A compromise that leaves both sides unhappy is usually fair. At the meeting of the Cauvery River Authority, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must have been looking for the golden mean that would have gone some distance in meeting the water requirements of Tamil Nadu without overly depriving the upper riparian Karnataka. Not surprisingly, his ruling, as chairman of the CRA, that Karnataka release 9,000 cusecs of water daily (0.7 thousand million cubic feet) for 25 days till October 15, when the northeast monsoon is expected to bring rains in Tamil Nadu, saw both States dissatisfied to varying degrees. While Karnataka Chief Minister Jagdish Shettar walked out of the meeting in protest, Tamil Nadu Chief Minster Jayalalithaa announced that the State would again approach the Supreme Court. Actually, the quantum awarded to Tamil Nadu is less than the 10,000 cusecs a day (0.86 tmc ft) that Karnataka told the Supreme Court it was prepared to release to Tamil Nadu till the CRA meeting. Tamil Nadu had scaled down its demand to the “minimum” and sought at least one tmc ft a day for 30 days to save the 15 lakh acres of samba crop in the Cauvery delta. Now, it is not sure if Karnataka would even comply with the CRA chairman’s award, which is statutorily final in the event of consensus eluding the meeting. True, Karnataka will have to also meet the drinking water needs of Bangalore from the Cauvery, besides the irrigation needs in the basin. However, in years of water deficit, the States will have to share the distress equally, and Karnataka is obliged to abide by the ruling. To not do so under political compulsions is to seriously challenge the authority of the duly-constituted CRA and the Supreme Court, which ordered the convening of the CRA.

But the errant behaviour of Karnataka is no reason for Tamil Nadu too to reject the CRA ruling. By doing so, it is only damaging its own case. The proper course would have been to accept the ruling, even if under protest, and then approach the Supreme Court for additional water. Undermining the authority of the CRA can do Tamil Nadu no good, whether in the short-term or the long-term. In Karnataka, Mr. Shettar has called for an all-party meeting to discuss the outcome of the CRA meeting. By striving for a broader political consensus within the State on this sensitive issue, the BJP Chief Minister is attempting to buy political insurance. However, Ms Jayalalithaa will have more to gain, politically and otherwise, by adopting a reasoned, sober approach to this vexed issue. Matching Mr. Shettar in aggression and defiance will fetch neither popular support for her party nor water for the farmers in the delta.

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