Karnataka is staring at another drought year. The monsoon story this year has been way off the script, defying all predictions by weathermen. Three months into the monsoon season, the Malnad region, nestling in the Western Ghats, the catchment area for many rivers, is facing a rainfall deficit of 27%. There’s a 20% rain shortage in coastal Karnataka. The storage in most reservoirs is lower than what it was at the same time last year — an indication of what to expect next summer. The only exception is North Karnataka, where dams are full thanks to copious rains.
Having braved drought-like situation the last two years, Karnataka was banking on the forecast of excess rainfall. But the first part of the season has been particularly harsh on those regions that feed the rivers. For a change, the government has taken stock of the situation before it gets out of hand and is taking remedial measures. It has decided not to release water for agriculture in the Cauvery basin and asked farmers not to go for water-intensive crops. What it essentially means is that farm distress, which forced several farmers to kill themselves last year, will continue as the government wants to ensure there is no shortage of drinking water. The power situation too doesn’t look good as hydel stations account for about 50% of the state’s installed capacity. Unless the remaining part of the season brings good rains, Karnataka is in for serious trouble on the power front. The state has already expressed its inability to release Tamil Nadu’s full share of Cauvery water — a likely trigger for another standoff between the two states.
It might help a little that the government has woken up to the situation. But a third straight drought year will be too much to bear. Little is being done to stop encroachment of lakes and other water bodies. And, the state has not been able to reduce dependence on hydel power. The state is paying the price for not learning from past mistakes.