Cry Me A River
January 25, 2013
The Kaveri water sharing issue should not be an 'us' vs 'them' debate.
Everyday, I drink Kaveri - the most disputed water of India; the water which is worshiped by millions and fought over by a million others. The Kaveri water debate is not new. It can be traced back to the British Raj when disputes existed between the Mysore and Madras provinces. Today, more than 200 years on, dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu continues to rage and hog the headlines and is undoubtedly, one of the biggest issues facing South India.
For a river 765 Km long, Kaveri is extremely voluminous. This is mainly due to the heavy rainfall it receives in the Western Ghats and the tributaries which flow into it. There are two key dams built over the river - Krishna Raja Sagar (KRS) dam in Mandya (Karnataka) and Mettur dam in Salem (Tamil Nadu). But the combined requirements of the 2 states is 57% higher than the total storage capacities of the 2 dams which can store 49 and 93.4TMCs of water respectively. While the rice and sugarcane growing farmers of the Kaveri basin need water in abundance, the industrial needs are also very high. The urban population of Bangalore depends heavily on the Kaveri water. Both states have their genuine claims and concerns on the matter.
While approximately 42% of the river basin area is in Karnataka and 54% is in Tamil Nadu, the Government of India has directed 37% of the water to be used by Karnataka and 58% by Tamil Nadu. The people of Karnataka argue that since they contribute 53% of the water sources to the river, they must have a larger share. Tamil Nadu supporters on the other hand claim to have only the Kaveri to support the entire population of the state. Kerala and Pondicherry are also involved in the dispute at smaller levels.
The equation is complicated and the variables, too many. The debate is never ending. Protests on both sides are commonplace; leading to violence, blocking of national highways and the railway line, shutting down of all major institutions, attacks on migrants from the opposite state, mass return of migrants to their home states due to fear. In 1991, the worst of it was seen when riots broke out, killing 18 people. Numerous elections have been fought and won on a water sharing agenda on both sides and no real solution has been reached.
In order to even start looking for solutions, it has to be first understood that the problem of Kaveri is not an 'us' vs 'them' debate. Politicians, film-stars and the so called 'activists' who cannot look beyond the imaginary boundaries of their states, must be asked to stay at home. Technical people and engineers with unbiased scientific data and inputs from victims (like the farmers) must be involved in resolving the issue. It must be well understood that a farmer getting water to irrigate his crops is much more important than washing the malls of Bangalore.
It must also be understood that river Kaveri is not any one state's property. It has to be shared. There is an entire herd of politicians on both sides, who claim that their state should get everything, and others don't matter. Since both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are progressive states that are doing pretty well in the Indian context, a peaceful co-existence between the two is extremely important.
At the level of solutions, it is important to conserve water at individual levels. With a growing population, there will be less Kaveri water for both states. Industries which can thrive on recycled water should be forced to do so. Why should a paper mill, a textile industry or a poultry use up the precious water which can irrigate land or be drunk by millions? Rain water harvesting is another solution. While it is slowly getting implemented in cities, we must do it enthusiastically in rural areas, as a proactive measure to fix our water issues.
The governments on both sides must start reviving smaller rivers and lakes. Several lakes in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which existed to serve people nearby are today dead due to industrial waste and pollution. In the long term the solution lies in interlinking rivers nationwide - a project which still remains on paper. We often read that there are floods in North India, while South India faces famines. Such a situation can be avoided if this project is realized.
Kaveri is only the tip of the iceberg. Politicians and bureaucrats across the nation are drawing personal benefits over cross-border water sharing issues of Narmada, Krishna, Godavari, Mandovi, among several other rivers. Let's rationally fix our issues before our taps run dry.