In the first meeting between the Chief Ministers of the two States in nearly 15 years, Jagadish Shettar and Jayalalithaa exchanged pleasantries and flower bouquets before beginning their discussions on sharing the limited quantum of water available in the four Cauvery basin reservoirs in Karnataka.

As was evident, the two Chief Ministers had done considerable study before the talks. Sources in the State government told The Hindu that Ms. Jayalalithaa heard the suggestions put across by Mr. Shettar, but did not react. Her focus was primarily on the immediate release of water to save the samba crop in Tamil Nadu.

The meeting scheduled to last at least an hour ended much earlier, with the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister making a quick exit. On behalf of the Karnataka government, it was clarified that “it was not a walkout and that Water Resources Minister Basavaraj Bommai was at hand to see her off”.

While Ms. Jayalalithaa outlined the grim water situation in the Cauvery delta, Karnataka felt there could be a fresh assessment of the situation after the north-east monsoon.

Ms. Jayalalithaa said during the talks aimed at finding a way out of the impasse over sharing water during a distress year that the present storage in the Stanley Reservoir in Mettur was only 6.34 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft), apart from five tmc ft of dead storage and another five tmc ft required for drinking water, which would suffice only for six days. “The standing samba crop is under serious threat,” she said.

Karnataka Minister for Water Resources Basavaraj Bommai, who participated in the discussions, said: “While the monsoon has ended here, it is imperative for us to judiciously use the available water. On the contrary, the north-east monsoon is still active in Tamil Nadu and the State can hope to receive good inflows. There is a distress in both the States calling for a fresh assessment at the end of the north-east monsoon”.

Among the others who participated in the discussions were the Deputy Chief Minister, R.Ashok who is also the Minister for Home, Suresh Kumar, Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, the Chief Secretary to the State Government, S.V.Ranganath and the Principal Secretary (water resources) D.Sathyamurthy and the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, Pradeep Kharola. The Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Rammohan Rao, was also present along with several irrigation advisors to the Tamil Nadu Government.

Three-point formula

Mr. Shettar mooted a three-point formula for a long-lasting solution to the vexed issue.

He said: “We should finalise a long-lasting solution away from the courts. The two States should come together and build reservoirs which can impound water when the river is in spate or when there are surplus flows. The sharing of waters of the River Cauvery has remained a complicated problem, especially during the distress years. We must make use of this opportunity to see how both the States can find ways and means to overcome distress situations (which comes about once in four or five years).”

Building reservoirs in the reach below Shivanasamudram and Mettur can be a step forward in the interest of both the States. Such reservoirs can be used for storage in surplus years, regulation, power production and other purposes. An expert committee can be set up with representatives of both the States and the Central Water Commission to look into such a proposal and evolve an action plan which can be implemented in a given time frame”.

He said a committee of experts comprising farmers should also be constituted to implement disciplined agricultural practices in both the States and thus prevent the wastage of water. The plan could also be placed before the Union Government for financial support. Further, “a mediation committee of experts can be formed with representatives of both the States to evolve a distress-sharing formula”.

In her interaction with the press in Bangalore, Ms. Jayalalithaa said she presented to Mr. Shettar all facts concerning the plight of Tamil Nadu. Pointing out that the samba crop had been sown on 14.93 lakh acres, she said the present active storage of the Mettur reservoir was only 6.32 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft), after deducting five tmc ft each for dead storage and drinking water requirements. It would be sufficient only for another six days. “After that, if there is no further release of water from Mettur Dam, and from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu, the samba crops will wither and die, and that will be a calamity for the farmers of Tamil Nadu. In order to save the standing samba crop, we have to provide at least another 65 days of irrigation supply to our farmers.”

Earlier, in her speech at the meeting with her Karnataka counterpart, she quoted Mr Shettar’s observations at the meeting of the Cauvery River Authority in September that “in the last water years, the deficits that occurred before September were cleared with surpluses …” She expected that the deficit of 53.4 tmc ft would be made good by Karnataka in any case before December 2012. As an interim measure, she wanted 30 tmc ft to be released over 15 days.