Despair and hope in Tamil Nadu

Print edition : March 16, 2018

Members of a farmers’ union staging a demonstration at the Collectorate in Tiruchi on February 19 against the Cauvery water sharing verdict. Photo: B. Velankanni Raj

IT is a time of both despair and hope in Tamil Nadu. Despair since the Supreme Court has reduced the quantum of its share of water from the Cauvery, and hope because of the general feeling that the constitution of the Cauvery Management Board (CMB) will benefit the lower riparian State. The court has instructed the Centre to initiate a scheme within six weeks to constitute the CMB, which has been a long-pending demand of Tamil Nadu, especially during distress circumstances.

Tamil Nadu, hoping against hope, believes that the Centre will adhere to the court verdict on the constitution of the CMB, though the reduced quantum, from 192 tmc ft to 177.25 tmc ft, it fears, will render additional acreage of irrigated area in the delta fallow. S. Dhanapalan, general secretary of the Cauvery Farmers Protection Association, himself a delta farmer, said that nearly one lakh acres (an acre is 0.4 hectare) would go unirrigated owing to the reduced share.

Those who have been managing waters endorse that the CMB will benefit Tamil Nadu in the longer run as a neutral mechanism on water sharing.

Despite the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal’s (CWDT) directions and court orders, Karnataka has been denying the allotted quantum of water to Tamil Nadu citing various reasons such as deficit flows in the Cauvery, forcing the delta farmers to fret and fume.

But, the CMB, if formed, farmers hope, will ensure fair and equitable distribution. With emotions running high, critical views have remained blurred.

Some sections, though, have raised their voices against the reduced quantum of water. Political parties have expressed disappointment and shock at the verdict, saying the State has been a sufferer in the issue so far. The ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the main opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), as usual, blamed each other for the fiasco. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, while agreeing that the reduction in share was "disappointing”, welcomed the court’s directive on the CMB.

DMK working president M.K. Stalin held the current government responsible for the State losing its rights in the issue. His party’s senior leader and former Public Works Department Minister, S. Duraimurugan, said that the AIADMK government had failed to present the case properly before the top court in this issue.

Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president S. Thirunavukkarasar pointed out that the governments in Karnataka had never obeyed court orders in the Cauvery row. He welcomed the ruling that pointed out that river water was a national asset. Tamil Nadu BJP president Tamilisai Soundararajan urged the Congress government in Karnataka to release water as per the verdict immediately.

K. Balakrishnan, the newly elected State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a senior leader in the farmers’ wing of the party, the Tamil Nadu Kisan Sabha, said that the CMB must be constituted without further delay and made an empowered entity.

Farmers have different takes on the issue. The delta has been suffering without adequate water for years now, with uncertainty looming large even about a single crop. The short-term crop “kuruvai”, farmers said, could not be raised in the past six years and the “samba” crop could not be sustained last year too.

The agrarian distress in the delta for the past three years has forced many, mostly medium and small landholders who could not repay loans, to take the extreme step—suicide.

A few farmers still welcome the verdict. They see a ray of hope in the constitution of the CMB. S. Ranganathan, general secretary of the Cauvery Delta Farmers’ Welfare Association, the first organisation to file a case in the Supreme Court, in 1983, for the constitution of a tribunal, and an active member of the now defunct Cauvery Family, a “people-centric and non-political initiative”, welcomed it but said he was not inclined to accept the court’s observation on the availability of groundwater in Tamil Nadu.

The groundwater situation in the delta, Ranganathan said, was alarming. The Cauvery itself being water-deficient, the available quantum, he added, had to be shared without prejudice.

Arupathy Kalyanam, general secretary of the Federation of Farmers Associations of Cauvery Delta Districts, said the reduction in allotment would severely affect delta farmers. He said that the court’s assessment on the groundwater in Tamil Nadu was wrong.

The general secretary of the Tamizhaga Cauvery Farmers’ Federation, P.R. Pandian, too welcomed the verdict by saying that the onus now was on the Centre to form the CMB. P. Ayyakannu, the Desiya Thenindia Nadigal Inaippu Vivasayigal Sangam, is optimistic that the board, once constituted, will ensure the release of the State’s share of water.

In a rare gesture in Tamil Nadu politics, the Chief Minister convened an all-party meeting on February 22 in which the court verdict was discussed threadbare.

Views from leaders of political parties, including the DMK, and representatives of farmers’ associations were sought. It was decided to approach the court again to ensure the State’s rights on the Cauvery waters.

Ilangovan Rajasekaran

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