Share the distress

A practical distress formula should be there.

The Cauvery river water dispute with the neighbouring Tamil Nadu has been a hot potato for most Karnataka chief ministers in the last four decades and it is unfortunate that the Water Cauvery Disputes Tribunal which grappled with the issue for almost 16 years failed to come up with a river sharing formula acceptable to both the states. Chief minister Jagadish Shettar, who has enough problems in his party and government, was a green horn who was pitted against a veteran fighter of her state’s rights, chief minister J Jayalalitha, and he ought to have treaded carefully in tackling this minefield of a problem.

The Cauvery River Authority under the chairmanship of the prime minister was meeting for the first time in nine years and it was a golden opportunity for Karnataka to present its case on how best to deal with a rain deficit year. After all, this year Karnataka has faced its worst drought in 40 years and the inflow of water into its reservoirs has been far from satisfactory. Instead of convincing the prime minister and the other chief ministers present at the CRA meeting about the distress situation in the state, Shettar chose to walk out of the meeting when Dr Manmohan Singh suggested that Karnataka release 9,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu for about three weeks. Shettar might have tried to become a hero, but there could not have been a bigger blunder than this. It is unfortunate that he had not learnt any lessons from the ignominy some of his predecessors like S M Krishna and H D Deve Gowda had suffered for showing similar bravado and making the state pay a price.

The Supreme Court has rightly come down heavily on Karnataka for defying the prime minister and the state had no option but to start releasing the water. The legal team may not have agreed with the state’s stand, but it had no business to stay away from the court’s proceedings when the order was being passed. It was the most unprofessional conduct, which needs to be rectified immediately. As the emptying of state reservoirs will have serious consequences for the farmers in Karnataka and the drinking water needs of Bangalore, the state should once again approach the prime minister and the Supreme Court to modify their harsh order. Karnataka should not be made to suffer being an upper riparian state and it is time to work out a practical, humane distress formula for both the states.

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