Cauvery Water Crisis: Past Mistakes, Present Situation And Future Implications

As the fate of sharing the Cauvery water remains uncertain, the Karnataka Cabinet on September 21 decided to defer the Supreme Court order to release 6,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu from September 21 to 27. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah termed the Supreme Court's order as "unimplementable" and hopes to resolve this matter at a special session meet to be held on September 23.

Cabinet has decided to defer on releasing water & hold a spl legislature session on 23 Sept to discuss & arrive at joint decision #Cauvery — CM of Karnataka (@CMofKarnataka) September 21, 2016

Meanwhile, sporadic protests continue in the river basin districts, especially Mandya, the epicentre of the Cauvery agitation. The state is now painted in khakhi colours with thousands of police personnel including Civil, Traffic, Karnataka State Reserve Police, Quick Reaction Teams, Rapid Action Force and Central Reserve Police Force being deployed to maintain peace and Section 144 will be in force across Karnataka till September 25.

As the state continues to reel from the aftermath of mob violence which witnessed street protests and inter-state vehicle damage, there is a need to examine the present situation rationally while being mindful of the emotions attached with the Cauvery river across the states.

Is sharing Cauvery River an option? 

Karnataka had intermittent and uncertain rainfall since the onset of Monsoons 2016, however, the meteorological department classified the deficit of 17 per cent of rainfall as “normal”.

According to Central Water Commission data, Karnataka is 30 per cent short on water supply when compared to Tamil Nadu’s 49 per cent. However, Prabhu Mallikarjunan, an independent reporter, states that, “the capacity of Cauvery basin reservoirs in Karnataka is a quarter less than Tamil Nadu’s, 2.75 billion cubic meters (BCM), against 3.44 BMC in Tamil Nadu.”

Source: Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre/India Spend

This essentially means that water levels in the Cauvery catchment area in both the states have been reduced. As per CWC data, the states together witnessed low rainfall with a deficit of 46 per cent over the past decade. Further, India Spend reported that “42% of Karnataka’s minor irrigation tanks are dry statewide and 90% of Karnataka’s talukas–subdivisions of districts–recorded deficit rainfall in August.”

The low local rainfall deficits in both the states have resulted in a situation of agricultural drought. Hence, there is an urgent need for the water to be shared between the two feuding states not just for agrarian purpose but to meet the state’s drinking water needs and for hydel power.

Government Policies

The onset of green revolution saw the government favouring the cultivation of some crops over others. The state in the 1980s began to provide instruction kits on production of paddy and wheat while ignoring millets production. This led to an imbalance and the demand for millets continued to  decline in the state. By the time the government realised the water retention capacity of these products it was too late. Even the state government’s subsidy of Rs 60,000 to revive and boost the production of millets has  failed to revive the demand for this crop.

Further the government introduced the cultivation of eucalyptus and acacia in Tumkur region which requires high groundwater consumption. The district today faces severe drinking water shortage.

Shift in Agriculture

Over the past forty years, Karnataka has shifted from cultivation of millets in mass number towards water intensive crops such as sugarcane while the land in the state continues to be 80 per cent drought prone. The increase of 586 per cent in sugarcane production along with marginal increase in paddy cultivation has coincided with decline of millets production such as jowar, ragi and bajra. For economic reasons, farmers prefer sugarcane and paddy cultivation which yields high profits with less expenditure while millets consumption has reduced in the state and are also tougher to grow. This shift in agriculture pattern has taken a toll on Karnataka. The weather and water conditions favour the cultivation of millets as the state’s primary crop.

Political implications

With the tough stand taken by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, the party has gained an upper hand and may also help the Congress party to survive the anti-incumbency wave in the next elections. Whether it all ends with contempt of court or the dissolution of the House, the Congress can now go back to the people and receive plenty of sympathy by saying they risked their government for the people's cause.

The JD(S) has emerged as the biggest winner. Throughout this agitation, they have stood firm and have become the voice of farmers. The party already has a large presence in the Cauvery basin district and Mandya MP Puttaraju along with few legislators from Cauvery basin region have said that they will resign from their posts in protest against the Supreme Court order. Further, former Prime Minister and JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda is leading the fight against the Supreme Court verdict and has gone beyond party lines for the cause of Karnataka. He has already met Chief Minister Siddaramaiah twice over the past fortnight and is expected to attend the all-party meeting.

Met former prime minister Shri Deve Gowda and discussed #Cauvery Issue. — CM of Karnataka (@CMofKarnataka) September 21, 2016

Meanwhile, the BJP is now at the receiving flak due to the centre's inaction over this issue and the party's decision to boycott an all-party called by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to discuss the future course of action. While BJP Karnataka state chief, BS Yeddyurappa has defended Prime Minister Narendra Modi silence, the public sentiment is slowly turning against the party.


I Insist CM to take clear stand on #CauveryIssue. We are with CM if he takes firm decision &stops further release of water to TN: Sh.@BSYBJP — BJP Karnataka (@BJP4Karnataka) September 20, 2016

1. I am terribly disappointed by today's 'impractical, unscientific and unfair' #Cauveryverdict. Karnataka's water woes neglected Sh @BSYBJP — BJP Karnataka (@BJP4Karnataka) September 20, 2016

2. BJP had reiterated not to release the water even in the second all party meet, Arrogant Congress govt released water again. — BJP Karnataka (@BJP4Karnataka) September 22, 2016

3.BJP didn't attend the all party meet to put pressure on the Cong govt which worked, Finally Govt toed 1.Not releasing of water 2.Session — BJP Karnataka (@BJP4Karnataka) September 22, 2016

4.BJP's firm stand not to release water put tremendous pressure on Cong govt which finally made them realise their mistake & toe BJP's line — BJP Karnataka (@BJP4Karnataka) September 22, 2016

The Cauvery water crisis has triggered a chain of political reactions from across national and regional parties and surely, the implications of the actions taken in the next fortnight will be a deciding factor for the state elections to be held in 2018, if not earlier.

Parliament Analyst | Journalist by qualification | Founding Editor @decent_neta | Old Bollywood songs lover

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