen on measurements being taken at Biligundlu. Krishna is now creating this new problem. This should be condemned in strong terms.

Why is Karnataka raking up Biligundlu again?

Karnataka fought like anything on Biligundlu. But we insisted on Mettur. The Tribunal ruled that measurements should be taken at Mettur. It categorically rejected Karnataka's arguments. Talking about Biligundlu again is nothing but dishonesty. The Tamil Nadu government should care about these matters. It should not allow Karnataka to speak about Biligundlu again. Why was the CRA formed? It was set up to implement the interim order of the Tribunal. Karnataka accepted the Tribunal and then only it came to the CRA.

The final phase of arguments on the Cauvery issue are now under way before the Tribunal. What if Karnatka refuses to implement the Tribunal's final order? Karnataka has a track record of disobeying the Interim Order and the directives of both the Supreme Court and the CRA.

India has a federal set-up. If a State does not obey the Supreme Court's order or that of the equally powerful CRA, then what is the fate (of the country)? If every State starts behaving like this, where is the unity of the country? It is a great question mark. If the Central government today allows such a tendency in Karnataka, it may be Maharashtra tomorrow, and it will be West Bengal day after tomorrow. Where is the end then? This is the time to think about it. If we are going to ignore this as a small issue, India's unity and integrity will become a question mark in the next 10 years.

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