‘The solution can only come from farmers themselves’
The Cauvery may be a deficit river, but there is always a deluge of emotions in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu on the question of sharing its waters. The long-standing dispute between the two States has reached flashpoint with distress-sharing being the bone of contention yet again this year.
While Karnataka has categorically refused to release water as it is facing a severe drought, Tamil Nadu is standing firm that Karnataka cannot defy the Cauvery River Authority’s direction.
V.K. Natraj, economist and former director of the Madras Institute of Developmental Studies (MIDS), now a resident of Mysore, feels the big impediment to a long-term solution is the absence of consensus on the very definition of “distress” and a penchant for taking “strident positions” on both sides.
“There is no common perception between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka on what is distress,” says Prof. Natraj, emphasising that there is a need to work together, accepting the fact that it is a deficit basin and a crisis situation can potentially arise every year. This also calls for rationalisation of cropping pattern with mutual understanding and consultation. He recalls that noted academic, the late S. Guhan, had suggested ways of equal sharing of distress.
“You cannot hope to arrive at a solution in a crisis situation. It can be arrived at only when the atmosphere is reasonably peaceful.” However, neither State talks about the problem until it “hits in the face.”
“There are misconceptions on both sides,” says Prof. Natraj, who was part of the Cauvery Family initiative of the MIDS to arrive at a farmer-friendly resolution of the dispute until his retirement in 2005. The collective, which continues to be active, has farmers and experts from both States.
Such a farmer-centric effort is important because an atmosphere of misconception and suspicion is fertile ground for the situation to get “more politicised and more messy”. He points out that barring the former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, there has hardly been any politician who has advised restraint while talking about the dispute in the last few days.
Prof. Natraj believes that the solution can come only from the farmers themselves, which then needs to be politically expressed with cooperation from both the governments. “This is not a problem that can be solved legally.”