K Ramakrishna Gowda, 58, hasn’t grown sugarcane since 2013. This year, he hopes to plant the crop, thanks to the Supreme Court’s judgment last Friday increasing Karnataka’s share of the Cauvery river water by 14.75 TMC (thousand million cubic-feet).
“We have got justice from the country’s highest court. Now, we hope the rain god, too, will shower blessings by filling up the KRS (Krishna Raja Sagara) dam during the coming monsoon,” says the five-acre farmer from H Kodihalli village in Mandya district.
Gowda last planted sugarcane in 2012. The following year, he raised a “ratoon” crop sprouting from the leftover stubble after harvest of the main cane plant. There was no water to grow a second ratoon in 2014 or plant any fresh cane thereafter. Gowda’s main source of water is a nearby pond, which gets its water from the Visvesvaraya Canal, about 5 km away. The canal is, in turn, fed by the KRS dam, which is another 40 km away.
Gowda currently grows ragi (finger millet) on 2.5 acres, mulberry (for silkworm rearing) on one acre, and coconut on his remaining 1.5 acres. “If less water from KRS will now go to Tamil Nadu, farmers like me can take up sugarcane or even paddy cultivation again,” he adds.
His view is seconded by Madan Gowda from the neighbouring village of Gopalapura. “Sugarcane is a 12-month crop needing water every 10-15 days, except during the monsoon months from July to October. It (water requirement) is even higher in paddy, which requires continuous standing water for the first 60 days or so. Some farmers grow paddy both in monsoon (transplanted in July-August and harvested in November-December) and as a second crop (transplanted in January-February and harvested in April-May), but it’s not easy today,” says the 23-year-old who works for NinjaCart, a Bengaluru-based fruits and vegetables backend supply chain firm, in Mandya town and also helps his father till their three-acre farm.
Madan could cultivate sugarcane in only one acre in 2014, and did not grow it at all in 2015. In September 2016, he invested Rs 2 lakh in digging a borewell and installing a submersible motor-cum-pump to extract groundwater from 100 feet below. This has enabled him to grow sugarcane on two acres and paddy on one acre. “I am managing somehow, but we get three-phase supply for barely six hours, which drops to three during the March-June period. We need KRS water to sustain our agriculture,” he says.
With a live storage capacity of 45.05 TMC, the KRS, which lies in Mandya district, is one of the four major reservoirs of the Cauvery basin in Karnataka. The other three are Hemavathi in Hassan (35.76 TMC), Kabini in Mysore (15.67 TMC), and Harangi in Kodagu (8.07 TMC). These together irrigate eight districts of the state, including Tumkur, Bengaluru Rural, Ramanagara and Chamarajanagar.
The February 2007 decision of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) required Karnataka to release 192 TMC annually to Tamil Nadu. With the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, that amount will now reduce to 177.25 TMC. Correspondingly, Karnataka’s share of Cauvery water will rise from 270 to 284.75 TMC, while falling from 419 to 404.25 TMC for Tamil Nadu.
“We are 50 per cent happy with the judgment. Of the additional 14.75 TMC that we can retain, 4.75 TMC is to meet the drinking and domestic water needs of Bengaluru city. So it leaves 10 TMC for irrigation, which is half of the 20 TMC that we wanted,” K S Puttannaiah, president of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, told The Indian Express.
The CWDT’s decision meant it would be possible to irrigate 18.85 lakh acres in Karnataka. “The additional 10 TMC would allow our farmers to irrigate another 1.60 lakh acres if it is used for semi-dry crops such as ragi, maize, huruli (horse gram) and pulses. But this water will suffice only for one lakh acres of sugarcane and 60,000-70,000 acres of paddy. And Tamil Nadu will still be able to irrigate 24.71 lakh acres and grow two paddy crops,” said Puttannaiah.
According to him, only 30 per cent of the Cauvery water in Karnataka is being used for paddy and sugarcane, while 70 per cent is for crops that don’t require more than 3-4 irrigations.
The farmer leader, who is also a sitting Independent MLA from Melukote Assembly constituency in Mandya, termed the latest ruling as “partial justice” to upper riparian states. “Had the court not granted even the extra 10 TMC, this whole belt would have been in flames,” he claimed.
The eight Cauvery basin districts account for 45 of Karnataka’s 224 Assembly constituencies. This is a Vokkaliga community-dominated belt, in which the primary contestants have been the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular). In the 2013 elections, the Congress and JD(S) won 20 seats each, with the BJP getting three and the remaining going to Independents. While the Congress has sought to take credit for the Supreme Court’s verdict as the ruling party in the state, the JD(S) has claimed that the special leave petition against the CWDT decision was filed while its leader H D Kumaraswamy was chief minister.