09/29/2023, 18.03
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Water shortages rekindle Karnataka and Tamil Nadu dispute over the Kaveri River

Despite several agreements, farmers in Karnataka are asking the state government not to release water to Tamil Nadu due to low monsoon rainfall. The latter, however, depends heavily on the river for its agriculture, which has grown in recent years. Today, Karnataka saw protests and strikes as well several flight cancellations at Bengaluru airport. The central government has been urged to intervene.

Bengaluru (AsiaNews) - In the Indian state of Karnataka, protests and strikes are increasing against the decision of state authorities to release water flowing into the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The dispute over the Kaveri River has marked relations between the two states for about 200 years, but this year, a low rainfall, a consequence of climate change, has exacerbated the problem.

This morning 44 flights were cancelled at Bengaluru airport and schools went on strike for a second time this week with the support of farmers and pro-Kannada groups (the largest ethnic group in the state). Shopkeepers, restaurateurs and transport workers also joined the protests.

A few days ago, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin was burnt in effigy while today police in Bengaluru arrested more than 50 protesters. The authorities are preparing to deploy more agents.

The protests began after the Supreme Court, on 21 September, upheld an order by the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA), directing Karnataka to release 3,000 cusecs of water per day to Tamil Nadu between 28 September and 15 October. One cusec is equal to 28 litres.

On 21 September, the Supreme Court upheld another order, according to which Karnataka had to guarantee 5,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu until September 27.

But the government of Karnataka has refused to comply, saying that due to low rainfall it cannot share its water as stipulated in existing agreements.

The issue dates back to two treaties signed in 1892 and 1924 by the Madras Presidency (Tamil Nadu) and the Mysore princely state (Karnataka), which preceded the existing states. At the time, Mysore was allowed to build a dam in the village of Kannambadi to store 44.8 billion cubic feet of water.

The agreement was supposed to remain in force for 50 years, and then be reviewed. But when the two states took the dispute to the Supreme Court in 1947, there was no change.

In 1990, the Kaveri Dispute Tribunal was established, which allocated in 2007 419 billion cubic feet of water per year to Tamil Nadu and 270 billion cubic feet of water to Karnataka, and other shares to the neighbouring states of Kerala and Puducherry (Pondicherry).

In times of shortages, water is supposed to be distributed among the various administrations on a pro rata basis. This year, a 44 per cent rainfall deficit was recorded at the point where the river originates.

However, court orders are almost never upheld because both states are not satisfied with the decisions of the courts.

This year, both Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and his Deputy, DK Shivakumar, have called for a meeting with the central government in New Delhi to raise the issue hoping for an intervention by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"The prime minister has the power to convene the two states and listen to their arguments," Siddaramaiah explained. Shivakumar added that due to low rainfall during the monsoon season, Karnataka now has only a third of the water needed, while Tamil Nadu's aquifers have higher water resource levels.

“The government should not release the water to Tamil Nadu. There is no water, no water to drink, no water for Bengaluru, no water for Mysore farmers, no water for Mandya farmers, and no water for Chamarajanagar farmers. Don’t release the water,” said Vatal Nagaraj, a former lawmaker who took part in the protest.

The Kaveri is of crucial importance for farmers in both two states, with mostly rice grown on the river delta (whose exports India banned for a few months due to domestic needs). But while in Karnataka there are two crops, kharif (monsoon sowing) and rabi (the winter one), farmers in Tamil Nadu can have up three crops: kuruvai (June-September), thaladi (October-December) and samba (August-January).

The river, which runs for 802 kilometres from the Western Ghats to the Bay of Bengal, forms a reservoir of 44,000 square kilometres in Tamil Nadu and 32,00 square kilometres in Karnataka, which, however, being upstream, has a greater inflow of water.

While Karnataka has long called for a renegotiation of agreements and "a fair distribution of water resources", Tamil Nadu says it has become too reliant on the river for its agriculture and argues that switching to a new model risks putting millions of farmers at risk.

In Tamil Nadu, the authorities have prioritised agriculture, increasing the amount of farmland, with food grain production up by 9 per cent this year.

At present, the dispute is still unresolved.


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