Karnataka lawmakers at a special joint session on Friday adopted a unanimous resolution to use Cauvery water only for drinking needs of the state.
While the resolution does not spell out the assembly's decision to defy the latest order of the Supreme Court, directing the release of 6,000cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu from September 21 and 27, it implies the order cannot be complied with.
The resolution was moved in English by BJP's Leader of Opposition Jagadish Shettar, while JD(S) MLA Y.S.V. Data moved the same in Kannada.
This move was a result of the mounting pressure on the government by the people and elected representatives cutting across party lines, to stop release of water to Tamil Nadu.
The resolution noted that the combined water storage of the four reservoirs in the basin—Krishnaraja Sagara, Hemavathi, Kabini and Harangi—stands at an "alarmingly low level" of 27.06tmc. The house also observed that the exact quantum of water shortage in the reservoirs should be ascertained for the water year 2016-17, only on January 31,2017, at the end of the monsoon.
The resolution directed the state government to utilise the water solely for the drinking water purposes, stating that the interests of the people of the state are likely to be gravely jeopardised if water in the four reservoirs was in anyway reduced other by using the same for drinking purposes of people in the Cauvery basin, including the entire city of Bengaluru.
The Congress government, which had convened two all-party meetings since August to discuss the water shortages, finally convened a special session.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah told the house that gravity of the situation had warranted a special session. “It is the sixth special session held since 1991 and every time, it was to discuss the Cauvery water crisis. Though we have always complied with SC order, today I am bound by the decision of this house. But it has become extremely difficult to comply with the latest (SC) order as the reservoirs have only 27.06tmc against our drinking water need (till June 2017) of 24.11tmc in addition to water for our livestock and evaporation losses. Our farmers have made a sacrifice by not sowing. Even the Central Water Policy accords top priority to drinking water, followed by irrigation and power generation. Today, we are expected to give water to TN's Samba crop at the cost of our own drinking water needs and farmers”.
The BJP backed the government in its decision to not to release water since the SC order in not implementable. “There should be no fear of contempt of court because the apex court has given a ruling that defying an order of the court does not attract contempt if there is impossibility of performance (of the order)," said Shettar, adding that his party fully backs the government.
JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy said the constitutional bodies have failed to protect the interest of people of Karnataka. "Karnataka has released 51.8tmc water to TN till September 21. Distress formula should be calculated after the northeast monsoon recedes in Tamil Nadu. What is hurry to form the Cauvery Management Board, as recommended in the Cauvery Tribunal order, when three states have filed SLPs questioning the order”?
Former water resources minister Basavaraj Bommai dubbed the SC order as not consistent with the Constitution. "The tribunal faltered by relying on two pre-Independence agreement to give the final award. Now, the SC orders are based on a flawed Tribunal award."
Further, Bommai added that distress sharing was not just about water sharing but also about crop sacrifices on both sides. "Our standing crop across 6.2 lakh acres has no water, but TN is demanding water for 28 lakh acre of standing crop, which includes 15 lakh acres of Samba rice crop, which is actually unsown. The Mettur dam will have 50 tmc with the onset of north east monsoon, and ground water in TN is also good,” he said.
Stay firm on decision, CM told
Farmer leader and Melukote MLA K.S. Puttannaiah urged the chief minister to stay firm on his decision of not releasing water to Tamil Nadu.
"A bold decision by us can set a good precedence to future generations. CM should not back out fearing contempt as the entire house and the people of the state are backing you," said the lone member from Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha.
Elaborating on the ground realities, he said, both states can be comfortable only if the yield is 462tmc of water in a water year. “But the deficit is 120tmc during the distress year. Farmers in the basin have been given a 'krishi holiday' due to water deficit, and sowing was carried out only across 5.5 lakh acres, while keeping 6.5 lakh acres idle. But TN has grown Kuruvai across 4 lakh acres and now they are growing Samba across 29 lakh acre. Why has the state not given the right picture to the apex court and raised the right questions to safeguard the interests of Karnataka”?
Karnataka farmers are accused of using excess water. But the reality is otherwise, rued the farmer activist. "One tmc is used to grow 12,000 acres of sugarcane, or 16,000 acres of ragi. But you can grow only 7000 acres of paddy with one tmc water. Now who will ask TN not to grow water intensive crops like rice or limit their expanse at least during a distress year. Why are tribunals mum on excess water flowing into the sea? Now, we have released 16tmc, which would have lasted our farmers for 80 days."
"Mr CM, don't become the Ningamma (a villager) who threatens to jump into the river but reluctantly wades through water, hoping to be saved. We are behind you, so take the plunge," said Puttannaiah.
Expressing his displeasure over lack of camaraderie between the two states, he asked,"Why can't we resolve the issue through dialogue? Why can't CMs talk to each other? Please lead a delegation of experts and farmers to TN."