The February 5 verdict on the Cauvery water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, instead of satisfying the two states, has resulted in both resolving to either move the Tribunal itself or the Supreme Court for redressing their grievances. Kerala too has raised certain objections. These are of a minor nature. Puducherry is also a party to the lingering dispute because one of the channels of the Cauvery on its way to the Bay of Bengal passes though Karaikal, an enclave of this Union Territory.
Under the Inter-State River Disputes Act, the states concerned can raise objections within three months after the final award. They cannot move any court including the Supreme Court, for adjudication once the final verdict is delivered. Will this exercise bring the curtains down on the Cauvery dispute? Unlikely.
Disputes over sharing the Krishna River have remained unresolved between Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The Godavari River Disputes Tribunal had delivered its final award in mid-1980. Yet, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have a simmering discord.
Although it is being said since 2003 that there is no sufficient water in the Krishna and the Cauvery to fully meet the growing demands Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have not felt the impact so far. Reason? These three states, like others in the region, have been hit by droughts after that prophecy was made.
River water disputes are endemic in Peninsular India. From Maharashtra and Orissa to Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Kerala are locked in one dispute are the other with their neighbours. Even Goa and Puducherry have their own grievances. Chhattisgarh has been carved out of Madhya Pradesh only recently but both are locking horns on sharing river water resources. All the rivers in the region are rain fed. So shortfall in rain affects availability of water for drinking and irrigation and for industries and even municipal needs.
Yet, the volume of rainwater that flows into the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, mostly during the June-September south-west monsoon months, is phenomenal. Kerala, where the south-west monsoon breaks first, loses something like 60 billion cubic metres (BCM). Karnataka is the home of the town of Agumbe, on the Western Ghats, which receives the second highest rainfall in the country after Cherrapunji (or the new record-holder, the nearby Mauswaraym village).
In the case of Kerala and Karnataka, which receive probably the largest volume of monsoon precipitation, it is difficult to prevent the huge volume of rainfall from flowing away into the Arabian Sea. The narrow strip of land between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea cannot provide suitable sites for building reservoirs with existing technical know-how.
However, integrated utilization of surplus waters in the region and facilities for storing water behind dams are possible along the east coast in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamilandu. These three states have a large number of rivers - big and small that meet the Bay of Bengal. But two rivers, the Mahanadi and the Godavari, have adequate surplus waters which can be diverted southwards. Only during the rainy season!
As experience shows year after year, discharge from Godavari and Mahanadi grow to devastating proportions during August. Almost every year, Cuttack City in Orissa is threatened by the floods in the Mahanadi. The discharge in the Godavari crosses the 30 lakh cusec (cubic foot per second) at the Dowlaiswaram barrage for a few days every rainy season.
The proposal to divert some surplus waters of these rivers to the perennially water deficit south is the starting point for inter-linking peninsular rivers under the National Water Resources Development plan, finalized in 1980. Two years later, the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) was set up for conducting surveys and preparing detailed project reports on inter-linking the rivers.
The Krishna, Penna, Cauvery, and the Vaigai were to be a part of this link, which had replaced the "Ganga Cauvery Link" proposed by Dr.K.L.Rao, a noted Irrigation Engineer, in the seventies.
This project has remained a talking point despite its revival after almost two decades in 2002 in the aftermath of a severe drought. At least officially, the Centre has not given up the programme totally, because the Supreme Court has directed inter-linking of rivers within a time frame of about 12 years ending December 31, 2016.
Now this digression is to make out a case for revival of inter-linking peninsular rivers to put an end to the dispute between Karnataka and Tamilnadu over the Cauvery award. Tamil Nadu has only one large river, the Cauvery, although it has a total of about 17 rivers within its territory.
If somehow the flow in the Cauvery within Tamilnadu can be augmented without affecting the quantum required by Karnataka where the river originates, well, then the dispute can be resolved altogether.
According to P.M. Natarajan and Shambu Kallolikar, two authorities on water issues, "the mighty Godavari river ran berserk in August 1896 and during this period the peak flood discharge to the sea was about 36 lakh Cusecs(311 tmcft)....ten hours of such flow would have been enough to irrigate the entire Cauvery delta in Tamilnadu for one year and fill up the Stanley reservoir at Mettur 1.5 times which is equal to about 150 tmcft (thousand million cubic foot)....the Godavari river discharged the same quantity of water in August 2000, and more or less the same quantity in many years..."(Paper presented to the regional symposium convened by the Geographical Committee of the International Water Resources Association and the Central Board of Irrigation and Power in New Delhi on November 27 to 30, 2002).
If a conveyor canal is built from the Dowlaiswaram barrage across the Godavari towards the south through the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh (which too will benefit in the process) and right up to the Grand Anicut across the Cauvery near Trichy, Tamilnadu need not demand more Cauvery water from Karnataka every year for saving its Kuruvai paddy during the monsoon months and the Samba rice during the winter months.
The lie of the land is such that water will flow by gravity along this canal and no lifting -pumping- will be necessary.
Since no other State will be involved in this project except Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu and if the two State Governments come to an agreement, there would not arise in any inter-State dispute for this programme. It must be appreciated that the water proposed to be diverted will be taken from near Godavari's confluence with the Bay of Bengal. So it will not form part of its share with Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh or Maharashtra.
Secondly, theoretically at least, the total quantity being tapped will be a fraction of the 30 lakh plus cusecs which flow to the Bay of Bengal. Collect this water during the monsoon months and store in the canals themselves or reservoirs if necessary and if suitable sites are available even en route.
This plan will be similar to the arrangement Indira Gandhi had worked out with Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh to ease drinking water problem of Chennai. Each of the three states had agreed to part with 1.5 tmc of water each out of their share of the Krishna River for the purpose in 1976.
It is another mater that the Telugu Desam Chief Minister N.T. Rama Rao had expanded the scope of the project from a drinking water channel to an irrigation scheme, but the project is complete and Chennai City is being provided with waters of the Krishna from the Srisailam Dam across the Krishna, 400 kilometres to the north.
Arabinda Ghose, Syndicate Features