This group, with representatives from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, wants to be part of dispute resolution

Even as the dispute over sharing of the Cauvery waters between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka is reaching a crescendo yet again, a group of stakeholders on both sides of the border — under the banner of ‘Cauvery Family’ — is continuing its effort at finding a farmer-friendly solution to what has been one of the most politically exploited issues in the riparian States.

B.B. Subbaiah and S. Ranganathan, conveners of the Cauvery Family from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, respectively, told The Hindu that a long-term solution could be arrived at only when sane voices of stakeholders were given the legitimacy they deserved and made part of the dispute-resolution process.

Next meeting

The Cauvery Family, a group of like-minded farmers and academics from both the States, which has been meeting and sharing ideas since April 2003, hopes to hold its next meeting in Tamil Nadu once tempers cool. The meeting, which was scheduled to be held around August, was postponed in the light of the mood in both States, Mr. Subbaiah said.

In the next meeting, the group will carry forward discussions on water-sharing models it has arrived at, based on the final award of the Cauvery Water Tribunal. “We have in-principle agreed on two models, which we need to further discuss,” Mr. Subbaiah said.

More importantly, they also hope to make their voice stronger in the decision-making process. “The dispute- redressal mechanism should recognise the wisdom of the Cauvery Family as a legitimate body of stakeholders,” he said. The civil society group remains a forum with no executive jurisdiction as of now. Echoing similar sentiments, Mr. Ranganathan said the Cauvery Family should be allowed to hold discussions with the Cauvery Monitoring Committee. “Meetings should be held in places where water is to be distributed. The committee should work out of the south rather than from Delhi.”

Scientific solution

Since its inception, facilitated by the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), the Cauvery Family has been trying to arrive at a scientific solution to the Cauvery dispute, viewing it as an issue involving livelihood of farmers in the basin, without mixing it with issues of language and regional chauvinism. At present, it has 11 members on both sides. “If we do not seriously pursue this effort, every year will be a year of confrontation,” Mr. Ranganathan warned.

K. Boraiah, a senior farmer leader who is part of the group, said the dispute which was over 100 years old could not be settled overnight. “People need to be mobilised to think rationally on this issue, which is hard considering that deep-rooted political interests are involved on both sides,” he said.

Civil society efforts

The Cauvery Family is the only effort of its kind by a civil society group to amicably settle the highly sensitive water dispute, which is crucial considering that fair apportionment of water and mutually amicable distress sharing can only be achieved in an atmosphere of mutual trust.

Earlier, in 1992, noted academic the late S. Guhan had worked extensively to suggest ways of arriving at a solution to the problem through goodwill. He had made several recommendations, including reducing waste and harnessing supplementary water sources on both sides.