A state-wide bandh was organised on 5th April in Tamilandu to compel the Centre to set up the Cauvery Management Board and Cauvery Water Regulation Committee. Following this several parties in Karnataka have announce a bandh on April 12th. One can see that with the summer reaching its height and impending elections in Karnataka, divisive forces will use the situation for their narrow aims with severe consequences for the people in the two neighbouring states. We need to approach this issue with a cool head.
Political parties who were demanding that the central government should not intervene in medical college admissions and talked about national rights now want the Centre to intervene and manage their river waters. What a farce!
Has the Centre ever managed the river waters in a way that harmonises interests of various users of water in the basin states? Never.
The Supreme Court had in its judgment on February 16, given the Central Government a 6 week deadline to set up the Cauvery Management Board and the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee. The deadline expired on March 29. The Central Government has not implemented the Supreme Court order. Instead, it has filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking for a three month delay in setting up the Board. It has given two reasons for this. According to the Centre, Karnataka is opposed to the setting up of the Board. Elections in Karnataka are due in May. The argument of the Centre is that if the Board is set up now, then political parties in Karnataka will whip up passions over the Cauvery issue resulting in violence. In other words, the Central government will continue to use the Cauvery issue to set the people of Karnataka and Tamilnadu against each other.
The Supreme Court judgement of February 16 reflected the interests of the Central State. It pitted the two states against each other. It pitted rural against urban people. It has tried to set the needs of the urban population for drinking water against the needs for irrigation. Going to the Centre for a solution is like the Panchatantra story of cats going to the monkey for a solution.
Our state and central governments look at the rivers of our country and our water bodies as a resource to be mercilessly exploited, for maximum profits. Because of this, the rivers and water bodies of our country are getting destroyed.
Political parties of in both Karnataka and Tamilnadu are posing as the greatest “patriots” of their respective states, while they have criminally abetted the biggest corporate interests in IT, real estate, mining, beverage, gas exploration and other sectors, to destroy water bodies that were earlier the source of drinking water and irrigation for the people. They care nothing for the people of their states.
The Supreme Court judgment is also very vague. It has nothing to say on the systematic destruction of the lakes and other water bodies which were the traditional source of drinking water, by these corporates. It has given a formula for sharing waters in normal times, but has nominated a third party to come up with a formula for drought years.
The central government has not sorted out water disputes anywhere. Karnataka raises the issue of historic injustice done to it in the agreements made on Cauvery water sharing in the colonial period. Tamilnadu raises issue of injustice done by successive central governments on the same issue over the past several decades. Similar disputes have been deliberately fanned by the central government over river water sharing between other states as well. No such dispute has till now been solved to the satisfaction of the people of the concerned states.
A just solution to the river water dispute will require harmonisation of interests of various users of the water and the general interests of society. A workable solution has to first recognize that it is the people of Tamilnadu and Karnataka and other states in the Cauvery basin who own their rivers and other natural resources. This can be done only by people’s and farmers forums on either side of the state borders discussing with each other patiently and coming to an amicable solution. There are excellent examples where river water disputes have been settled harmoniously. Invariably in these cases, riparian states have rejected any role for a third party.