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Cauvery: not an inter-party matter

By Mani Shankar Aiyar

It is not clear what the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, hopes to gain for Tamil Nadu in the ongoing Cauvery waters dispute by blaming all political parties but her own for the stand-off which has wrecked the lives of millions of farmers and farm labour in the delta region which I represent in Parliament.

During the last monsoon session, I repeatedly approached the AIADMK floor leader, P.H. Pandian, and his colleagues for us to collectively raise the issue of the Cauvery. They kept saying they had sought Amma's permission to do so. The permission never came. An opportunity was lost.

In February this year, heavy unseasonal rains massively ruined the harvested crop lying in the open awaiting procurement. The residual standing crop in the field awaiting harvesting was also ruined. The damage to farmers and farm labour was estimated by the local AIADMK-backed farmers' federation at Rs. 1,000 crores. Yet, the Jayalalithaa Government did not use even the Central calamity relief funds at its disposal to provide anything like the relief required. What is worse, as the Union Minister of State for Agriculture confirmed to me in writing, the Tamil Nadu Government did not care to even approach the Central Government for additional assistance.

By May this year, it became evident that the water level in the Mettur reservoir was too low to permit the opening of the gates on the traditional date for the `kuruvai' crop: June 12. It was also evident that the Karnataka Government would not cooperate in implementing its obligations under the interim award. It was further evident that the chairman of the Cauvery River Authority, that is, the Prime Minister was being about as helpful as a sick headache. Did Ms. Jayalalithaa make even a token attempt to bring together Tamil elected representatives to press Tamil Nadu's case in the face of this crisis?

There is a parliamentary forum available to deal in detail with these matters. It is the consultative committee attached to the Ministry of Water Resources. The Congress is represented on it. The DMK is represented on it. But where is the AIADMK? The DMK and the Congress have been pressing the Minister, who chairs the committee, to arrange a visit for the committee to the Cauvery basin. Has the Tamil Nadu Government or any AIADMK MP even begun to mobilise parliamentary opinion?

Can Ms. Jayalalithaa cite one detailed speech by any AIADMK member on the Cauvery issue in Parliament all these three years of the 13th Lok Sabha? It is Vaiko who has frequently agitated the matter. It is I who have furnished the most detailed arguments. I have Ms. Jayalalithaa's own letter of congratulations to testify to the Tamil Nadu Congress contribution to enlightening parliamentary opinion on the issues in dispute.

Moreover, it was the Congress represented in my person that filed a PIL in the Supreme Court, backed by 1,79,000 signatures of Cauvery delta farmers, pleading for a resumption of the suspended hearings on Tamil Nadu's 1995 plaint. My petition was rejected on the grounds that as the matter falls under an inter-State act, a back-bench MP lacks locus. But it is that petition which lies at the heart of the issues now being agitated by the Jayalalithaa Government in the Supreme Court.

When the Cauvery River Authority was formed in 1998, Ms. Jayalalithaa plagiarised my critique of it in The Indian Express virtually word for word and comma by comma to prepare her own statement on the subject. She repeated this act of plagiarisation after I critiqued the proceedings of the first meeting of the Authority. Far from resenting her doing so, I regard it as a signal honour and recognition of the role the Congress in Tamil Nadu has been playing in seeking justice for the farmers and farm labour of the Cauvery delta.

What appals me about the Chief Minister's latest remarks is that she still does not understand that the dispute is not an inter-party matter; it is an inter-State matter. There is, therefore, no point in asking the Congress to sort it out.

It is for the Centre to sort it out in accordance with the assurances given by the Centre to the Supreme Court. It is the Centre that has promised the court it will implement the interim award. It is the Centre that has fashioned the Cauvery River Authority for this purpose. It is the Centre which has provided the chairman — the wholly powerless Prime Minister. And it is the Congress MP for the delta — me — who has been the loudest and most consistent critic of the whole doomed scheme. For, Ms. Jayalalithaa to go on and on about E.V.K.S. Elangovan having failed to persuade the Karnataka Chief Minister, S.M. Krishna, to release the needed waters shows she has missed the point altogether. Our quarrel is with the Centre for failing to fulfil its promises to the Supreme Court.

My only consolation is that the AIADMK Government has accepted my advice as a Congressman and MP for Mayiladuturai that no justice can be expected from the Centre or the Authority. It is only the Supreme Court that can give my constituency justice.

(The writer is a Congress Member of Parliament from Tamil Nadu.)

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