As the Cauvery water dispute has once again pitted Tamil Nadu and Karnataka against each other, effigies of Tamil leaders have been burnt in Karnataka, besides vehicles and other public property. And the history of this dispute repeats itself once again even as another water deficit period is upon the states.
On Monday, the Supreme Court directed the Karnataka government to release 15,000 cusecs of water from the Cauvery to Tamil Nadu daily for the next 10 days to ensure the survival of the samba crops in Tamil Nadu. “Keeping in view the gesture shown by the Karnataka and the plight that has been projected with agony by Tamil Nadu, we think it appropriate to direct that 15 cusecs of water per day be released at Biligundulu by Karnataka for 10 days,” said a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Uday U Lalit.
The SC order came a week after Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said the state could not release the river waters “when farmers and the common man are distressed and even drinking water is not available in the Cauvery catchment areas (in Karnataka).”
“Their reservoirs are at half strength. Still, ignoring the CWDT order, Karnataka continues to use Cauvery to drain out their surplus water and maintains that it will release the water only if their reservoirs are full. Why is Karnataka is not adhering to CWDT order?” asks S Janakarajan, an economist and water management expert with the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS).
Siddaramaiah’s statement is seen as a clear violation of the final order of Cauvery Tribunal and recalls a strategy first employed by his predecessor S M Krishna. In October 2002, as the Karnataka CM, Krishna had tendered an ‘unconditional apology’ to the SC after Karnataka had failed to obey the SC order to release Cauvery waters to Tamil Nadu.
The final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) — the outcome of negotiations and studies that had taken over 24 years — said that whatever water is available should be shared between the two states and that Karnataka has to give 192 tmc ft water to Tamil Nadu as per the order.
The 498-km-long Cauvery river has a basin area in Tamil Nadu of more than 44,000 sq km and 32,000 sq km area in Karnataka. Like Kerala’s argument in the Mullaperiyar issue, Karnataka believes that the old agreement was drafted in favour of the former Madras presidency in the 1880s, and had opposed the plans of the former Mysore king to revive irrigation projects in his territory with the river.