Politics of Cauvery water: High time to nationalise rivers

Former President APJ Abdul Kalam�s dream of linking all rivers in India may be impractical, but at least some rivers could be linked and the rest may be shared on a pro rata basis

Politics of Cauvery water: High time to nationalise rivers

What a drama of melancholy! A mid-night petition and the Supreme Court is constrained to hold a sitting on a holiday (Eid day), ordering Karnataka to release 12,000 cusecs of Cauvery river water per day to Tamil Nadu, modifying its earlier order of release of 15,000 cusecs, till September 20.

All hell broke loose in both these states: Attacks on Tamils in Karnataka and Kannadigas in Tamil Nadu ensued. This dispute does not arise when there is a good monsoon, but when there is no rain or less rain, this vexed issue raises its head as crops begin drying up not only in Tamil Nadu, but also in Kerala and Union Territory of Pondicherry, now rechristened as Puducherry.

The very first agreement among these four units of ‘British Raj´--India-- was in 1892 and then 1924. However, Karnataka (then the State of Mysore) violated a clause of the 1924 agreement which stipulated that no new dams could be constructed. The mistake on the part of Tamil Nadu was that in 1971 (as political equations changed in the country), instead of renewing the 1924 agreement, it went to the Supreme Court. Ever since it has become a legal-political issue. Tamil Nadu could have easily renewed the agreement and on a pro rata basis, the natural water resource could have been shared. Here politics started. Pro rata is that out of 10, you require, say 7 and I, say 5, we could split it as 6-4 or even 5-5. This was given a forego by two major riparian states.

Since the agreement was not renewed, Karnataka argued that now it could construct more dams. If my memory serves me correctly, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, wanted “nationalisation of river waters”. But his daughter Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister, for popular politics, nationalised the banks. Rivers, forests, and mountains remained and still remain in the “state subjects” of the Constitution.

Ever since the 1971 case was filed by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK), the Supreme Court, from time to time, has been issuing various orders. And a Cauvery Monitoring Committee was also formed. What’s the use? The issue has been politicised by various political outfits in both the main contending states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu whipping up their respective regional sentiments. The latest one is in the series. In the melee, Kerala’s and Pondicherry's rights are totally forgotten.

What’s the solution? Nationalise natural resources, especially water, forests, mountains and other natural resources. But governments only nationalised the ‘other’ natural resources like 2G, to now 4G, leading only to corruption in astronomical proportions.

One anecdote may be interesting: the late M.G. Ramachandran, (MGR) as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu suddenly visited Bengaluru (then Bangalore) and straight away went to the then Chief Minister of Karnataka Rama Krishna Hegde’s residence. Hegde’s mother received him (MGR) and offered him some water to drink first as it is an Indian tradition. MGR refused and told Hegde’s mother: “Ask your son to release Cauvery water as our crops are drying."

Hegde, as it was reported then in many Tamil publications, reached home and was surprised to see MGR. Hegde’s mother told him “MGR is not even drinking a drop of water in this house unless you release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu” Both Hegde and MGR laughed to their lungs content and on the same night, Hegde quietly ordered for a release of water. No riots. No hype. No tension. As water was released on a pro rata basis.

Former President APJ Abdul Kalam’s dream of linking all rivers in India may be impractical, but at least some rivers could be linked and the rest may be shared on a pro rata basis. Incidentally, the issue of “linking of all rivers of India” is also pending before the Supreme Court.