Cauvery Cauldron Muddied & Spoilt By Politics
While Tamil Nadu welcomes the Centre’s notification of the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, Karnataka feels let down with the verdict, alleging the Tribunal of neglecting its interest
“Today is the happiest day in my life. This is the biggest victory I got in my life,” said Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa during a press conference convened immediately after the news of Centre notifying the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) on sharing the waters of Cauvery, in the Gazette came in on February 19. Jayalalithaa, who was preparing to celebrate her birth day on February 24, termed the notification by the Centre as a “birthday gift” for her.
On the other side, in Karnataka, protests have started emanating, while the Karnataka government itself is bracing for further legal battles.
Ever since the Tamil Nadu and the Karnataka governments failed to renew the 1924 Cauvery River Pact, which expired in 1974, the politics around the sacred river has been muddy and stinking. The people of both the states have been suffering while the politicians have been having a ball. As the politics over water worsened over the years, the agricultural progress of both the states was terribly hit.
The politicisation of the issue can be traced back to the British regime.
Hundred years before, when there was no dam built on the Cauvery, it used to flood heavily during the rainy season resulting in crops getting damaged, especially in the delta region of Madras Province. When the farmers of Thanjavur took up the issue with the then British Viceroy, the British regime arranged to construct lakes and tanks along the river in Karnataka, particularly in Mysore province. The authorities also planned for building dams. However, Madras province objected to the construction of lakes and tanks saying that such constructions reduce the quantity of rain waters reaching its delta regions.
As the British regime gave back the Mysore Province to the erstwhile rulers, it suggested that the Mysore Maharaja and the Madras Circar could have a dialogue over the sharing of Cauvery waters and arrive at a consensus.
As per the suggestion of Viceroy, both the provinces had a dialogue and arrived at an unwritten agreement in 1892. As per the agreement, Karnataka should not build any dams along the route of Cauvery and if at all it wanted to, it could do so only with the permission of Madras Province. This agreement didn’t serve any purpose at all, as it benefitted neither Madras nor Mysore. The Cauvery continued to be flooded before getting wasted into the sea.
The great engineer M Visvesvaraiah, who was serving the Mysore Province, came out with a suggestion to build a dam at Krishnaraja Sagar. When the Madras Province objected, the Viceroy interfered and allowed the building of the dam, though with certain conditions. When Madras persisted with its objections saying that the dam’s height must no go beyond 80 feet, the Central government left the issue with the arbitrator, who after discussing with irrigation experts decided to reject Madras’s objections. The Centre also upheld the arbitrator’s judgment. But then, when Madras again submitted a petition to the Secretary of State, the arbitrator’s verdict was stayed.
After several rounds of talks, an agreement was finalised and signed in 1924. This agreement came in after Mysore Province proposed to build a dam in a place called Kannambadi and an arbitrator was appointed to take a decision on the proposal. The clauses in the Madras-Mysore Pact of 1924 were:
- Madras Province permits Mysore Province to construct Krishna Raja Sagar Dam.
- The dam will be constructed with a height of 124 feet so as to store waters at a level of 112 feet. It will have a capacity to store 45 tmc of water.
- Mysore must send the blue prints and other plans to Madras then and there.
- Mysore must share its plans regarding the expansion of irrigation in the regions of Kabini and Hemavathi, with Madras.
- With the available waters from KR Sagar, Mysore can irrigate additional 1,10,000 acres of land.
- Madras can use the waters of KR Sagar and Mettur dams for an additional irrigation of 3, 00,000 acres. It can store 93 tmc waters in Mettur.
- This agreement will be in effect for the next 50 years. After that both the provinces must have a dialogue and come to an agreement.
- Madras Province can build dams on Noyyal, Amaravathi and Bhavani rivers. Mysore can also build dams on Cauvery’s tributaries, but only after informing the details to Madras. KR Sagar must hold only 60 per cent of what the Madras dams are holding.
- In case of any misunderstandings, the issue must be taken to the Central government or an arbitrator.
As this agreement expired in 1974, the chief ministers of southern states met and arrived at a consensus on a proposal to form “Cauvery River Authority”, to decide on the shares for each state. However, no decision was taken to form the said authority during the next 18 years.
Meanwhile in 1972, the Central government appointed a committee of experts named as “Cauvery Fact Finding Committee” to determine the actual requirement of waters for the southern states. The committee travelled Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, observed the irrigation projects going on in the respective states and finally came out with a report. The report said: Karnataka can dig deep wells to store rain waters; Tamil Nadu should construct new dams and lakes to store 50 tmc of waters, which otherwise gets wasted into the sea. The report also concluded that the total quantity of waters available in the Cauvery is 740 tmc.
Even while the Centre was compelled to act on the issue, it shifted the responsibility to Supreme Court. In May 1990, the SC asked Centre to appoint a tribunal to solve the vexed issue. The VP Singh government appointed a tribunal comprising three Judges. Tamil Nadu submitted a petition saying that Karnataka should not be allowed to use waters more than that was earmarked in 1972. However, the tribunal rejected to consider the petition saying that it didn’t have the authority to hear such a petition. And when the TN government approached the Supreme Court, the SC clarified that the tribunal has the authority to issue interim awards.
Based on the direction of the Supreme Court, the tribunal gave an interim award in June 1991. As per the interim award, Karnataka must give 205 tmc waters in a year and the same must be spread on a monthly basis, and Karnataka must not use waters for more than the 11 lakh acres which it used to irrigate until 1990.
Dissatisfied with the interim award, Karnataka passed a law in the State Assembly which asserted its rights on Cauvery apart from proclaiming that no other judgment from any other court or tribunal would be binding on it. When this law was sent to the President of India for approval, the President asked for the SC’s opinions.
Jayalalithaa was the chief minister then and she compelled the Centre to notify the interim award in the government Gazette. But Karnataka objected to it saying that the issue is under the consideration of the President and the Supreme Court. Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, who was the then Union Law Minister, said that the interim award is valid, but need not be notified in the Gazette.
Karnataka filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the interim award. But, the Supreme Court upheld the interim award given by the tribunal and also nullified the law enacted by the Karnataka Assembly. In December 1992, the interim award given by the tribunal was notified in the gazette.
Karnataka again approached the SC and also requested the tribunal in 1996 to stay the interim award. Though the tribunal rejected Karnataka’s petition, it also found out that there was no mechanism to implement its verdict. When the prime minister met the CMs of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pudicherry in this regard, no decision was made, except to form the ‘Cauvery River Authority’
As the matter came to the SC again, it reminded the Centre of its responsibility and asked it to submit its plans on interlinking of rivers within two days.
The then Prime Minister Vajpayee immediately convened a meeting of the chief ministers of the Southern States which led to the appointment of a Task Force to implement the Southern Water Grid project. As per this project, efforts have to be taken to link the waters of Godavari and Mahanadi with the waters of Krishna, Pennar, Cauvery and Vaigai. This project was welcomed by all the concerned parties and the same was submitted to the Supreme Court.
Vajpayee again convened the meeting of the chief ministers of Southern states which resulted in the constitution of Cauvery Monitoring Committee to supervise the sharing of waters and implement the decisions of the Cauvery River Authority.
Then the continuous pressure built by Tamil Nadu made the CWDT to give the final award, which said, “Karnataka will have 270 tmc, Tamil Nadu will have 419 tmc, Kerala 30 tmc and Pondy 7 tmc”.
The year 2012 saw a pitched battle between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, both filing petitions in the Supreme Court. When Tamil Nadu filed a petition in SC with a prayer that CRA should be made active, the Supreme Court on 14 August came down heavily on the Centre, which made Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in the capacity of Chairman of the Cauvery River Authority, to direct Karnataka to release 9,000 cusecs of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu. As it was feeling the heat due to draught conditions prevailing then because of the failed monsoon, Karnataka refused to comply with the PM’s order and walked out of the high level meeting as a sign of protest. On 21 September, Karnataka filed a petition before the Cauvery River Authority seeking review of its 19 September ruling.
Tamil Nadu for its part filed a petition in the Supreme Court on September 24, seeking a direction to Karnataka to release Tamil Nadu its due share of water.
On 28 Sep 2012, the Supreme Court slammed the Karnataka government for failing to comply with the directive of the Cauvery River Authority. Left with no other option, Karnataka started releasing water leading to protests and violence across the state.
On October 4, 2012, the Karnataka government filed a review petition before the Supreme Court seeking a stay on its September 28 order directing it to release 9,000 cusecs of Cauvery water everyday to Tamil Nadu, until October 15.
On October 6, 2012, Several Kannada organisations, called for a Karnataka bandh.
However, On October 8, the Supreme Court asked the CRA to ensure the release of 9,000 cusecs. As the Prime Minister ruled out a review of the Cauvery River Authority’s decision, rejecting the plea by the political leaders from Karnataka, the state stopped release of water to Tamil Nadu.
Even after filing a contempt petition against the Karnataka government for flouting the verdict of the Supreme Court, Tamil Nadu also made a fresh plea in the Supreme Court on October 17, reiterating its demand for appropriate directions to be issued to Karnataka to make good the shortfall of 48 tmc ft of water as per the distress sharing formula.
On November 15, 2012, The Cauvery Monitoring Committee directed the Karnataka government to release 4.81 tmc ft to Tamil Nadu between 16 and 30 November.
On December 6, the Supreme Court directed Karnataka to release 10,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu. The court also asked the Union government to indicate the time frame within which the Final Award of CWDT, which was given in February 2007, would be notified.
Finally, on the directions of the Supreme Court, the Centre notified the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) on sharing the waters of the Cauvery system among the basin States of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Union territory of Puducherry on February 19, 2013.
Ever since the formation of her government after a thumping victory in the 2011 assembly elections, Jayalalithaa’s governance has been only on paper with flurry of announcements and nothing in action. The acute power shortage, rising prices, deteriorating law and order, pathetic display of work by corporations and municipalities, her open inclination towards minorities with eyes on vote bank, have all been weighing against her. As she is facing a tough challenge in the forthcoming general elections, this notification of the Cauvery tribunal’s award by the Centre has come to her as a blessing in disguise.
Now she is determined to use it effectively, not only to rejuvenate the party cadres but also to beat the DMK which is down with internal feuds, despite showing some signs of recovery. While the political parties in Karnataka are united in the issue, the Tamil Nadu parties always try one-upmanship showing scant regards to people’s interests. However, the show of unity by the Karnataka politicians also has not resulted in benefits for their people.
So, ultimately the people of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu still remain as the losers while the politicians enjoy their own “victories”.
Any Central government can solve this issue. Only thing required is some spine. If the Centre turns to dharma instead of politics, the issue can be solved. It must enact a law in Parliament stating that the rivers are a national asset and do not belong to the individual states.
Secondly, it must constitute an autonomous body in the name of “National Water Authority”, provided with residual powers, duly recognised by the Constitution by means of an amendment.
Thirdly, the Center must revive the Interlinking of river projects designed by the NDA government and pursue it providing enough funds and staff strength.
Rivers have always been strong integrating factors in our country since ancient times. People from the north bring the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Narmada to south for performing abishekams at Rameswaram and other places, while the people from south go to Prayag, Varanasi, Haridwar and other places to take bath in the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Narmada. This is how the rivers play a sacred role in integrating the people of this great country.
Our culture teaches us to worship nature and rivers are always considered goddesses. We believe that a bath in these sacred rivers remove us from all sins. It is an irony and a pity that the fate of the sin removing rivers is in the hands of sinners, the politicians.
Gange cha Yamune chaiva Godavari Saraswati, Narmade Sindhu Kaveri jalesmin sannidhim kuru (In this water, I invoke the presence of holy waters from the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri.)
Let us pray these rivers for our unity!
By B R Haran from Chennai