Bengaluru: In the midst of a looming drought due to the failure of monsoon rains and fast depleting reservoirs, the Cauvery Water Regulation Commission’s (CWRC) “order” to Karnataka to release 5,000 cusecs of Cauvery water to neighbouring Tamil Nadu, has put the Siddaramaiah government in a piquant situation.
After surreptitiously releasing about 14 tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu on instructions from the Congress high command to please its I.N.D.I.A. ally, DMK, the Congress government in Karnataka abruptly stopped the release following a public outcry and the opposition’s criticism as “a total betrayal of people’s trust for political considerations.”
At the CWRC meeting in New Delhi, a war of attrition ensued with Tamil Nadu demanding a daily release of 25,000 cusecs of water for the next 10 days and Karnataka insisting that since the storage of water in KRS, Kabini and Harangi reservoirs “had depleted to alarming levels”, the state could release only 3,000 cusecs per day.
After suggesting that Karnataka release 7,500 cusecs, the CWRC came to the conclusion that Karnataka should release 5,000 cusecs per day over the next 15 days. The matter has gone for the consideration of the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) which would convey its recommendation to the Supreme Court which is hearing the matter.
Outraged over the Congress government’s inept handling of the situation, the farmers of Karnataka have held protests across the state criticising the government’s “irrational” decision to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu at a time when the state had denied water for irrigation to its own farmers, citing acute low levels of storage.
Deputy chief minister and water resources minister DK Shivakumar who ordered the release of water from the KRS dam, even though Siddaramaiah had rejected the demand, said he had to “respect the courts” and there were precedents in these matters.
But sources said Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin, using his “I.N.D.I.A. connections” spoke to Congress general secretary KC Venugopal, who is close to Rahul Gandhi, asking him to ‘persuade’ Karnataka to release Cauvery water to “save standing crops in Tamil Nadu.” It was on Venugopal’s “instructions” that Shivakumar ordered the water release.
With the approaching Lok Sabha elections, the Congress thought it was prudent to oblige an ally whose support helped the Congress bag eight Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu in 2019 elections. The Congress candidates, including Karti Chidambaram, depend heavily on DMK’s largesse to retain their seats.
Two former chief ministers HD Kumaraswamy and Basavaraj Bommai, have attacked the Siddaramaiah government for “sacrificing the interests of state farmers for political gain.” Kumaraswamy said there was 60-70% shortfall in rains this year leading to scarce storage in reservoirs and drought-like situation across the state, adding, that “just because they (Congress) had won a majority in the recent elections, they don’t have a ‘licence’ to do what they pleased when reservoirs are empty, crops are drying and there is shortage of even drinking water.”
Bommai for affidavit
Bommai, who has the experience of handling the irrigation ministry, said the state government, as it had done multiple times earlier, should have filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court explaining why it was impossible to meet the Cauvery water tribunal’s orders on water release when the rains had failed.
Countering Shivakumar’s statement that he did not have the “keys” to the dams, Bommai said being an upper riparian state, Karnataka always had the keys, but the Congress regime lacked the resolve to protect the state’s interests because of “political and electoral considerations.”
Tamil Nadu government, in its affidavit before the Supreme Court, claimed that as of August 9, Karnataka “owed to Tamil Nadu” 37.971 tmcft, 24 tmcft for the rest of August and another 36.76 tmcft in September “as per the tribunal’s award.” Due to complete failure of rains in the whole of August, the overall storage in the three reservoirs of Karnataka is 73 tmcft which has to cater to the drinking water needs of Bengaluru city as well.
Growing excess crops
Bommai pointed out that Tamil Nadu, instead of limiting its rice crop to 1.80 hectares using 32 tmcft of water, it had “deliberately” allowed its farmers to sow seedlings in 4 lakh hectares releasing 60 tmcft from its dams and was now applying pressure on Karnataka for more water when there was all round deficit.
As the Cauvery river flows through the Old Mysore areas and it is the main lifeline for the farmers, predominantly Vokkaligas, growing rice and sugarcane, Shivakumar, who hails from the region is worried over the erosion of his support base. As KPCC president, he is keen to deliver at least 20 Lok Sabha seats to the Congress kitty (as against only one now) and stake his claim for chief ministership.