With the Southwest monsoon falling short this season, the story of any other monsoon-deficient year is being repeated: Tamil Nadu rushing to the Supreme Court citing the crisis faced by its farmers, the court ordering release of some water, and protests erupting in Karnataka. The reason for this endless cycle of sporadic litigation and ad hoc adjudication is that the two States continue to avoid any mutual engagement to share the shortfall during distress years. And there is no permanent, independent mechanism to ensure this. The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, which gave its award in 2007, has asked the parties to share the deficiency on a pro rata basis. However, a major problem in implementing this aspect is the absence of a ‘Cauvery Management Board’ and a Regulatory Authority, which the Tribunal had wanted created to oversee implementation. Instead, after notifying the final award in 2013, the Union government set up a Supervisory Committee comprising officials from the Union government and the Central Water Commission and representatives of both States. The court has now asked Tamil Nadu to approach the committee, which will decide on further releases.
The Supreme Court’s direction, when implemented, will ensure about 13 thousand million cubic (tmc) feet of water to Tamil Nadu over 10 days. This will not be adequate to save the entire samba crop, Tamil Nadu leaders argue, while their Karnataka counterparts contend that this itself is a huge burden, given the State’s own storage deficit. It is understandable that the political leadership of any State would not want to be seen as betraying the interests of its farmers. Yet, the desire to protect one’s own interests should not shut out empathy for one’s neighbour. Ideally, any distress-sharing formula should come from a technical body. It would have helped if the Centre, which dilly-dallied for six years before notifying the final award under a judicial direction, had set up the Cauvery Management Board and Regulatory Authority. In the longer term, experts will have to devise a sustainable agricultural solution for the Cauvery basin, as the river does not seem to have the potential to meet the farming requirements of both sides. In a world of depleting water resources, fewer crop seasons and lower acreages, a resort to less water-intensive crops and better water management hold the key. Non-political initiatives, such as the ‘Cauvery Family’, a body formed a few years ago covering farmers of both States, could help disperse the clouds of hostility that gather over the border whenever the Cauvery crisis erupts. Politics and passion should not be allowed to hold sway.