Fishing in troubled waters

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Simmering tension Karnataka and Tamil Nadu fight over the Cauvery waters yet again, Photo: AFP
Simmering tension Karnataka and Tamil Nadu fight over the Cauvery waters yet again, Photo: AFP

The farmers in Tamil Nadu have launched a fresh agitation this week over the Karnataka government’s decision to build two reservoirs across the Cauvery at Mekedatu. With Karnataka refusing to budge from its stand on reservoirs, the matter will yet again come to a boil. The Cauvery issue has come out at the right time for Tamil Nadu, as the state braces for the bypolls early next year. That explains why both political parties in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK and the DMK, were quick to latch on to the issue.

The Karnataka government’s firmness came to the fore as the state sanctioned Rs 25 crore to get a Detailed Project Report (DPR) done on the Mekedatu project. Karnataka’s Water Resources Minister MB Patil told Tehelka, “We are just getting the DPR study done. Nobody can stop us from doing it as long as we can ensure 192 TMCFT of water to Tamil Nadu every year.”

As per the directive of the Central Water Commission, Karnataka has to share 192 TMCFT of water with Tamil Nadu. While Karnataka has largely followed the accord, the timings of release during the year have always been a matter of debate. The Mekedatu project, while giving Karnataka an opportunity to store surplus waters, may affect the overflows in the summer months to Tamil Nadu. The move has not gone down well with the farmers in the Cauvery delta of Tamil Nadu, so they have launched an agitation on Monday to fight for their rights. The coordination committee of all farmers’ associations called for a 12-hour state-wide bandh on 28 March to get the attention of the people.

With the by polls barely a year away, politics over the Mekedatu dam can be expected to heat up. Political parties across Tamil Nadu were quick to pounce on the issue. “Karnataka releases water from Cauvery only when there is surplus water available to Tamil Nadu and not as per the orders of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT)” DMK supremo Karunanidhi said in a statement.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam was quick to shoot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention in the matter. “I would like to reiterate that the unilateral action of the government of Karnataka to proceed with the execution of two new reservoirs across Mekedatu would amount to gross violation of the final order dated 5.2.2007, as notified in the gazette on 19.2.2013, as it would affect the flow of the water to Tamil Nadu,” wrote Panneerselvam.

Tehelka, through a reliable source, found out that five companies have been shortlisted to submit the DPR for the project, which Karnataka says is crucial to meet the growing demands of drinking water in the garden city of Bengaluru. The state’s water resources website says, “Karnataka wishes to take up the construction of balancing / storage reservoirs across the Cauvery on the upstream of Mekedatu in the state of Karnataka as a part of its efforts to rejuvenate the river and help in restoring the ground water level in the vicinity. Besides, it should also help in protecting the environment.”

Patil told Tehelka, “The project has been hanging fire for several decades due to a shortage of funds and political will. We will keep our commitments to Tamil Nadu as per the Cauvery accord. We are just conducting a study and if we find it feasible, we will approach the Centre for clearances.”

However, the sentiment on the other side is heating up with a stir planned on 4 April, when the Cauvery Protection Forum plans to burn budget copies of Karnataka. With smaller parties like the PMK and the MDMK jumping into the fray, all eyes will be on the Tamil Nadu units of the BJP and the Congress over their plan of action.

vijay.grover@tehelka.com

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