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Politics grips worsening drought in north Karnataka

April 09, 2012 13:23 IST

There is a lot of politics that is taking place in Karnataka over the worsening drought situation this year. The very fact that Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda has demanded a relief fund of Rs 2,200 crore from the Union government for drought relief work itself is an indication that the situation is grim. In addition to this there is also the added headache of the infamous Cauvery water dispute.

There are nearly 120 talukas which are reeling under drought and North Karnataka appears to be the worst hit. The Krishna basin has been so severely affected that it has taken a hit on drinking water too. The biggest reservoir in the region, the Almatti, too has recorded 23 thousand million cubic (TMC) of less water this year when compared to previous years.

Residents of Bagalkot and Bijapur in North Karnataka are undergoing the worst possible situation in the last 40 years.

The officials in the district administration paint a worried picture of the scenario and say that there is a movement of people from these regions into other parts of the state which have better rainfall. "We usually get good rains, but this year the rains have played truant and the challenges ahead are extremely tough," an officer said.

The water crisis in North Karnataka has not only taken a hit on humans, but there is equal suffering for the cattle and the live stock as well. In the areas of Belgaum water is being supplied everyday in nearly 150 tankers. Belgaum, for example, used to face water crisis in just nine villages, but this year nearly 23 villages in the area have been hit due to bad rainfall. The problem is similar in the areas of Bagalkot, Dharwad and Bijapur, Gadag and Haveri, according to statistics.

The northern part of Karnataka is always the most affected when there is a drought. Hubli in particular is a worst case example of urban governance. The twin cities of Hubli and Dharwad have a population of 18 lakh. There are 65 wards here but 24 hour-water supply is restricted to just 5 wards. The rest of the wards depend on the government installed water taps which give water only once in 15 days.

Take the case of Gulbarga, Raichur, Koppal, Gadag and Bellary which are also in North Karnataka. All these areas have been getting drinking water once in 21 days. There may be constant water supply, but there are two qualities of water that is available here. While pure drinking water is available once in 21 days the other type of water which is high in salts is suitable only for washing purpose and is available more often in open wells.

Once again it does not appear that the projects have been implemented correctly as for each village there is just one open well which again does not supply quality drinking water.

In 1998 Karnataka had asked for a World Bank loan to rectify the water problem. This grant however came in only four years later. The idea was to ensure that all hamlets in Karnataka get surface water which is believed to be less polluted.

While Karnataka did manage to set up such plants what the government did not focus on was the recharging of this water. Recharging of this water is extremely important to ensure that there is constant water supply.

Then comes the problem of decentralisation in such projects. Any local body has to approach the state cabinet in order to implement any project relating to water. In the case of an urban body the state cabinet in Bengaluru had to be approached in case the project was worth above Rs 1 crore.

However, the problem was for the local bodies such as the zilla panchayats which have to seek an approval in case the project is above Rs 10 lakh. Files got stuck for long periods and the work was never implemented, the people accuse. To beat this, the local bodies implemented two projects worth Rs 9 lakh and more often than not all the money was never utilised for the projects.

The situation in the areas of H D Kote and Hunsur are also grim and Chief Minister Gowda said that they were considering including these areas too into the list of drought affected areas. The government also seeks to give Gulbarga, Raichur, Bidar, Koppal and Yadgir special status.

Going by the statistics put out in terms of rainfall received by Karnataka the picture looks grim: Very heavy rain received in parts of Hassan, Kodagu and  Mandya district; moderate to very heavy rain received in parts of Chamarajanagara, Chikkamagalur, Chitradurga, Dakshina Kannada, Mysore, Ramanagara, Shimoga and Tumkur district; isolated, light rain received in parts of Bangalore Rural, Bangalore Urban, Bellary, Chikkaballapura, Davanagere, Haveri and Yadgir districts; very light rain received in parts of Bagalkote, Belgaum, Dharwad, Gulbarga, Kolar, Raichur and Uttara Kannada districts; and dry weather condition prevailed remaining parts of the state.

While on one hand every political party wants to have a say in the drought issue, the other issue that is likely to crop up is the never ending Cauvery water dispute.

Tamil Nadu has been raising a claim for more water, but Karnataka has been arguing that the share of water which was possible has already been given.

Tamil Nadu in turn has sought a clarification and the matter will come up before the tribunal in New Delhi on April 17.

Mohan Katarki, who argues the case on behalf of Karnataka, says that the matter was to be listed before the Supreme Court in February, but it did not come up. "It does not appear that it would be taken up before the court vacation. Tamil Nadu had initially sought a clarification of the award but the tribunal wanted the Supreme Court to first dispose off the matter. Now they have sought another clarification about the old award and that would be taken up on April 17," he says.

Karnataka on the other hand has been arguing that 2007 awards regarding water sharing cannot be in play as the situation in terms of rains does vary. Karnataka had even sought the intervention of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue, but that has not taken place as yet.

Over the years, Karnataka claims that it has given more than the required share of water to Tamil Nadu.  The average water that has been given has ranged in between 210 to 300 TMC, although Tamil Nadu has sought 300 TMC of water while Karnataka says that this is something which was existent as per the 1924 agreement and the same cannot be implemented in today's scenario.

However, the legal experts say that on this dispute there is not much to be worried about. Karnataka is doing its share and annually the state needs to give 192 TMC of water which is again broken in monthly and weekly statistics.

Moreover depending on the situation there is also a carry forward option, Karnataka says that while 192 TMC is the limit that needs to be shared which is 62 per cent of the water in the catchment above the Krishna Raja Sagar Reservoir, the state has already shared 175 TMC this year and hence there ought not to be a problem.

Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru