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Cauvery Award

The final order of the Cauvery Tribunal makes allocations of Cauvery waters to the four parties to the dispute, recommends proportionate adjustments in years of low rainfall, and proposes the establishment of a Cauvery Management Board for monitoring the implementation. There is no real basis for concern or dismay in any of the states. The allocation numbers have no great practical significance but what needs to be done is to arrive at an understanding on how water will be shared in distress years. What lies at the heart of this conflict is excessive demand by all the parties.

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Cauvery Award

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Economic and Political WeeklyFebruary 24, 2007640amendmentsto the Act made in 2002,neednot be examined over here. Sufficeit to say that in the Cauvery case, theadjudication process has been running atroubled course.Nature of the DisputeThe essence of the Cauvery dispute isa conflict of interests between a down-stream state (Tamil Nadu) which has a longhistory of irrigated agriculture and has inthe process been making substantial useof Cauvery waters, and an upstream state(Karnataka) which was a late starter inirrigation development but has been mak-ing rapid progress and has the advantageof being an upper riparian with greatercontrol over the waters. Kerala (an up-stream state with a relatively modestdemand for Cauvery waters) andPuducherry (the lowest riparian with avery small demand) have become partiesto this dispute. Any fair sharing wouldhave to provide for the legitimate interestsof all four parties. Unfortunately, drivenby the forces of party politics, the govern-ments of the two principal contending stateshave over the years generated and fosteredstrong chauvinistic sentiments among thegeneral public, which tend to limit their(the governments’) own freedom and flexi-bility. In both states the mention of Cauverywaters evokes a strong emotional response.The dispute has become (or has been madeto become) a major issue in electoralpolitics. In both states, all parties tend totake a strong stand on this issue, makingit risky for whichever party is in power togive the impression of being weak or offailing to protect the interests of the state.That was the reason why this disputebecame so intractable.Interim Order of 1991The interim order (IO) of 1991 was passedby the Tribunal in response to Tamil Nadu’splea that pending the completion of theadjudication process which might take time,there was a need for some assurance ofwater for irrigation in the Cauvery basinin the state. The IO was to the effect thatKarnataka should ensure an annual releaseof 205 thousand million cubic(tmc) feetof Cauvery waters to Tamil Nadu (of whichsix tmcft should go to Puducherry); italsolaid down a detailed monthlyscheduleof releases.We need not go into the chequered historyof the IO here, as the final order, once itis notified, will replace the IO. However,three points relating to it need to be noted.First, right from the beginning, Karnatakawas strongly resistant to the idea of imple-menting the IO, going to the extent oftrying to nullify it through an ordinance(which was declared unconstitutional bythe Supreme Court on a presidential ref-erence), and at a later stage even defyingthe Supreme Court and attracting chargesof contempt of court. Secondly, the IOcaused anger and dismay in Karnataka,and popular frenzy (partly engineered bysome elements) led to tragic violence andintroduced a new strain in the relationshipbetween Tamils and Kannadigas. Thatfrenzy died down after a while, and afragile calm came to prevail but the finalorder has now led to a similar response ofanger and dismay, though no violence hasbeen reported so far. We shall return tothis later. Thirdly, the question of imple-mentation of the IO, and of release ofwaters to save standing crops repeatedlywent to the Supreme Court in the 1990s.Without going into that interestingstory,itmay be noted that during thecourseof that process a political crisis-defusing body misleadingly called theCauvery River Authority was set up. It didnot prove to be very effective, and in anycase, it will cease to exist once the IOexpires with the coming into effect of thefinal order.The ‘Cauvery Family’The intractable nature of the dispute, theinability of the governments and the poli-ticians to rise above the calculus of partypolitics, and the eruption of violence in1992 led to the feeling that some kind ofa non-official initiative was necessary forpromoting understanding and exploringthe possibility of a settlement. In the early1990s, the late S Guhan, along with others,tried to organise meetings on the Cauveryissue under non-official auspices to pro-mote understanding between the two statesat the level of the people. After a promisingbeginning that initiative lost steam. Later,when interstate dissensions at the politicallevel on Cauvery were at their height in2001-02, the present writer wrote severalarticles strongly urging a civil societyinitiative to break the governmental log-jam; as a first step, he convened a smalland informal meeting at Bangalore at thehouse of the former chief justice ofKarnataka justice Nittor Srinivasa Rao(now, alas, no more). That was a meetingof intellectuals; what was needed was ameeting of farmers. The Madras Instituteof Development Studies, with the oldGuhan legacy in mind, were of a similarview, and S Janakarajan of that institutionundertook the exercise of bringing thefarmers of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka (thetwo principal contending states) together.This has had a measure of success. Thevery first meeting of around 100 farmersfrom both states (Chennai, April 2003),with some academics, engineers, NGOs,and media people associated, wascharacterised by a spirit of warmth, friend-liness and fraternity, and a concept of“Cauvery Family” emerged. There was ageneral recognition that the farmers of the“Cauvery Family” must live together inharmony and constructive cooperation, andmust learn to make the necessary adjust-ments. That spirit has continued to prevailin several further meetings that have sincetaken place in locations in both states. Thefarmers from either state have visited areasin the other state and have developed abetter mutual understanding of problemsand needs. Some mutual misperceptionshave been partially if not wholly removed.While a sharing agreement or a formulafor years of distress did not emerge out ofthe process, the warmth of the “family”relationship that has been established andthe spirit of goodwill and harmony thatcame to prevail among the farmers fromthe two states were very remarkable. Thiswas a considerable achievement but wemust now hope that the “Family” will beable to withstand the strains arising fromthe responses to the final order and con-tinue to play a useful role.Final OrderIn its final order, the tribunal has pro-ceeded on the basis of an annual availabil-ity of 740 tmcft in the Cauvery on a “50per cent dependability” basis (this will beexplained later). It has allocated this asfollows: Tamil Nadu 419, Karnataka 270,Kerala 30 and Puducherry 7. That leaves14 tmcft, out of which 10 is meant for“environmental protection”, and four repre-sents “the inevitable escapages into thesea”. Karnataka has to release 192 tmcftfrom Billigundulu out of which 10 tmcftare meant for environmental purposes.Thismeans that 182 tmcft are meant forTamil Nadu, which, together with the25tmcft that becomes available betweenBilligundulu and Mettur adds up to anavailability of 207 tmcft at Mettur. (The
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