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Resolve Cauvery cauldron

Resolve Cauvery cauldron
Highlights

The resurgence of  widespread violence  in Karnataka over the Supreme Court order to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu  is a grim reminder of the disruptive potential of inter-state river water disputes. Such a chauvinist reaction over Cauvery is nothing new.

The resurgence of widespread violence in Karnataka over the Supreme Court order to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu is a grim reminder of the disruptive potential of inter-state river water disputes. Such a chauvinist reaction over Cauvery is nothing new.

Every dry season invites such a protracted battle between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Judiciary has to always intervene to order Karnataka to release water to Tamil Nadu. Such orders obviously incur violent response from the people, rousing linguistic chauvinism.

Karnataka resists release of water, citing depleted flows into its reservoirs and the law and order concerns. The Supreme Court dismissed Karnataka pleas, stating that it is constitutionally mandated to implement the apex court orders and maintain law and order. Politicians often have a field day in such a situation.

Even the State leaders of national parties take mutually conflicting stand in different States, thus playing to the emotions of the people. The central government often takes an indifferent stand, further compounding the crisis. The time has come for the Centre to find an amicable and enduring solution to the Cauvery water dispute to prevent recurring protests.

Water does not respect federal borders. Major rivers of India are transboundary rivers. The inter-state disputes over sharing of water from such rivers are rather inevitable. The climate change is causing prolonged dry spells. Sharing of water becomes a much more complex exercise in a period of distress.

India is home to nearly 17 per cent of world’s population. But it accounts for only 2.45 per cent of land area. It has only 4 per cent of global water resources. Growing demand for water and wide spatial variation in availability of water create a crisis situation. Sharing is, therefore, imperative.

No state can be allowed to take an obdurate stand. Especially, the upper riparian states should strictly comply with distress-sharing formula as the lower riparian state is compelled to suffer the twin problems of abundance or deficit.

Both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are less endowed in terms of water, further complicating the process of sharing. But, the constitutional spirit of equality and federalism should guide the path. Failing to do so, the court has to enforce the rule of law.

It’s wrong to perceive river water disputes as intractable and irreconcilable. In fact, India and Pakistan could successfully negotiate and comply with Indus water treaty. Certainly, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are not more belligerent neighbours. The peninsular India is not more volatile than the Indo-Pak border. Similarly, India and Bangladesh could arrive at a 30-year agreement over sharing Ganges waters at Farakka.

The Cauvery dispute has a long history. An accord was signed by the governments of princely state of Mysore and Madras presidency as early as 1892. A 50-year agreement was reached in 1924, facilitating the construction of Krishnaraja Sagar dam and the Mettur dam. The 2007 Award of Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal could not satisfy either state.

The Article 263 of the Constitution calls for setting up of Inter State Council to address disputes among various states. Unfortunately, the truncated Indian federalism saw its dilution. It should immediately be activated. River basin organisations should be empowered. Mediation and alternate dispute resolution through arbitration should also be tried.

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