May 18, 2000


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Karnataka's intransigence over Cauvery upsets TN

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N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

The Tamil Nadu government is upset with Karnataka Chief Minister S M Krishna 'boycotting' Friday's meeting of the Cauvery River Water Authority under Prime Minister A B Vajpayee.

The neighbouring state, sources say, "is being intransigent as ever, and seeking to defer the release of water as notified under the interim award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal".

"Whatever Karnataka has to say, its chief minister could have said at the meeting" for which the chief ministers of Kerala and Pondicherry had also been summoned.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi is already in New Delhi, and is now scheduled to conclude his other engagements in the capital, including discussions with Kerala counterpart E K Nayanar on the equally vexatious Mullaiperiyar dam issue.

According to these sources, Karnataka has, by skipping the meeting, avoided having to act on any direction that might have been given by the authority for the immediate release of Cauvery waters to Tamil Nadu, which would also benefit Kerala and Pondicherry. "They want to defer the release of our legitimate quantum of water, and would rather release only the surplus supply at their end, as and when it rains in the catchment areas."

In this context, the sources refer to the current suggestion for the meeting of the authority to be fixed for June 20 or thereabouts. "As is well known, the southwest monsoon starts its sojourn of the region in the first week of June, and by the third week of the month, the Karnataka government will have assessed whether it is a good monsoon for them to spare adequate water for Tamil Nadu. If there is accompanying rain in Tamil Nadu, not to mention Kerala, where it usually rains heavily during the season, then there won't be any pressure or demand either on Karnataka."

It would be another matter, says this official, if the rains were to fail. "What excuse would Karnataka then have for avoiding a meeting of the authority?" he asks, half-mockingly. As he points out, the then Karnataka Chief Minister J H Patel had cited 'sickness' as the reason for not attending a meeting of the Authority in September last, when the rains had failed to an extent, and the state was facing assembly elections along with the Lok Sabha polls the very next month.

"It would have been politically difficult on the then ruling Janata Dal in Karnataka to be seen as letting off Cauvery waters for Tamil Nadu on election-eve, whatever be the compulsion."

Sources also refer to Karnataka's objection that the meeting was convened at short notice, and that the chief minister did not have enough time to prepare himself, or make himself available at New Delhi.

"To say that the chief minister did not have the time to attend a meeting called by the prime minister, even though not in his capacity as the Prime Minister doesn't behove well," says a leader of the ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu.

"Does it mean that Chief Minister Krishna would not have found time to be in New Delhi, had he been summoned urgently by his party president Sonia Gandhi? It's one thing for the Karnataka chief minister to release, or not to release Cauvery waters for Tamil Nadu, but it is another thing for him, not to attend official meetings convened by the prime minister, for which other chief ministers too have ear-marked time. It can set a bad precedent that needs to be checked, at least now," adds he.

This leader, in turn, refers to the official agenda of the Authority meeting. "The meeting was convened only to discuss the report on its rules and regulations, framed by a committee under Cabinet Secretary Pramod Kumar, and not really to discuss Chief Minister Karunaidhi's letter to Prime Minister Vajpayee.

Sure enough, Karnataka's failure to release the required waters under the interim award of the tribunal might have come up for mention, but the prime minister, in his wisdom, may have wanted to handle it at an informal-level, given Karnataka's own predicament in the absence of summer rains in that state. Now it is Karnataka that has made the issue official, by its chief minister not attending the Delhi talks, and referring instead to the need for the Monitoring Committee of State Chief Secretaries meeting before the Authority met.

Political parties in Tamil Nadu however complain that the state government has been keeping it all a secret, not taking them into confidence as the Karnataka government has been doing with the local Opposition parties. "Even here, the Tamil Nadu chief minister did not take us into confidence even though the state assembly was very much in session," says a leader of the Tamil Maanila Congress, the 39-strong official Opposition in the legislature.

As he claims, the Karunanidhi government has been playing the Cauvery card close to its chest from the very beginning, "and more so when it started talking to the J H Patel government in Karnataka after the 1996 elections. At one time during those secret parleys, the Tamil Nadu government gave the impression that a solution was very much in sight, but it all went awry. And now, we have to learn about Karunanidhi's letter to the prime minister only from newspaper reports. How then can the CM or his party expect us to offer constructive cooperation, when we are not even told what is happening, and what is in the offing?"

In this context, he also refers to the 'dangerous trend' of Karnataka going back to the 1924 accord, the lapse which 50 years later had caused the Cauvery waters dispute in the first place. "True, the Tamil Nadu government seems to have referred to Karnataka's intransigence since 1991 on the implementation of the interim award of the Cauvery Waters Tribunal in its letter to the prime minister, but that is not an excuse for Chief Minister Krishna to say that they would then roll back the issue to 1924. It doesn't sound as if Karnataka wants to solve the dispute, but only wants to keep raising irrelevant questions, if only to delay a final decision that would imply the state parting with a definite quantum of Cauvery waters for its neighbours."

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