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August 12, 1998


E-Mail this story to a friend T V R Shenoy

Jayalalitha is fishing in the troubled waters of Yamuna, not of Cauvery

"This is totally against the interests of Tamil Nadu!" fumed the Union law minister on Saturday, the eighth of August, as he stepped out of Jayalalitha's Poes Garden residence. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham boss had ostensibly summoned her troops to discuss the Cauvery accord negotiated by the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Pondicherry.

"Could you tell us how it goes against the state's interests?" came a mischievous question. I have never seen someone look so flabbergasted as Thambidurai did just then.

"Read the resolution!" he snarled out after visible hesitation. Surely it is a lawyer's job to read the brief and then make the case. But in this instance the Union law minister is uncomfortably aware that he doesn't really have much of a case.

The AIADMK's anger over the Cauvery is bogus, as spurious, in fact, as the idiotic bravado of some politicians from Karnataka! The Cauvery has more than enough water to satisfy both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Karnataka can't hold on to the water beyond a certain point without causing floods. But no politician in Karnataka is willing to say so openly; this offers Tamil Nadu's politicos an opportunity to play the injured party.

To go back a little, on June 25, 1991, the Cauvery tribunal directed Karnataka to release water "so as to ensure that 205 tmc of water is available in Tamil Nadu's Mettur reservoir in a year from June to May". The tribunal also specified the monthly and weekly schedule to provide the 205 tmc.

I have read the data provided both by Tamil Nadu and the Central Water Commission for the seven years from 1991-92 to 1997-98. There are minor differences, but the overall picture is the same. The year 1995-96 excepted, Karnataka has always provided more than the tribunal's directive required.

Tamil Nadu admits Karnataka provided 332.37 tmc in 1991-92, 367.40 tmc in 1992-93, 223.34 tmc in 1993-94, 372.64 tmc in 1994-95, 244.05 tmc in 1996-97, and 268.05 tmc in 1997-98. I apologise for this deluge of numbers, but the point is that all these figures are substantially more than the 205 tmc required by the Cauvery tribunal.

The sole exception was the drought year of 1995-96 when Karnataka could provide only 183 tmc of water, a shortfall of just over 10 per cent. It takes a sick mind to make a cause of Karnataka's bad faith on the strength of this one instance.

Some may say Tamil Nadu didn't receive enough water in the crucial months of June, July, and August. However the Cauvery tribunal didn't take this argument very seriously when it gave a clarification of its order in December 1995.

In any case, the 1991 ruling was never intended to be the last word. The Cauvery tribunal's final verdict is expected only in December 1999. And all the experts agree there is enough water in the river to last until May 1999. So the AIADMK's sound and fury is about the six months between May and December 1999!

Saner elements in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka deprecate the unnecessary fuss. Two of the most knowledgeable men on the issue are Nanje Gowda (a BJP politician from Karnataka) and the late Guhan (an IAS officer from Tamil Nadu). They had all but reached an agreement fair to both states, but politics intervened.

Jayalalitha, chief minister of Tamil Nadu from 1991 to 1996, knows the facts perfectly well. It must be understood that she is indeed trying to fish in troubled waters, but the waters of the Yamuna, not those of the Cauvery.

Dr Subramanian Swamy, Janata Party president and Jayalalitha's political advisor, is urging her to withdraw support from the A B Vajpayee ministry on the thirteenth of August. "Vajpayee," he insists, "should have no legitimacy when he stands atop the Red Fort on Independence Day."

Dr Swamy is the only one on Jayalalitha's side who is being honest. She herself is huffing and puffing about minor procedural niceties. Nobody in the AIADMK is willing to openly state that they want the Vajpayee ministry to fall because the prime minister isn't "helpful" enough to their supremo.

It is a crazy situation. The BJP and its allies aren't in power in Madras and Bangalore, nor are there any Janata Dal or Dravida Munnetra Kazagham ministers in Delhi. Yet the two chief ministers are prepared to trust the prime minister while his "ally" runs him down!

Jayalalitha hoped to make an issue of the Cauvery. The accord negotiated by the chief ministers took her by surprise, but she won't let the truth stand in her way. But I do have a question: given the abundance of water, can she convince the voters of Tamil Nadu that they are dying of thirst?

T V R Shenoy

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