Cauvery water dispute: As Karnataka, Tamil Nadu continue with protests, it's time Modi comes up with long-term solution

Pro-Kannada protesters have taken to the streets in several parts of Karnataka, especially in Bengaluru, Mandya and Mysuru, and by Tuesday afternoon, the riots had spread to Ramanagara, Hassan and other parts of the state.

Protesters targetted the chief ministers of both the affected states — Siddaramaiah of Karnataka and J Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu — and also Karnataka government lawyer FS Nariman, by burning their effigies and vandalising hoardings. Theatres showing Tamil films in Bengaluru, fearing the mob, quickly downed their shutters.

The Cauvery Horata Samiti has called for a bandh in Mandya on 9 September, and the Karnataka film industry will be closed on the same day in support of the farmers. A two-day holiday has also been declared for schools and colleges in Mandya.

In an ironic twist, lawyers in Mandya too have taken to the streets, protesting against the Supreme Court ruling. The protesting lawyers told News 9, that they were "assembling a Mandya expert committee bar, which would put forth the farmers' plight and the Karnataka point of view to the Supreme Court."

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has called yet another all-party meeting on Tuesday evening to take stock of the situation post the Supreme court direction.

Tuesday's protests follow Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Cauvery water dispute, directing the Karnataka government to release 15,000 cusecs of Cauvery water everyday to Tamil Nadu for the next 10 days to give relief to farmers of Tamil Nadu and save the samba crops. Tamil Nadu had sought a direction to Karnataka to release 50.52 tmc ft of Cauvery water, but Karnataka had refused, stating that its four reservoirs had deficit water and it could not release more than 10,000 cusec of water a day.

Tamil Nadu had gone to court after Karnataka released far less water this year than was decided in 2007 by a court-appointed tribunal. Last week, the Supreme Court told Karnataka to "live and let live" and urged both states to "maintain harmony in the water dispute".

Meanwhile, protests sparked off in Tamil Nadu, after Siddaramaiah told the media last week, that the state would not release "a drop of water" to the state. He said, "It is a distress year. Water (quantum) sought by Tamil Nadu is as per a normal year. We are releasing water as per the distress formula. We only have 50 TMC feet of water in all four reservoirs in Cauvery basin, and need 40 TMC feet for drinking. We will convey this to the Supreme Court."

For commuters returning to work after a long weekend and Ganesh Habba (which was celebrated across the state on Monday), travelling was a mammoth task as most of them remained stranded at bus stations.Bus services to Mysuru, Mandya and Tamil Nadu were affected. Bad monsoon spell coupled with these protests has led to rising tempers and regional jingoism in Karnataka.

Chikmagular: Kannada Sena activists protest against the Supreme Court directive to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu, in Chikmagalur on Tuesday. PTI Photo (PTI9_6_2016_000160B)

Kannada Sena activists protest against the SC directive on Cauvery water dispute in Chikmagalur on Tuesday. PTI

The dispute over sharing of Cauvery river water has been going on between the two states for more than a decade now and there's a simmering issue on Karnataka building a dam on the Mekadatu reservoir to handle the severe drinking water shortage in Bengaluru. Tamil Nadu has been pressing for the formation of a Cauvery Management Board. Karnataka, however, is opposed to it.

So emotive has the Cauvery dispute been for Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, that both states witnessed violence, rioting and loss of lives in 1991-1992. Regional jingoism in Karnataka degenerated into attacks on Tamil families and premier schools run by Tamil managements in Bengaluru. The violence was most severe around the Tamil populated parts of Bengaluru but many schools and educational institutions remained closed in the city for nearly a month.

In 2002 again, the water dispute spilled onto the streets, and film stars and a cross section of society from both states supported their own. Karnataka even blocked all Tamil TV channels and barred all buses and vehicles from Tamil Nadu.

It all started in April, when at least 10,000 farmers came in their tractors to Bengaluru and brought attention to drinking water shortage in their villages. The farmers parked their tractors willy-nilly on the busy roads of Bengaluru during peak hours. Several commuters and school children were stranded for hours on the arterial roads of the city.

Last month, there were pro-Kannada groups protesting over the interim order of the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal, which had rejected Karnataka’s plea for 7.56 tmc ft of water under the Kalasa Banduri drinking water project for the drought hit Hubballi-Dharwad, Belagavi and Gadag districts in the state. Goa had objected to it, stating that this would affect its own drinking water and irrigation needs.

A statewide bandh was called which saw buses, autos, taxis off the roads. Even Bengaluru’s Metro service was off the track. Protesters pelted stones, burnt tyres, buses, and effigies of politicians and vandalised government property. Several were injured in different parts of the state and police had to resort to lathicharge.

With the monsoon taking turns to fail in both the state, the Cauvery water dispute is a tinderbox, waiting to be lit by politicians who are eyeing their votebanks. For instance, the Cauvery water dispute is almost a non-issue during good monsoon years. Nobody cares that the river water often flows into the sea, with no claimant for it. But during deficit monsoon years, it becomes an emotive issue firing passions in both states.

While the immediate solution is for the Centre and, particularly Prime Minster Narendra Modi, to intervene and find a quick solution to the water dispute to appease both the states, it's high time that the Centre sought a long-term solution to this issue. Farmers, whether they are from Karnataka or Tamil Nadu, shouldn't be allowed to suffer.

India has 14 major rivers, all of which are inter-state rivers, and 44 medium rivers, nine of which are inter-state rivers. Given that drinking water is an essential right that cannot be denied to people living in drought-hit regions, inter-state river water disputes cannot be resolved easily and have to be handled sensitively. More so, the Centre and water experts must look for long term solutions during drought and distress months.

Updated Date: Sep 06, 2016 19:14 PM

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