Can TN and Karnataka stop politicking and discuss these solutions to the Cauvery dispute?

Will dropping a crop season solve the crisis?
Can TN and Karnataka stop politicking and discuss these solutions to the Cauvery dispute?
Can TN and Karnataka stop politicking and discuss these solutions to the Cauvery dispute?
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The Cauvery river water dispute has erupted again. Farmers in Mandya and Mysuru districts of Karnataka have intensified their protests after the Supreme Court of India asked Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs of water per day to Tamil Nadu for 10 days.

Across the border in Tamil Nadu farmers are rallying hard to save the Samba crop.

Highways blocked, transport services hit, bandhs, movie theatres shutdown; it’s the same cycle almost every time the problem erupts. Add political hysteria, local groups flexing muscles and a dose of violence, the Cauvery story is complete.

But is there a solution? Would that solution need to be a political one?

The News Minute spoke to K Sivasubramaniyan, an Associate Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies and Kurubur Shantakumar, Karnataka President of the Karnataka Sugarcane Growers Association on whether it was time the two states figured out an out of the box solution.

Drop one crop season, that’s the only solution

K Sivasubramaniyan believes that though the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) award gives Tamil Nadu and Karnataka the independence to hold discussions on quantity of water to be released, political will is lacking from either sides. “The area of irrigation in Karnataka has gone up significantly in the past few decades, though that’s not the case with Tamil Nadu. The water from the Cauvery, especially in a deficit year is not enough to fulfil the drinking water and irrigation requirements of both states. The one solution that can solve the issue, but will need political will to implement is to convince the farmers on either side to have only one main crop season,” he said.

Tamil Nadu has three crop seasons Kuruvai (May to August), Samba (September to January) and Navarai (January to April).

Karnataka follows the crop seasons like Northern India does that consists of Kharif (May to August), Rabi (September to December) and Summer crop (January to May).

This year, Tamil Nadu farmers have declared the Kuruvai crop a failure and want water released to save the Samba crop.

“There is not enough water for all these crop seasons. Let’s not take the summer crop into account, but it is vital that the two states sit down and decide which crop season they will choose,” Sivasubramaniyan said.  

If the states are unwilling to adhere to this formula, then the only other solution was to reduce cultivation of water guzzling crops like paddy and sugar cane. “Over the last few years, many farmers who were cultivating cereals and even oil seeds have shifted to paddy. Districts like Mandya have large sugarcane cultivation and this is a crop that is grown over a year. These farmers need to be convinced to grow other crops or they can use drip irrigation technology for sugarcane to save water,” he suggested.

A comparison of the figures between the Agricultural Census 1971 and the Economic Survey of Karnataka 2014-2015 shows that paddy cultivation in Karnataka has grown by 20% from the 1970s to  2014-2015.

As per data provided by Tamil Nadu and Economic Appraisal, paddy accounted for 34% of the total cropped area in Tamil Nadu during 2005-2006 (state’s actual rainfall 1304 mm against normal level of 922 mm), 32% during 2011-12 (actual rainfall 937 mm), 29% in 2012-13 (actual rainfall 743 mm) and is about one-third cultivated in three delta districts of Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam that depend on the Cauvery water for irrigation.

The Cauvery water dispute is not just about irrigation, but also about drinking water. Bengaluru city gets some of its drinking water from the Cauvery and according to BWSSB (Bengaluru Water Board), the city needs 1450 million litres per day.   “Bengaluru authorities have to assess the per capita consumption as the figures now seem to be too high for the city’s population. If people are not ready to reduce consumption, other solutions like rationing must be considered,” K Sivasubramaniyan said. As per Cauvery water disputes Tribunal – Final Order, the drinking water requirements to be fulfilled by Cauvery waters in a normal year by Karnataka is 54 TMCft and for Tamil Nadu 84 TMCft that is 20% of allocated water, he added.

Karnataka President of the Karnataka Sugarcane Growers Association Kurubur Shantakumar did not respond when asked if Karnataka farmers should cut down a crop season. He instead said, “Tamil Nadu farmers should grow short term crops (that can be harvested within three months). They should also use water judiciously.

On whether farmers could take up millets cultivation, Shantakumar said that it was not possible to grow a particular crop in any place on one’s whims and fancies or throughout the year. “Ours is irrigated land, we cannot grow millets. Millets are only for dry land. We have to grow what is suitable to our soil,” Shantakumar said.

Millets (in Karnataka ragi, jowar and bajra) are not water-intensive unlike crops such as paddy or sugarcane. Shantakumar also said that in the past two years, the use of drip irrigation had reduced the water consumption from 2,500 litres of water per kg of sugarcane to 800 litres.

Shantakumar said that he was in favour of a re-examination of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal’s final award in 5th February 2007. “I am one of the petitioners in the case in the Supreme Court, challenging the final award. The Tribunal had miscalculated the water in borewells in Tamil Nadu while calculating the quantum of water. Borewells can provide much more water,” Shantakumar said.  Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal final order however says, “The use of underground waters by any riparian state and U.T. of Pondicherry shall not be reckoned as use of the water of the river Cauvery.” 

Understanding the genesis of the current Cauvery problem

The history of the Cauvery dispute is long-drawn and stretches over decades. Karnataka, the upper riparian state has over the years, built four dams on the Cauvery river, thereby limiting the water flow to the lower riparian state, Tamil Nadu.

Let’s stick to what happened after 2007.

The CWDT award in 2007, that had elaborately studied the drinking water and irrigation requirements of TN, Karnataka, Kerala and Puducherry had ordered that Karnataka has to release 192 tmc feet of water to Tamil Nadu every year.

According to the order, Karnataka is supposed to release 34 tmc ft of water in July and 50 tmc ft of water in August to TN. The agitations this year started after Karnataka declared that it cannot release water to TN due to a deficit leading to the apex court’s intervention. Karnataka had said it has a deficit of about 80 tmc feet in its four reservoirs. 


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