The Cauvery Water Management Authority’s order to the Karnataka government to release 9.2 tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu has put the ball in Karnataka’s court and eventually in the Centre’s court. If the BJP is serious about expanding its support base in Tamil Nadu, it will be hard for it to pass the buck on Cauvery.
The combined storage in the four Cauvery reservoirs in Karnataka as per its government records is around 13 tmcft. The order to release 9.2 tmcft has been passed expecting normal monsoon. So as monsoon sets in, Karnataka should get enough water and therefore should have started releasing water now in anticipation of a good monsoon, as per the authority. Karnataka’s water resources minister DK Shivakumar indicated that rains have started and therefore Karnataka should be able to abide by the order. If the monsoon is below normal, then distress sharing would be resorted to, he said.
The Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal’s final order says that 192 tmcft should be released by Karnataka to Tamil Nadu every year during normal monsoon and in distress years, the water should be shared proportionally. Ten tmcft of water should be released in June but the Supreme Court brought down the overall allocation to Tamil Nadu to 177 tmcft taking into account, among other things, the requirements for Bengaluru. So the 9.2 tmcft is in keeping with the Supreme Court’s modification of the tribunal order.
The Supreme Court order of February 2018 upheld a key principle emphasized by the tribunal, which is that the Cauvery water should be shared equitably among all states. And Karnataka cannot claim right to first use nor can it have any exclusive control over how much water it can release to Tamil Nadu.
But where the Supreme Court stopped short was that it ordered that the Centre should formulate a “suitable scheme” to implement its order. The tribunal clearly lays down the formation of a Cauvery Management Board that would take over all the dams and reservoirs along Cauvery and operate them. The board would consist of technocrats along with representation from the states and would release water as laid down by the schedule prescribed in the final order. If there was distress, the board would decide using hydrological principles what amount would be released to Tamil Nadu. But the Cauvery Water Management Authority formed as a result of the Supreme Court order has no control over the dams. It is up to the Central Water Commission, an agency of the Central government, to ensure the states implement the order of the authority that has no enforcing power.
This puts the Centre on a sticky wicket, again. The delays in forming the mechanism for implementing the tribunal order as well as its refusal to form a board as prescribed in the tribunal final order had deep political impact in Tamil Nadu and contributed to turning popular opinion against the Centre and Narendra Modi, in particular. If Karnataka does not release water, despite the monsoon setting, it would fuel the anger in Tamil Nadu against the Centre.
June 12 is the date water should be released from Mettur for the summer crop of ‘kuruvai’. In recent times, ‘kuruvai’ has failed since no water has been released.
The DMK-Congress alliance remains strong in Tamil Nadu and Stalin has been forthright in his support to Rahul Gandhi. DK Shivakumar, who is from the Congress, has often sounded conciliatory. On building an additional dam, Mekedatu, he sought to bring in media representatives from Tamil Nadu to Karnataka and explain the State’s position. The BJP has sought to put the blame on the Congress for the Cauvery problems. But, given its own track record, that may not convince the people of Tamil Nadu.
On Cauvery, all parties in Tamil Nadu have been united although it was Jayalalithaa who broke away from the tradition of talks with Karnataka and sought to rely only on the courts. But the DMK will surely take this opportunity to poke the AIADMK on its tie-up with the BJP if the Centre doesn’t act quickly. With Stalin relentlessly attacking the Centre on a daily basis, the Centre’s lack of action would help him needle the Centre and the AIADMK.