Escalating water war

It is disturbing that the Karnataka Government has defied the Supreme Court’s directive to release a certain quantity of water from the Cauvery basin to Tamil Nadu. This will lead to a needless constitutional confrontation. But it appears that Karnataka wants just that, in the hope that the legal wrangle will buy it time. Even the Karnataka Assembly has got into the act. Perhaps the State regime has been emboldened by the apex court’s inaction after it, days ago, refused to heed the court’s directive to release 6,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu till September 27. Karnataka is not the first State to take a confrontationist posture on water rights. The Punjab Government had passed a resolution six months ago for not allowing the construction of the Sutlej-Yamuna Canal. The apex court had directed the Punjab regime to construct the canal. On the Cauvery water row itself, the Karnataka Government led by SM Krishna had in 2002, defied a Supreme Court order to release water to Tamil Nadu. The court had thereafter given him a dressing down. Even earlier, in the early 1990s, the Karnataka regime led by S Bangarappa, took the Ordinance route to circumvent a Tribunal verdict to release water. Incumbent Chief Minister Siddaramaiah must have consulted his legal team before deciding to take a tough position. But legality apart, the Chief Minister has adopted the strategy primarily from a political viewpoint.
He had come under tremendous pressure ever since the Supreme Court directed Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs of water per day in the initial days of the month – this was later pruned to 12,000 cusecs per day. His rivals blamed his regime for failing to advance strong arguments before the court in Karnataka’s favour. His own party members were uneasy over the fallout of the episode in the next Assembly election. Regional sentiments had been let loose and violence gripped the capital cities of Bangalore and Chennai for three days. Siddaramaiah hopes to salvage some prestige by demonstrating his ‘resolve’ for the ‘larger good of Karnataka’. The problem is that his defiance could fuel another round of unrest in his State and Tamil Nadu. It would be na├»ve to imagine the Tamil Nadu Government will remain mute to the development. It is true that Cauvery water is a sensitive issue since the livelihoods of many thousands of farmers in both the States is at stake. Nobody denies the water shortages the two States face, and nobody in his right mind will oppose a just distribution of water. However, the definition of ‘just’ is precisely where the problem lies. For decades, the issue has been debated in the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal and in the court. Even interim awards and decisions have been contested along the way, whether from the Tribunal or the court. As the issue drags, it gains further complexity – and not just in legal matters. The narrative has got enmeshed with identity politics, and an information-based rational approach has been jettisoned. To be fair to both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, they are not the only States battling it out over water. There are other players and other rivers which are in contention. Water wars must, therefore, end, since they only cause misery to the
common man.

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