Karnataka, Tamil Nadu set to lock horns over Cauvery issue, again

Cauvery river catchment area received less rains this year

Cauvery river | PTI Cauvery river | PTI

A water-deficient Cauvery basin is once again witness to soaring tempers on either side of the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border as the farmers in the neighbouring states are demanding water for their standing crops. 

The decades-old dispute over the river water sharing between the riparian states has once again surfaced with the Cauvery river catchment area receiving less rains this year. The poor inflow to the four reservoirs—KRS, Kabini, Harangi and Hemavathy—saw the storage reach 69.8 tmc on August 21 this year against last year’s 284.8 TMC. The percentage of deficit in inflows during the current water year is 46.72%, while the inflow was in surplus the previous year.

This time again, the neighbouring states are bracing for a legal battle. On August 11, the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) ordered the Karnataka government to release 10,000 cusec (0.864 tmcft per day) of water to Tamil Nadu after the Stalin government sought release of 24,000 cusec of water to sustain the standing crop. On August 14, the TN government petitioned the apex court seeking directions to Karnataka to release 24,000 cusec of water daily for its standing crops from August 14 to 31, and also ensure 36.76 tmc of water in August and September, the stipulated quota of water.

On August 21, the Supreme Court assured Tamil Nadu that it would constitute a bench to hear the dispute. The Karnataka government which has been expressing its inability to release the stipulated quota of water in a distress year (rain deficit year) has sought permission to build two balancing reservoirs at Mekedatu.

Both the pleas will be heard by the new bench. 

It may be recalled that the apex court on February 16, 2018 had modified the allotment of water made by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal’s in its final order (2007). As per the modified award, 419 TMC (of the total 740 TMC) was allocated to Karnataka, 270 TMC to Tamil Nadu, 30 TMC to Kerala, 7 for Puducherry and 10 TMC for environmental protection. The order mandated the release of a stipulated monthly quota of water from Karnataka’s dams to Tamil Nadu at the Biligundlu measuring station each water year (June to May). However, the water dispute surfaces during every distress year as Karnataka fails to ensure the release of monthly quota of water to Tamil Nadu owing to water shortage in its dams. 

Even as the state is locked in a legal battle, opposition parties—the BJP and the JDS—have slammed the Congress government for “yielding” to Tamil Nadu’s demand for excess water during a distress year. 

Former Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, in a letter to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, stated that Tamil Nadu had utilised 60 TMC against the stipulated 32 TMC of water for the Kuruvai crops by August 7. Bommai also criticised the government for releasing water to Tamil Nadu, claiming it was at the cost of Karnataka farmers. 

“The Congress government has released water to appease Stalin, who is part of the united opposition. The government has overlooked the drinking water needs of Bengaluru and released water to TN at the expense of our farmers in Mysuru and Mandya,” said former minister R. Ashok. 

Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar, who is also the water resources minister, defended the government decision stating that it was only complying with the CWMA order. 

“The CWMA ordered Karnataka to ensure release of 10,000 cusec of water at Bilugundlu point for 15 days starting from August 12, which makes it a total of 13 TMC. We have called an all-party meeting on August 23, to discuss the future course of action,” said Shivakumar, adding that a balancing reservoir at Mekadatu in Ramanagara district could resolve the water dispute as it helps store excess water during a surplus year. 

The deputy chief minister also noted that there was only 55 TMC of water in the state reservoirs while there was a requirement of 124 TMC to meet the drinking water needs of Bengaluru and irrigation. 

Said former chief minister and JDS leader H.D. Kumaraswamy, “The Cauvery Tribunal had directed the states to follow a distress sharing formula. But the Congress government has unilaterally decided to release water to Tamil Nadu without any resistance. It has not taken the opposition parties into confidence before taking such a crucial decision. What is use of convening an all-party meeting after petitioning the Supreme Court? The Karnataka government is aware that Tamil Nadu has expanded its land under (Kuruvai crop) cultivation by four times. But it has not complained to the CWMA. The Congress’s Mekadatu rally before elections to assert rights over Cauvery water was a sham.”

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