Ryots look to Congress, MPs

CHENNAI, JUNE 1 . A new irrigation year began today. The southwest monsoon has already set in and may be advancing to Karnataka. Farmers in the Cauvery delta are looking forward to a bountiful monsoon at least this year, ending three years of successive drought. Even if a proper samba crop is not possible, they hope to raise kuruvai in a couple of months.

But their problem is who will bell the cat. Unless Karnataka releases Tamil Nadu's legitimate share of Cauvery waters, there can be no solution to the dispute. The change of guard at the Centre and the installation of a Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition in Karnataka may be helpful in a way, feel the delta farmers. As June 12 is nominally the day when sluices of the Mettur dam are opened for water release for samba, the Tamil Nadu farmers are organising a `Cauvery family' meet in Tiruchi on June 11. Along with their Karnataka counterparts, they will visit the dam the next day. But that is all they can do. The rest is with the Centre and the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments.

The farmers have established contact with the new Karnataka government and are pushing ahead with the `Track-two' process of farmer-to-farmer dialogue. They do not know how the main track process of consultation between the riparian States can begin. They hope that the 40 members of Parliament from Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, all belonging to the ruling coalition at the Centre, will exert pressure on the Prime Minister and the Congress to thrash out a solution.

Two courses of action

The farmers suggest two courses of action: one, there could be dialogue between the State Governments to agree on a water-sharing formula and early release of Cauvery water from Karnataka; two, an early meeting of the Cauvery River Authority, headed by the Prime Minister, to work out an interim arrangement for water release.

The farmers hope that the bitterness, which marked the relations between the two Chief Ministers in the past, will not come in the way of a new and working relationship between Jayalalithaa and Dharam Singh. "Unless, normal, cordial relations are re-established, it will be difficult to secure our share of Cauvery waters," says a spokesman of the farmers' association.

The delta farmers are still waiting for the drought relief team's report and follow-up action by the Centre. On the eve of the May 10 elections, the Centre despatched an official team to tour the State and submit an early report. But nothing has been heard since. If that relief and insurance claims are organised immediately, the Service Area banks may consider releasing fresh loans, argue the farmers.

Some farmers in Mayiladuturai and adjoining areas have raised a nursery and are going in for transplantation. But the main delta areas are waiting for water. Unless there is definite information from the government, they will be wary of taking up cultivation this month. They may review the situation in July. But they are concerned at reports that Karnataka will release available water to its farmers and for drinking water supply from June 30. They depend on the MPs and Ministers from Tamil Nadu in the Union Cabinet to ensure that justice is done to the State.