Opinion

Cauvery tangle

SL Rao | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on October 16, 2016

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Made worse by dredging up the imperial past

I was born in Srirangam near Tiruchirapalli. I am a Kannadiga by mother tongue and domicile, have lived in Madras for more than 10 years, and in Bangalore where many relatives live, for over 15 years.

Every participant in the Cauvery dispute has been looking only at one side of the problem. The river originates in Karnataka and flows into Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala. The sharing of waters between the two large States was decided by the British. There was noTamil Nadu then. There was the imperial presidency of Madras. Obviously, the imperial government favoured its Madras Presidency over its vassal princely State of Mysore where the water originated. The two “agreements” of 1892 and 1924 gave a large proportion of the river water to Madras Presidency. Madras’ delta region went on to grow four paddy crops a year, unprecedented in most parts of the world! Paddy cultivation, as we know it, uses vast quantities of water.

Weight of British rule

After Independence and especially when Karnataka came into existence following the the States’ reorganisation commission report, the imperial relationship of Madras with other parts of South India was replaced by ties between elected governments.

Karnataka is one of the driest States. In Bangalore it has the fastest growing city. Water supply to Bangalore was assured by bringing water from 120 km away from the Cauvery and then pumping it up 3,000 feet, the process involving a huge power cost. The district of Mandya uses Cauvery water for growing sugarcane, which like paddy is a water-intensive crop.

The so-called technical committee created by the Supreme Court has gone by the imperial “agreements” imposed by the British. It did not take account of the developments since and the duty of an elected Karnataka government to guarantee drinking water to the teeming city of Bangalore. The idea that a State will not have control over dams it had built is incredible. I hope some objective view is taken with the present, and not just the past in mind. The supply of drinking water to a metropolitan city in the dry months must assume priority over other uses. Tamil Nadu must ensure prudent use of water.

There has been no attempt at changing cropping patterns in the Tamil Nadu delta region and Mandya district in Karnataka. There has been no effort either to charge higher tariffs for drinking water in Bangalore, which could curb wasteful use. There is no major move by either State to save water, recharge aquifers, enforce rain water harvesting, not give free electricity for using groundwater, or charge for irrigation water. The Centre has to make paddy cultivation less attractive with lower minimum support prices.

Each of the four parties — the Centre, two State governments and the Supreme Court-appointed agencies — must move from history to the present. They must give priority to drinking water over irrigation. The two States must look objectively at agricultural practices, and take up projects to conserve water.

The writer is former director general of NCAER

Published on October 16, 2016
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