An aggressive campaigner for Tamil Nadu's water rights

Jayalalithaa went on fast twice, demanding that Karnataka release water from the Cauvery

December 06, 2016 03:13 am | Updated November 17, 2021 07:26 am IST

Jayalalithaa undertook a four-day hunger strike on the Marina in July 1993 on the Cauvery issue.

Jayalalithaa undertook a four-day hunger strike on the Marina in July 1993 on the Cauvery issue.

A passionate articulation of Tamil Nadu’s views on inter-State river water disputes and even aggressive posturing, marked the approach of Jayalalithaa in the last 35 years, whether she was in power or not.

This was evident be it in the Cauvery river water sharing dispute with Karnataka or the Mullaperiyar dam row with Kerala.  She once termed as a “toothless wonder” the Cauvery River Authority — a body headed by the Prime Minister, with Chief Ministers of the Cauvery Basin States as members — meant to ensure the implementation of the interim award. In August 2002, she also walked out of a meeting of the CRA to protest against a decision taken at the meeting. Nine years later, she criticised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for keeping mum on her letters on the Mullaperiyar dam issue.

Understandably, the Cauvery dispute, for all the right reasons, consumed most of her time and energy.

War of words

Jayalalithaa, as Chief Minister, got an opportunity to make her point forcefully when Tamil Nadu and Karnataka engaged in a war of words in June-July 1991 over the interim order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, which directed the upper riparian State to release 205 tmc feet water to its neighbour.

The pitch queered after the Karnataka government promulgated an ordinance to nullify the interim order, and the Central government referred the matter to the Supreme Court for opinion.

The two governments came in for sharp attacks from Jayalalithaa, who termed the Centre’s action “unnecessary”.  She also asked her party members to boycott functions to be attended by Union Ministers from the State, P. Chidambaram and M. Arunachalam, after they reportedly supported the Centre’s action. Eventually, the interim order was published in the gazette after the court gave its nod.

Two years later, Jayalalithaa surprised everyone when she observed a four-day-long fast near the MGR Memorial on the Marina beach, demanding that Karnataka release water for the kuruvai crop. She ended her fast only after Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao sent his Cabinet colleague and Union Water Resources Minister V.C. Shukla to Chennai to assure her that the Centre would set up two committees to ensure implementation of the award.

In February 1996, when the Centre held a meeting of the National Water Resources Council to finalise guidelines for water allocation, she not only clashed with her Karnataka counterpart H.D. Deve Gowda on the Cauvery issue but also took a dig at the Central government, saying,  “When Tamil Nadu is craving for a life-saving drug, the Centre is coming up with a treatise on medical research.”

Again, in March 2007, a month after the Tribunal delivered its final order, she, then in the Opposition, undertook a day-long fast to press for the immediate publication of the final order in the gazette.

Assurance to farmers

After she was elected from the Srirangam constituency in the 2011 Assembly elections, she told a delegation of farmers from the Cauvery delta that getting the final order published in the gazette was her top priority.

After the Centre notified it on February 20, 2013, four days ahead of her birthday, she described the development as the “best birthday gift I ever had in my life”. She went on to say, “I have a sense of fulfilment and achievement today because we have secured Tamil Nadu’s rights over the Cauvery water.”

Since then, she had been urging the Centre for the constitution of the Cauvery Management Board, which is expected to become a reality soon, thanks to the intervention of the Supreme Court.

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