Cauvery Water Row: Why SC Should Put Tamil Nadu and Karnataka Leaders On The Next Flight To Israel
If the Supreme Court wants to solve the water wrangles once and for all, it should put the leaders of both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu on the next flight to Israel to check out water desalination technologies.
And the Centre should soft-fund this venture.
The Supreme Court’s rap on the knuckles for the Centre, on its failure to work out a scheme to implement its judgement on the sharing of Cauvery waters, was only to be expected. The Centre should have worked out a scheme by end-March, including a proposal to set up the Cauvery Management Board, but has been sitting on its hands largely due to the impending Karnataka assembly polls on 12 May. The assumption is that any position that seems truly neutral between the main warring states – ie, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu – will be denounced as a sellout by Congress politicians in Karnataka, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot afford to be put in a corner. Neither Congress nor BJP want to be seen as weak on the Cauvery issue in Karnataka.
While the court’s rap is warranted, its order to announce the scheme by 3 May hardly makes sense, given the politics of the issue. Nothing would have been lost by delivering the plan nine days later. The best the Centre can do now is to deliver the plan in a sealed envelope and ask the Supreme Court to look at it after 12 May in order to delay the political impact of the move.
However, it is difficult to see how the mere constitution of a Cauvery Management Board is going to solve any future conflict, especially in the context of growing need for water in Karnataka’s urban agglomerations, and the possibility that the long-term monsoon flows are going to see a diminution. The Board will effectively have to preside over a division of shortages rather than solve the problem of water scarcity given its multiple uses – on farms, cities and industrial enclaves.
In its February verdict, the Supreme Court reduced Tamil Nadu’s entitlement by 14.5 tmc from 192 tmc to 177.25 tmc, and gave Bengaluru city, which is not even on the Cauvery’s trajectory, as additional 4.75 tmc. Tamil Nadu was asked to make up for its deficit by tapping some of its ground water resources. (Note: one tmc is a thousand million cubic feet of water in volume terms. It works out to 28 million cubic metres).
The court also said that subject to the Centre’s final scheme, its decision would be frozen for 15 years.
While there is no point criticising a court decision that seeks to find middle ground between the maximalist positions of two neighbouring states, a few points are worth noting.
One, a 15-year finality to water issues will be unenforceable when monsoon flows and groundwater resources in both states can be fairly unpredictable and ever-changing.
Two, a water management board will not solve inter-state river conflicts – especially one that has lasted nearly a century. The only solution lies in schemes for enhancing water availability. A board to manage short-term shortages can be part of the solution, but real solutions call for both management of shortages and their prevention in future.
Three, the problem isn’t just shortage, but wastage of even what is available, including use of water for water-intensive crops like rice. This is not a problem a water management board can solve. Both states have to be incentivised to conserve water, by building penalties into the kind of end-use the Cauvery waters are put to.
It is ironic that Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, both states with long coastlines, are quarrelling over dividing shortages rather than focusing on the one thing they both have in abundance: sea water. It can be used by employing large scale desalination technologies.
While Tamil Nadu has made some progress in this regard, it has not really scaled up adequately, given its present and future water requirements for industrial and other purposes.
It is worth recalling that Israel, the world leader in desalination technologies, has a giant plant that can desalinate nearly 627,000 cubic metres of water a day.
An Israel-size desalination plant of the above scale will add over 6 tmc of water annually if worked for 300 days. One such plant each off the coasts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu will end the dispute over small shortages every year. Isn’t this the way to go?
If the Supreme Court wants to solve the water wrangles once and for all, it should put the leaders of both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu on the next flight to Israel to check out water desalination technologies. And the Centre should soft-fund this venture.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.