Having looked up to the skies for a bountiful South West monsoon in vain, thousands of Tamil Nadu farmers are now pinning their hopes on the Supreme Court. They are hoping the apex court will hear the Tamil Nadu government’s petition, due to be filed within the next couple of days, on a priority basis.
At stake is over 15 lakh acres of standing kuruvai crop, traditionally harvested by September end. The fate of samba crop, sown post the harvest of this kuruvai, also hinges upon good inflow from the Mettur dam which receives the Cauvery water from Karnataka, as well as the North East monsoon, which sets in around mid October.
Tamil Nadu is approaching the Supreme Court, after the Caurvery River Authority ruled that Karnataka release 9000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu, until October 15, which Karnataka rejected. Tamil Nadu’s petition will seek Supreme Court’s direction to Karnataka to release to the state "its due share of water".
On September 19, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh headed the CRA meeting in Delhi and listened to the concerns and requests from both sides. Tamil Nadu had demanded 2 million tmcft water for 24 days or 1 million tmcft for 30 days. After deliberations, Dr Singh ruled that Karnataka should release 9000 cusecs from September 20 until October 15.
Both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka rejected CRA ruling on September 19, with Karnataka Chief Minister Jagdish Shettar walking out of the meeting in protest, saying "not a drop of water" would be released. Karnataka government followed this up with a review petition it filed before the CRA, claiming that the order asking it to release 9000 cusecs was arbitrary. The review petition also claimed that if implemented, Karnataka would end up losing about 20tmcft from the existing 76 tmcft in the reservoirs, the petition said .
During the CRA meeting, Jayalalithaa had requested Dr Manmohan Singh "to direct Karnataka to immediately release 48 tmc ft at the rate of 2 tmc ft of water everyday for the next 24 days which is due to Tamil Nadu in accordance with the distress-sharing formula and thereafter continuously as per the interim order of the Tribunal, so that the Samba crop can be sustained in the Cauvery basin and food crisis in Tamil Nadu averted".
Jayalalithaa said that Karnataka did not agree to either of these two options listed by Tamil Nadu and "adamantly refused to release even a drop of water to Tamil Nadu in these circumstances. The bare minimum water sought by Tamil Nadu was also not accepted," she told the media immediately after the September 19 meeting.
She also said that the outcome of the CRA meeting was disappointing and left Tamil Nadu with no choice but to knock on the Supreme Court’s door.
The dispute over Cauvery river water sharing is a long standing one and dates back to the British Raj, particularly, the late 19th Century. Since the 1990s, the two states have had numerous disagreements, and Tamil Nadu has often sought the Supreme Court’s intervention as a last resort. In recent years, the Cauvery river sharing dispute has become a highly politicised issue as well in both states, and with the livelihood of thousands of farmers at stake, no politician can afford to overlook the sizeable vote bank.
Reacting to Jayalalithaa’s rejection of the CRA’s award of 9000 cusecs, DMK president M Karunanidhi felt that the state should have accepted the ruling and then sought more water via judicial means. “The chief minister could have said she would approach the Supreme Court for more water. But her rejection of the prime minister’s ruling is tantamount to expressing lack of faith in the CRA,” he said.
Karnataka has four reservoirs into which the Cauvery water flows: Krishnarajasagar (KRS), Kabini, Hemavathi and Harangi. The KRS is by far the largest, and reports say that the storage in all four is good, especially the Kabini. Reports say the combined storage in all four reservoirs is around 90 tmcft, as against the full capacity of 114 tmcft. Observers says that this being a year of erratic monsoon, Karnataka is unwilling to release 9000 cusecs to Tamil Nadu and risk its reservoirs falling low by year end.
In recent days less than 3000 cusecs had been released by Karnataka, leaving the farming community in Tamil Nadu a worried lot. Experts say that water level in Mettur is around 81 tmcft, and if the water level goes down to below 50 tmcft, it will be very tough going for the farmers.
While both states continue to battle it out, experts feel that farmers should switch to more modern methods of cultivation, which are less water intensive. Until such time, both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have to deal with each other across the table, amicably.
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Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist