Cauvery conundrum

Decisive intervention by the SC to settle the water sharing row resulted in a panel deciding to issue a month-end deadline to notify the final award of the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal.

Published: 10th December 2012 08:56 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th December 2012 09:20 AM   |  A+A-


For once, the Cauvery Monitoring Committee (CMC) that was tasked to find a water sharing formula to save the standing crop in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to ensure food security, did not try to beat about the bush. It was forced to take the call by a firm Supreme Court, which wanted it to meet on December 7 and announce its decision on the same day. At the end of the day, the CMC directed Karnataka to release 12 tmcft water to Tamil Nadu for December. To the surprise of many, it also decided that the final award of the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT) would be notified by this month-end.

A close look at the CMC’s report, a copy of which is with Express, reveals the true extent to which the monsoons had failed the river, jeopardising agriculture. Taking both monsoons into consideration for the period between June 1 to November 30, Karnataka recorded deficit rainfall of 22 per cent. The corresponding figure for TN in the same period was 12 per cent.

However, according to officials at the Meteorological Department, Tamil Nadu receives very little precipitation from the Southwest monsoon and the extent of the pressure of this deficit could be much higher than what the numbers suggest.

Deficit rainfall had a direct impact on water storage. Karnataka had a deficit inflow of 40.4 per cent between June 1 and November 30 this year with the reservoirs receiving just about 180 tmcft compared to the normal 301 tmcft flow. Former high ranking officials said this was among the lowest figures in recent years. As a result, Karnataka’s storage level stands at 36.30 tmcft against the 10 year average of 53.70 in its four reservoirs, while Tamil Nadu has 17.04 tmcft against a 10 year average of 59.30.

The CMC conducted the proceedings strictly under the ambit of the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal’s (CWDT) interim award, according to which Tamil Nadu was to receive 10.37 tmcft in December. However, given the interim award recommendations that distress had to be shared on a pro rata basis between the states, the actual figure for Tamil Nadu worked out to 6.2 tmcft.

But, the CMC had to factor in deficient water releases in the preceding four months, which led to the failure of the Kuruvai crop in Tamil Nadu. That was how it arrived at the 12 tmcft figure, even though this “would not be enough to save all the standing crop.”

Tamil Nadu’s officials emphasized the need for 85 tmcft water till February for farming, excluding 4 tmcft for drinking water. In contrast, the State could muster just about 29 tmcft during the period given the current storage levels. Karnataka pegged its own requirement till February at 70.8 tmcft.

The CMC estimated that over the next six months, Tamil Nadu would face a shortage of about 59.5 tmcft while Karnataka would face a shortage of 34.8. Its current order, which was clearly a balancing act, will leave both states with an average shortfall of 47 tmcft.

But the most important point raised in the whole of the proceedings was how agriculture itself was being practiced in the states. The CMC noted that while 50 per cent of drinking water needs and five per cent of irrigation was met with ground water sources in Tamil Nadu, the corresponding figures were “negligible” in Karnataka. “There is ample scope for increase (groundwater exploitation) to overcome shortages,” it was observed.

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