October 3, 2002


 Search the Internet

E-Mail this 
interview to a friend
Print this page Best Printed on 
HP Laserjets
Recent interviews
'It bears the ISI's stamp'
- KPS Gill
'The issue of Sonia's
      foreign origin is over'
- EVKS Elangovan
'Our main goal is the
     safe release of
- Jyothi Prakash Mirji
'It's possible to
     take Pok'
- M S Sekhon
'A tourist will think twice
     before going to
- Arun C Vakil
'I am not a
     permanent feature'
- Pervez Musharraf

The Rediff Interview/G Made Gowda

'Jaya can never claim Cauvery as her personal property'

With Karnataka and Tamil Nadu locked in a dispute for sharing the waters of the Cauvery river, the Cauvery Monitoring Committee will submit a copy of its report to the Supreme Court on October 4.

The Supreme Court had issued a directive to the committee to complete the assessment and submit a report to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee regarding the availability of water for crops in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

G Made Gowda, former Congress MP and chairman of the Cauvery River Protection Committee, spoke to Sadananda R about the water war.

How did this problem of water-sharing begin?

It is more than two centuries old. During the British era it gained more importance. Then the present Tamil Nadu was under British rule whereas Mysore was a princely state. In the 1790s Tipu Sultan thought of building a dam across the River Cauvery. Before he could bring that into effect he fell to the British in the [fourth Mysore] war.

Again, during the 1850s, the Mysore rulers tried to build a dam across the Cauvery, but due to Tamil Nadu's opposition it never became a reality. The British rulers thwarted this attempt at building a dam across the river.

In 1918, the Mysore state again thought of building a dam and sought permission from its British rulers. The Madras Presidency opposed this move, complaining that this would affect its farmers. But the Mysore state took the issue to the higher-ups. Then, after a lot of deliberation, permission was given through arbitration. The arbitration was supposed to be final. But Madras flexed its muscle and went to London. Again new arbitration was done and an agreement was signed in 1924.

The agreement was binding on Mysore state. The proposed dam should retain only 45 tmcft [thousand million cubic feet] of water. Mysore state should make 95 tmcft of water available in the Mettur dam [in Tamil Nadu]. If any water was left after this, Mysore state could use it.

Mysore being a princely state under the British Empire had no other way but to accept the agreement. The agreement also put a condition on Mysore state that it should not expand its irrigated lands beyond 100,000 hectares, whereas no such limitation was put on Madras.

This was a move by the British government to limit the growth of Mysore state and at the same time facilitate the growth of Madras at the cost of Mysore.

Soon after Independence we argued that according to the India Independence Act, the 1924 agreement held no validity. But Tamil Nadu insisted that it continued to hold good. We went to the central government and lodged a complaint. But for reasons best known to it, the central government remained silent. Finally, in the year 1974, we decided to go ahead with our plans to build dams across the River Cauvery and utilise our share of water. We, being the main source of the Cauvery river water, have a right to use at least 50 per cent of the water.

But soon the Tamil Nadu government went to court and a tribunal was formed to solve the crisis. The tribunal gave its interim order in 1991 and said we have to leave 205 tmcft of water to Tamil Nadu in a year. But it never said clearly what is our share of water. I opposed this move and resigned from Parliament then.

Did the central government help in executing the project of building dams?

Never. We never asked the central government for any assistance. We mobilised our own resources. We collected money from the farmers. The government also collected additional money from scrapping unnecessary programmes.

Then why the recurrence of this problem?

We have left more water than was recommended by the interim order of the tribunal. The problem comes when there is a situation like a drought. When we have no water, how can we leave the water? Since the Government of Tamil Nadu took a hardline stance, the problem became more complicated. If they had come for talks, things would have been smooth. We are facing a natural calamity and both of us should share it. No politics here. It is only a question of humanity.

Why has this problem remained unsolved even after Independence? Who is responsible, the state governments or successive Union governments?

It is the successive governments of Tamil Nadu. They have always claimed the entire water of the Cauvery river as theirs. According to them, we have no right to utilise water. If water is left after irrigation of their lands, we can think of using it.

Due to historical reasons they started using it first. But that does not mean they have absolute right over it.

Do you think the Union government has failed to discharge its duty?

Yes, but it was due to various reasons. None of the governments in the states were from the same party. In Tamil Nadu it was always regional parties. They never considered the issue from a national perspective. Moreover, they had a major role in national politics. In this coalition politics, the Union governments were dependent on regional parties like the ones from Tamil Nadu. Hence, the Union governments could never work out any solution.

The successive governments in Tamil Nadu have been using this to their advantage. The Union governments did attempt to solve the issue. But all these were half-hearted attempts depending upon the political pressure.

Sir, it is said that during 1971 both governments had almost reached an agreement about sharing the river waters.

Yes. It is true. But the Tamil Nadu government refused to accept it. But serious work was done during that time. Since then the chief ministers of both states have been meeting, but without any solution in sight.

Why is Tamil Nadu so adamant?

It is nothing but power politics. They have never thought of utilising the available water to the maximum extent. They are wasting more than 100 tmcft due to poor management. Apart from this, they have not built any dams to hold excess water. If they build two more dams below the Mettur dam, they will have more water available for them. Without these additional dams, they are wasting around 150 tmcft of water every year.

You mean there is enough water in the Cauvery for both states?

Yes. The calculated amount of water that is available in the river is around 700 tmcft of water. Karnataka is always drought prone, whereas the Tamil Nadu belt is always water rich. Its ground water gets recharged whenever there are rains and the water is released into the river. If they can use 100 tmcft of ground water and make arrangements to utilise 150 tmcft of water that goes waste to the sea, we will have enough water for both states. This can be assured during the summer period also. This we have expressed in the appropriate places.

Karnataka feels that Tamil Nadu has been favoured in this case. Is it true?

Yes. They have always used their political clout and lobbied hard to get this issue in their favour. They lobby among the officials and others. This is due to power politics.

Are the governments in Karnataka also responsible for this debacle?

Yes, they are. They have failed to submit the statistics and never worked for the cause of the people of Karnataka. They have always remained irresponsible in this respect. Always they [Tamil Nadu] have submitted the statistics and we have failed to do so. Though we have problems, we have failed to convince the appropriate authorities and courts.

For example, take this recent visit of the central fact-finding committee. Our officers failed to provide the necessary details to them. One of the senior officers with the agriculture department failed to give the details of the exact hectares of land under cultivation with the Cauvery's waters. The government is also responsible for this debacle. They have not made attempts to punish these erring officials. When you fail to convince appropriate authorities about the problem, how are you going to solve this crisis?

When did you join the 'save Cauvery' movement?

It was in 1971. I was representing the Mandya constituency. It was during this time that Karnataka decided to utilise its share of water. Then we raised money from our farmers to build dams. As we had not requested central assistance, we were forced to raise the required money for construction of the dam. And this was how I entered this movement.

How did you represent this issue in Parliament?

Whenever I had the opportunity to raise the issue, I did. When the tribunal made its interim award, I resigned as MP. I always tried to express the problems of the Cauvery river basin whenever there was an opportunity in the Lok Sabha.

What could a solution to this problem be?

I told the prime minister this time in Delhi, can we produce water? It is nature's gift. If it is not ready to give, then we have to sit and discuss how to share the available water. If one is not ready to sit and discuss, what can be done? Who wants to hold water when there is plenty of water? Can human beings do that? Our chief ministers have always released water to Tamil Nadu. Many times more than what we have utilised. But Tamil Nadu has always remained adamant. If it comes forward for discussion, then there is a possibility of a solution.

We always should bear in mind that water is not the property of one state or country. It is the property of humanity. In the context of India, we should think of it as the property of our country. We should try to utilise it for the benefit of the country. The farmers of Karnataka are not different from the farmers of Tamil Nadu.

Why has no solution has been found then?

It is the selfishness of politicians. They never think beyond power politics. Due to this a solution has not been found.

Is there any permanent solution? Can't the farmers of both states sit together and solve the problem?

No, there is no such possibility. The farmers can never sit together and solve the problem. Because the farmers of Tamil Nadu follow what their government says. The farmers of Karnataka follow what their government says. If they sit and try to solve the crisis, the powerful will wrest more share and the weak will be left alone. So any solution should have legal validity and the participation of both governments is a must.

Regarding a permanent solution, yes, there is a possibility. But both states should start a mutual dialogue. They should have faith in each other and should formulate an expert committee and follow its guidelines. There should not be any claim for superior status. But Tamil Nadu is not ready for any discussion. And in this situation how will you look for a permanent solution?

Unless we get a national leader who thinks beyond the interests of narrow motives and thinks of the River Cauvery as a national asset, this problem will remain. That leadership will bring together both the states and weld them in the interest of the country. Any possible solution goes along with this type of leadership.

Can a national water policy solve this problem?

Yes, that will solve this problem. I believe so. But unfortunately we have not thought about it all these days. Even after 55 years of independence.

Do you think this dispute will affect our federal unity?

Yes, this is going to affect our unity. People will lose faith in the federal structure. If one starts to think that the Union government has failed to protect people's rights and scope of living, who will feel proud of India? If a farmer is forced to commit suicide due to this water problem, can he think well about India?

During Sunday's rail roko, I heard pro-Kannada activists saying that all Tamilians in Bangalore should be driven out. Does this sort of emotion do well for unity? If we continue with this problem forever, this is going to take the shape of a language war. No, this should not happen. We have to find an answer to this crisis. The Union government should take measures to curb adamant states like Tamil Nadu and create a conducive environment to settle the issue as early as possible.

Can the scientific usage of water make a difference? Like minimising the wastage of water?

Yes. Again we have to blame Tamil Nadu. We have laid canals where wastage is minimum. But they are using canals that are a hundred years old. They have to take measures to repair them and stop water leakage. They are wasting more water in this way.

Then they also should look at utilising ground water, which is available in plenty. There, ground water is even available at a depth of 10 feet. But for us, it is around 300 feet. Since we are a drought-prone area, they should try to understand our plight. If they make arrangements to use their ground water, the water thus saved can be used to the benefit of the drought farmers here.

What is your next step?

We will wait for the Supreme Court's decision. See, farmers will not waste their time in protest. They always want to utilise their time to produce. But now the farmers are forced to buy rice and ragi from the store. Do you think it is easy for a farmer to go to the market and buy something that was always produced by him and given to society? Those who have money are buying them, but think about those who have no money. What they are going to do?

If you really need water and there is water, let us share it. When we are struggling to save our standing crops, they are asking for the next crop. Above all, what irks us is their arrogant attitude. Jayalalithaa can never claim the Cauvery water as her personal property.

First make a study of the actual situation. Then allow the expert committee to take a decision. If the Tamil Nadu government fails to follow it, throw it away. If we are again asked to release water, we are going to fight till the end.

Design: Dominic Xavier

The Rediff Interviews

Tell us what you think of this interview