Karnataka sees return of strident protests after SC order directing it to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu

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Mandya: Jail-bharos, rasta-rokos and massive rallies with burning effigies are back on the agenda in the drought-hit Mandya district of Karnataka following the Supreme Court’s order on Thursday asking Karnataka to discharge 4 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet) of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu by 8 May.

Taking a note of the Union government’s failure to frame the Cauvery draft water-sharing scheme by Thursday, the deadline given by the apex court, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra told the Karnataka counsel that the “state must release water to Tamil Nadu.” However, senior advocate Shyam Diwan, appearing for Karnataka, claimed that Karnataka has already released water in excess of its obligations to Tamil Nadu.

As Karnataka could not disobey the apex court’s order, the farming community in Mandya district is worried that Thursday’s directions could aggravate the drinking water shortage and compound the agrarian crisis.

“The Supreme Court’s direction to the Union government has created anxiety in Mandya district,” says Darshan Puttannaiah, a Swaraj India candidate for Melkote Assembly constituency. He stressed the urgency of a collective fight to protect the interests of farmers in the region. Even as he campaigned in Pandavapura on Thursday, Puttannaiah said he will chalk out plans pertaining to the issue

Darshan’s late father KS Puttannaiah, a former member of the legislative assembly for Melkote constituency, was a senior leader of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), a major farmer’s organisation.

Septuagenarian Nagaraj of Holalu and Parvathamma of Chikkade were two among the thousands who expressed their shock on Thursday. “I had raised paddy on two acres of land. My neighbours sowed ragi and millets. While they would get yields as they are non-water intensive crops, I will lose mine,” Nagaraj says. Parvathamma claims she incurred a loss of several thousands of rupees transplanting paddy saplings on her land.

The supply of water for domestic consumption to Bengaluru and other Cauvery-dependent areas in Karnataka would be affected, as would the standing crops in the Cauvery river basin in the old Mysuru region, says KRRS’s Mandya district president Shambhunahalli Suresh. “The Cauvery water-sharing issue has cost the lives of over 2,000 farmers since 2012,” he says. “The KRRS is chalking out plans to hold massive protests across the region.”

“The business fraternity will extend their support to the farmers. The people will be asked to refuse to pay property taxes to fight against the injustices meted out to the state farmers on the Cauvery issue,” warns HD Jayaram, president of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike’s Mandya district unit. Jayaram has been arrested on many occasions for blocking the tracks during past Cauvery agitations.

Water level in reservoirs plummeting

With the failure of the monsoon last year followed by the present dry-weather conditions, the water level in the Krishna Raja Sagar (KRS) dam is plummeting. On 3 May, the water level of the KRS dam was just 72.46 ft. as against a maximum of 124.80 ft. The dam’s live storage (usable water) stood at 3.52 tmcft as against its maximum capacity of 45.05 tmcft. The live storage of KRS dam at this time last year was 3.25 tmcft.

The flow into the dam was at the rate of 115 cusecs, while the outflow was at 986 cusecs during the same period. The level has fallen below the ‘dead storage’ level (74 ft). The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) requires a minimum of 1,300 million litres of water per day (MLD) to meet the city’s needs. The drinking water requirement for other areas in the Cauvery basin in Karnataka is around 200 MLD.

KRS is the major drinking-water source for Bengaluru, Mysuru, Ramanagara and some parts of Bengaluru Rural district in Karnataka. Apart from irrigating thousands of hectares of farmland, the dam also quenches the thirst of several major towns in Tamil Nadu.

The live storage in other reservoirs feeding the Cauvery basin — Harangi (in Somwarpet), Hemavathi (in Gorur, Hassan) and Kabini (in Mysuru) — is also well below capacity. Live storage in Harangi is at 1.35 tmcft against capacity of 8.7 tmcft, at 3.33 tmcft in Hemavathi against capacity of 35.76 tmcft and at 1.82 tmcft in Kabini against capacity of 15.67 tmcft.

‘Drinking water crisis could worsen’

Compliance with Thursday’s order will worsen the drinking water crisis, says officials of the Cauvery Neeravari Nigam Ltd (CNNL), the government agency that regulates dams and other waterways in the Cauvery basin.

As per the allocation order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, Karnataka has a pending obligation to release 3 tmcft to Tamil Nadu, but the available live storage in the dam is little more than 3 tmcft. The CNNL has been releasing KRS water for domestic consumption and irrigation as well as to Tamil Nadu, despite water levels reaching dead storage.

According to a junior engineer at the CNNL, water can be used till the level reaches 70 feet. He says it isn’t advisable to pump the water from below the 70-foot mark as the water will be turgid and unsafe for consumption. The KRS level has come down to below dead storage level for the sixth consecutive year due to various reasons like drought and the water-sharing crisis.

Water was released from the dam to Tamil Nadu in 2012 by digging a ‘canal’ on the dam bed to the crest gates using earthmovers. If compliance with the apex court’s direction is unavoidable, the state would have to implement water rationing and other contingency plans, said the junior engineer.

TN’s priority: Establish CMB

While political reactions in Chennai to the Supreme Court’s order have been predictable, it’s worth noting that both farmers and politicians say the 4 tmcft is not the issue as it is inadequate for farming needs. It’s the establishment of the Cauvery Management Board that is urgent and important.

PR Pandian, chief of the Tamil Nadu Federation of Farmers, says this is an attempt by the Supreme Court to cover up for the Union government’s failure. “Why hasn’t the Union water resources secretary UP Singh been condemned by the court? He must face trial for this. The Supreme Court must function above any suspicion. If they themselves are in the wrong, the country will fall apart,” he warns. “Besides, this 4 tmcft of water will help me eat just for a week. This order is useless. The only solution is the establishment of the Cauvery Management Board.”

Says prominent lawyer P Ayyakannu, “The 4 tmcft won’t even wet the throats of the Tamil Nadu farmers in the final leg of the river. The order of the Supreme Court feels like a betrayal of the Tamil people. If Karnataka doesn’t abide by the judgment and release the water that is due to Tamil Nadu, the state government must be dissolved under Article 365 (emergency provision) of the Constitution.”

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