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The Delta Force

The Cauvery issue is again making the headlines, which, of course, is not all that difficult these days. All you need is a tweet or two, and we in the media will splash it out as eye-popping news.

But Cauvery river issue is genuinely a serious problem that affects the life and livelihood of — this should be obvious — truck owners and operators. I mean whenever the Cauvery issue flares up, there is an inevitable bandh and protests on either side, and lorries are the ones that bear the brunt of the attacks.

In this column we have tried here to dispassionately analyse the whole thing, right from the dispute’s genesis, in a handy Q & A format, and keeping in mind the enormity and sensitivity of the issue, the tone has been kept mostly irresponsible.

Give us a broad background to the Cauvery river water discord

Cauvery has been a source of dispute from two centuries back itself. At that time, when much of what we now know as Tamil Nadu was Madras Presidency, and most of Karnataka was Mysore State, that area that houses Bengaluru airport today was still outside the State.

Trouble began after Karnataka region people wanted to build a dam across the Kaveri. Madras Presidency folks, however, opposed the construction on the valid intellectual grounds that the river was actually spelled Cauvery.  Just kidding. Tamil Nadu was against the construction of the dam by Mysore State because — this is most reasonable — Tamil Nadu itself had plans of building such a dam. Of course, this dam was inside its territory in Mettur.

Didn’t the British, when they had colonized India, work out a solution to the dispute?

Despite their many faults, the British colonizers did come up with a broad framework that to this day remains crucial to solving the Cauvery dispute, and that is to form committees and tribunals which help to bring the two warring sides to the discussion table and form more such mutually-acceptable committees and tribunals. And through this smart expedient we have more or less completed around 150 years of Cauvery river water dispute. We look good for many more.

Okay, under the aegis of the Britishers an agreement, which was to run for 50 years, was indeed hammered out in 1924 between Mysore and Madras, as the two sides finally saw eye-to-eye and decided that Britishers were the real menace. As far as Cauvery, or even Kaveri, goes, both camps despite working out a deal were still unhappy with each other and they remained so till 1974.

What happened in 1974 after the 50-years deal ended?

Well, the Indian government of the day, immediately, in 1972 itself, constituted a Cauvery Fact-Finding Committee (CFFC), and the panel, taking into account the reality the river water dispute hugely impacted the farming community across the two States, worked overtime and managed to come up with a strong draft report in, well, 1976. The draft report was, fortunately, acceptable to all concerned, except Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Well, let us cut to chase, what did the Cauvery River Authority, the final arbiter in this matter, offer?

The Cauvery River Authority (CRA) was formed in 1990, and with typical finesse it delivered its final decision in 2007. In its verdict, the tribunal allocated 419 billion cubic feet of water annually to Tamil Nadu, 270 billion cubic feet to Karnataka and 30 billion cubic feet to Kerala. This naturally created a huge consternation across Kerala, as it was not sure what to do with the Cauvery water. Also, it was news to Kerala that they had a stake in Cauvery. The tribunal also offered 7 billion cubic feet of water to Puducherry, which was expected to come to the succour of the farmers there whenever they happened to look for a liquid to mix with their evening drinks.

Thanks to the diligent work of the CRA, a solution of sorts to the two-State water dispute was found by, well, making it a four-States water war.

Tell us something about the people-level protests and agitations in the two States

Right from the start of the 20th century, there have been many spontaneous stirs. It started with Tamil Nadu people hitting the streets against the proposed construction  of a dam by Karnataka, and the latter immediately hit back at Tamil Nadu by adding jaggery to sambhar. A practice for which Tamil Nadu, even if the Cauvery issue is solved, will never forgive Karnataka.

Over the years, whenever the monsoon fails, which has been frequently, and the water flow is inadequate, activists in Karnataka, in a show of solidarity to the suffering of their farmers, have put the rest of the State to the same suffering by holding bandhs and destroying property. Ditto in the case of activists in TN.

Big shots from both Tamil and Kannada film industry too, over a period of time, have voiced their strong views on the issue, by holding rallies and protest meetings that gave farmers, in their hour of turbulence, something to laugh at.


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