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The state needs to look at alternative sources instead of pinning hopes on neighbouring states, they say

PC Vinoj Kumar

Not a drop: Police move protestors blocking roads in Bangalore on Karnataka bandh
AP Photo
The Cauvery tribunal’s award is final. The states can only approach it with their points of concern within three months
Tamil Nadu is likely to face a severe water crisis in the next half century. According to experts, this looming crisis has little to do with the state’s dispute over sharing of Cauvery waters with Karnataka, or the row over the Mullaiperiyar waters with Kerala. What would contribute to the crisis is the fast-depleting groundwater table, and the increasing pollution of water sources, they warn. The crisis in the making would be as much about quality of the water available in the state as the shrinking resources.

Many rivers are already badly polluted in the State. “No politician is talking about pollution in the Noyal, Amaravati, and Bhavani rivers. Industrial effluents and domestic sewage are polluting these rivers, and this would pose a serious problem, if urgent measures are not taken to tackle it,” says Professor S. Janakarajan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, who is part of the Cauvery Family, an informal forum comprising representatives of farmers from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

There are indications that pollution would emerge as a major problem in the future. Since the last decade, there has been a public outcry against industries polluting the Noyal and the Amaravati, both Cauvery tributaries. Farmers have been complaining that water had become unfit for cultivation. Hundreds of bleaching and dyeing units were discharging effluents into these rivers, which led to contamination of both surface and groundwater in many areas. People have also been up in arms against the tanneries polluting Palar, the lifeline of several northern districts. As water becomes scarcer, this conflict between farmers and industry is bound to intensify, feel experts.

Another area of concern is the over-exploitation of groundwater in many places. According to experts, farmers took to cultivating water-intensive crops and indiscriminately exploited groundwater for irrigation, which has led to a steep fall in water table in many places. Many wells have run dry in Coimbatore and adjoining districts. “If we do not learn to properly manage our resources, we are in for trouble,” says environmental economist Professor Paul Appasamy of the Madras School of Economics.

Experts want Tamil Nadu to reduce its dependence on water from neighbouring states and formulate alternative plans. Besides Cauvery waters from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu receives water from the Mullaiperiyar dam in Kerala, and Krishna waters from Andhra Pradesh through the Telugu Ganga project. The sharing of Cauvery waters has been a contentious issue between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and it dates back to the days of the British Raj. In his book, The Cauvery River Dispute — Towards Conciliation, S. Guhan, an authority on the subject, writes: “As early as 1807, there was correspondence between Madras (presidency) and (the State of) Mysore on the latter’s use of waters in the Cauvery and in its distributaries to the possible detriment of the interests of Madras.” Post-independence, the dispute continued to engage the newly-formed states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu has problems in getting waters from Kerala and Andhra Pradesh as well. Kerala has refused to honour the Supreme Court verdict to raise the storage level of the Mullaiperiyar dam from the existing 136 feet to the original 142 feet. Andhra Pradesh released Krishna waters to Chennai after much prodding.

In the light of such difficulties, experts counsel a rethink of the state’s water programme. “When we fight for our share with other states, it is always essential to assess our own potential in detail. One long-term solution, which may solve our problem to a great extent, is interlinking the rivers in Tamil Nadu. The rivers could be inter-linked by a canal, which would enable redistribution of excess or flood waters from one river to another,” says Professor M. Kaarmegam, former director of the Centre for Water Resources, Anna University. He also wants optimum use to be made of the state’s nearly 40,000 tanks. “Several of them have been lost due to urbanisation in Chennai, Salem and Coimbatore. A systematic rehabilitation and rejuvenation of all the tanks and ponds will surely help.”

Appasamy argues that water should be used more judiciously. “Farmers should take to less water intensive crops. Agriculture accounts for 85-90 percent of the total use of water in the state. Even a ten percent reduction (in this sector) would ease the situation considerably,” he says. Janakarajan says modernising the canal irrigation system could save as much as 50 TMC water.

As for the Cauvery tribunal’s final award, experts feel the implementation of the order is a matter of time. The Cauvery tribunal was constituted under provisions of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956. According to experts, the tribunal’s award is final and binding. The decision of the tribunal has “the same force as an order or decree of the Supreme Court”. The parties cannot go on appeal to the Supreme Court. The only legal option left for the states is to approach the tribunal with their points of concern within a period of three months “for further consideration”. The tribunal has directed Karnataka to release 192 TMC water to Tamil Nadu. From this share, Tamil Nadu has to release 7 TMC feet to Puducherry. With both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka likely to file review petitions before the tribunal, the implementation of the order might be delayed till the case is disposed of.

The tribunal’s recommendation for the creation of a Cauvery Management Board with the direction to entrust it “with the function of supervision of operation of reservoirs and with regulation of water releases” has been welcomed in Tamil Nadu. A senior mdmk leader said, “It is now up to the Centre to ensure that the orders of the tribunal are implemented. If Karnataka does not abide by the tribunal order, it would undermine the spirit of federalism and could lead to dangerous fallouts in future. Already, Kerala has set a bad precedent in not obeying Supreme Court orders in the Mullaiperiyar issue. The Central government should ensure that the states respect the constitution.”

Union Water Resource Minister Saifuddin Soz reiterated the point that the tribunal award was final, while talking to newspersons in Chennai on February 6. He clarified that “concerned states should be given a chance to appeal to the tribunal for a review of the award before its implementation.”

Feb 24 , 2007

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