Interview: M.B. Patil

For an equitable assessment

Print edition : October 28, 2016

Minister for Water Resourses M.B. Patil Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Interview with M.B. Patil, Karnataka’s Water Resources Minister.

Karnataka’s Water Resources Minister M.B. Patil told Frontline that ensuring release at the rate of 2,000 cusecs was not difficult as around 1,500 cusecs of run-of-the-river waters anyway flowed into Tamil Nadu. He also said it was important for Karnataka not to be seen as a State that does not obey directions from the court. Excerpts from an interview:

You seem happy with the court’s latest verdict?

The court has at last heard our plea that there is no water to give and that [levels in] our reservoirs have reached rock bottom. Besides the realistic quantum of water specified by the court, it has also heard our long-standing plea to set up an expert team/technical committee to assess the ground realities in the Cauvery basin reservoirs. The technical panel, headed by the Chairman of the Central Water Commission, will visit both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and submit a report by October 17, a day before the hearing of our SLP [special leave petition] questioning certain aspects of the orders of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal [CWDT]. The court has also stayed the formation by the Centre of the Cauvery Management Board [CMB].

The Supreme Court’s order came a day after Karnataka began releasing water into its canals and by default to Tamil Nadu. What led to the sudden decision to release water?

We did not wilfully disobey the court’s orders. The orders were unimplementable. Our only intention in not realising water earlier was because we did not want to cause any problems to our farmers and the drinking water needs of cities and town, including Bengaluru and Mysuru. But with some rain and inflows into our reservoirs, the situation changed and the State legislature itself directed us on October 3 that we could release water for our own standing crops and in the best interests of the State. We felt that it was in the interest of our farmers’ standing crops on 4.26 lakh acres to release water. We also wanted to ensure compliance of the court’s orders. The total storage went up from around 25 tmc ft [thousand million cubic feet] to 34.13 tmc ft.

Karnataka’s SLP seeking clarifications and possible renegotiation of the CWDT’s final orders comes up before the Supreme Court on October 18. It was with this in mind that senior counsel for Karnataka Fali S. Nariman had on September 2 even expressed the willingness of Karnataka to release 10,000 cusecs of water for six days to Tamil Nadu. Is Karnataka worried about its reputation of being a State that does not obey court directives?

That is not true. The court’s earlier orders were not implementable. And it was also not fully aware of the situation. For example, the yield as calculated by the CWDT is 740 tmc ft, but in a distress year the shares must be reduced proportionately.

But yes, we decided to comply at least partly with the court’s orders and got the approval of the legislature to do so on October 3. If we had not complied we may not be able to argue our case when the SLP comes up before the three-judge bench. Rather than the releases of water we are more concerned about the points that we have raised in our main petition [SLP] against certain aspects of the award of the CWDT.

Karnataka has raised a number of points in the CWDT award…. cropping pattern, no summer paddy, no water for lift irrigation schemes, restrictions in cultivable area, etc.

These aspects have been raised in our SLP. The award has to be either set aside or modified. We are hoping to get relief. For example, the CWDT’s award did not consider two-thirds of Bengaluru and the population as per the 2011 Census when it made its State-wise allocations. The yield of 740 tmc ft that has been arrived at by the CWDT should consist of two parts—rain from the south-west and the north-east monsoons. But it has been calculated as one block.

Monsoon patterns have chan-ged, and even in a normal year we are struggling to keep up with the monthly quantum of releases as directed by the CWDT. Of the 192 tmc ft of water that we are to release to Tamil Nadu, 80 tmc ft of water is uncontrolled water. Water below the KRS and Kabini dams. How can we be liable and accountable for this water when we cannot even store it?

That’s why we need a reservoir at Mekedatu. A reservoir here will allow us to release the 194 tmc ft and use any excess for ourselves. Again, groundwater is excellent in the Tanjavur delta; Chapter 3 of the CWDT accesses this at 20 tmc ft. But this has not been added to what they are getting or deducted from what we have to release. It is a well-known fact that right from the 1892 Agreement Karnataka [then the princely state of Mysore] did not get a fair deal.

Karnataka is against the constitution of the CMB. Can beneficiary/riparian States not possibly be allowed to look after monitoring allocations themselves?

Let the CWDT award first be modified.

Is it because the CMB will impose restrictions, for instance, on cropping patterns, on what should be grown?

The board has to be constituted by an Act of Parliament. Also the board cannot impose restrictions. The State has the right to distribute the water as it sees fit from its allocated waters. And again, crop patterns are as per its convenience.

Karnataka has held the view that both the 1892 and 1924 Agreements were unfair to it and many of the restrictions listed in them are being continued in the CWDT award.

Yes, that is why we want a modification of the award. Tamil Nadu has been favoured. A more equitable assessment will ensure that Karnataka gets a fair deal.

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