Supreme court (SC) gave its verdict in the 122-year-old Cauvery water dispute case in mid February 2018. It is not only a substance of inter-state water dispute but also the beginning episode of future water wars, as water is becoming a scarce commodity. The verdict allocates more share of Cauvery water to Karnataka allowing it to release only 177.25 tmcft to Tamil Nadu as against 192 tmcft alloted by Cauvery Water Tribunal in 2007. TN will happen to lose a precious 14.75 tmcft. This will be devoted to Karnataka for drinking water needs in Bengaluru (4.75 tmcft) and to expand agri activities in south Karnataka (10 tmcft). To compensate Tamil Nadu, SC has allowed extraction of 10 tmcft of ground water in its Cauvery basin.
Besides political dimensions, the agrarian and ecological dimensions of this verdict matters much in our context. Cauvery delta is one buttress of farmers, providing livelihood and income security. With uncertainty in release of water to TN, every year TN farmers have been filing petitions in SC to direct release of water. This hassle makes irrigation difficult at critical stages of crop growth, amounting to irrecoverable damage to plants, thereby leading to crop loss. Furthermore, continuous flow of water is inevitable for maintaining deltaic and ecological ecosystem that guarantees biodiversity. To ensure continuity and certainty of water flow, establishment of Cauvery Management Board as proposed in the SC verdict becomes necessity, as it can formulate deficit formula for sharing water and decide on construction of hydel projects like the proposed run-of-the-flow Mekedatu project.
Second, supreme Court has included groundwater into calculation for water sharing. The arrival of 10 tmcft of groundwater by SC is a mystery. Unlike surface water accurate measure of groundwater cannot be made and no scientific assessment of groundwater seems to be made at the arrival of magical number ‘10’. According to the report of parliamentary standing committee on water resources (Dec 2015), TN has been identified as nine critical States in groundwater exploitation. As of now, delta districts sucked ground water to a level that saltwater intrusion is common in Nagapattinam and other coastal districts. Moreover borewell irrigation is costlier than canal irrigation for farmers. Inclusion of groundwater into calculation pushes farmers to economic burden and even environmental catastrophe.
Third, allocation of water to India’s third most populous Global City ‘Bangalore’ which is done at the expense of rural exigency. Though national water policy states that water for drinking purpose has to be given primary importance, Urban demands shall not be fulfilled at the price of rural economy. Even if full quantity of water is released at right time, chances for hindmost farmer to get his due share of water is unlikely. This goes against historical laws of water sharing that affirm more irrigational rights to tail end farmers. Even relying on Cauvery for drinking water needs is unsustainable for Bangalore as it get only 65 litres of water per day, equivalent to four flushes of toilet. But they should get 150 litres of water as per Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board data. So, Urban planning should develop its own mechanism to suffice its water needs like rainwater harvesting, recycling waste water etc., rather than diverting water meant for irrigation and rural livelihood.
Agrarian distress and Ecological damage can’t be diminished down to ‘narrow domestic walls’. Radical context reflects the reality that Farmers of both riparian states are at the most disadvantaged state by virtue of climate change, puzzling weather patterns and deep rooted farm practices. So what could be done? “Now we have to readjust our irrigation and cropping methods. TN receives 950mm to 1000mm rainfall, the second largest state to receive this much rainfall during northeast monsoon. About 30% of this drains into sea. We can conserve this water and ensure one crop in all districts’’ says Tamil Nadu Agricultural University’s Vice-Chancellor K Ramasamy as reported in Times of India. Regarding replacing water intensive crops, noted Agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan advocated to switch it to less water requiring cropping system by paying attention to crops which are in demand in the market that can enhance the income of farmers per unit of water. For example, farmers usually go for 100 to 180 days duration paddy crops, which require 14 to 20 wettings. But millets need just six wettings. In supply side it’s time to focus on Rain water harvesting and River linking projects like Godavari – Cauvery link channel. Besides, TN should focus on preventing illegal sand mining, intensify ‘kudimaramathu’ drive to conserve water bodies and establish water security board to manage cauvery basin downstream. Finally, setting up of Cauvery Management Board (CMB) as proposed by SC will settle the issue. The CMB with imminent water technologists and Agriculture specialists would ensure equitable sharing of Cauvery water even at drought and phase out judicial rerun for water every year.
(This article was originally published as ‘Letter from the Editor‘ in ‘The Agraria’ e-Magazine. You can Subscribe it here)