River Of Discord

Updated: Oct 30 2002, 05:30am hrs
A Constitutional crisis may have blown over with Karnataka chief minister SM Krishnas unconditional apology to the Supreme Court for not complying with its orders to release Cauvery water to Tamilnadu. But is the long-festering dispute anywhere near resolution Hardly, considering the competitive chauvinism rampant in both states. The leadership in both Karnataka and Tamilnadu have taken strong stands on laffaire Cauvery for realpolitik reasons. How Mr Krishna will indeed comply with the apex courts directive while simultaneously protecting the interests of agitating farmers especially those from his own home district of Mandya remains thus an open question. True, the daily release of 10,000 cusecs of water has already started to meet the immediate requirements of Tamilnadu.

The North-east monsoon has also set in, which also meets the requirements of the states coastal farming belt. As this years South-west monsoon has been wayward, affecting the Cauvery basin upto the Mettur dam, good rains during October-January will ensure that Tamilnadu doesnt unduly suffer. While the immediate crisis situation may get defused in the process, a solution to the longstanding problem remains elusive.

Only a political dialogue between the two riparian states (which should include Kerala and Pondicherry as well) in a genuine spirit of give and take can lay the foundations of a permanent settlement. The stumbling block has so far been been Karnatakas assumption of primacy of rights over the Cauvery waters as it is an upper riparian state. How can a party to a dispute assume the role of the judge as well Being a lawyer by training, Mr Krishna surely realises the untenability of this state of affairs! By contrast, Tamilnadu as a lower riparian state has been reduced to the position of a supplicant depending on the generosity of Karnataka. When the South-west monsoon has been bountiful, there has been no problem in the past as the release of water by Karnataka has often been more than stipulated in the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunals interim order of 1991. But why cannot the same spirit prevail in times of scarcity and distress The apex court rightly upbraided Karnataka in this regard: You do not have the spirit of sharing...Your generosity will be measured by your attitude at the time of scarcity and not when you have a surplus. That attitude, however, is possible only when the political leadership in both states sits across the table and works out a modus vivendi to solve the century-old discord.