Worshipped by people, Cauvery casts a long shadow on TN politics

The Cauvery is worshipped as Goddess Kaveriamma in Tamil Nadu and is considered one of the seven sacred rivers of the country.(Photo: IANS)

By Arun Lakshman

Chennai, Aug 26 (IANS) The Cauvery is a major river that originates from Thalakaveri in the Brahmagiri range of the Western Ghats in the Kodagu district of Karnataka and flows into the Bay of Bengal from Poompuhar in Myladuthurai district of Tamil Nadu. It is the third largest river of South India after the Godavari and the Krishna.

The Cauvery is worshipped as Goddess Kaveriamma in Tamil Nadu and is considered one of the seven sacred rivers of the country. It is profusely described in the Sangam period literature and is held in great reverence in Hinduism.

The Cauvery enters Tamil Nadu through Dharmapuri district and reaches the Hogenakkal Falls. From there it reaches Salem district and enters the Stanley reservoir in Mettur and travels a total distance of 774 km within Tamil Nadu before flowing into the Bay of Bengal from Myladuthurai district.

While the river originates in Karnataka and flows through both the states, there has been a huge water dispute between them leading to violent agitations with people taking to the streets over it.

With the dispute between the two states and several prominent personalities ranging from political leaders, actors, writers and sportspersons taking sides, the issue moved to the Supreme Court which gave its verdict on February 16, 2018.
The court directed Karnataka to release water to Tamil Nadu and constituted the Cauvery Water Management Authority. This was to monitor the water availability and use as per the directive of the Supreme Court which gave major relief to Tamil Nadu.

As per the Supreme Court directive, Karnataka has to provide 177 tmcc of water a year to Tamil Nadu — between June to May. Of this 123.14 tmcc has to be released between June to September which is the period of the southwest monsoon.

The Cauvery water is very important for Tamil Nadu and its politics also revolves around this water. The Cauvery delta zone in Tamil Nadu is considered as ‘Nerkalanchiyam’ or Land of Paddy Cultivation.
Other than rice which is the principal crop in the Cauvery Delta Zone, other crops like pulses, black gram and green gram are also grown extensively in the delta zone.

The rice bowl of Tamil Nadu, Tanjavur is also in the zone and the people of this area primarily depend on the Cauvery for irrigation and agriculture and hence the politics of Tamil Nadu always revolves around the Cauvery.

When the Supreme Court constituted the Cauvery Water Management Authority in 2018, both the AIADMK and the DMK tried to take credit for it. Edappadi K. Palaniswami, the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu who was a leader of the AIADMK, said in public that it was the late AIADMK leader and former Tamil Nadu CM, J. Jayalalithaa who had first knocked at the doors of the Supreme Court over the Cauvery waters.
Not to be left behind, DMK leader and Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin publicly said that his father and former CM, M. Karunanidhi had met the Karnataka chief ministers personally and had got water from that state regularly.

The situation over the Cauvery waters has reached a flash point now with the Karnataka side announcing the construction of a dam at Mekedatu across the Cauvery which has led to wide scale protests in Tamil Nadu.
Immediately after the Siddaramiah led Congress government assumed office in Karnataka, Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar announced that a dam would be constructed across the Mekedatu and allocated Rs 8,000 crore for the same, he being the water resources minister of the state.

In a  Cauvery Water Management Authority meet held in New Delhi on August 12, the Tamil Nadu side walked out of the meeting after Karnataka reportedly refused to agree to the release of 37.99 tmcft that was due to Tamil Nadu as per the earlier agreement between the two states.

The Karnataka side stood their ground stating that the water to farmers in the basin districts of the state could not be released due to shortage of water.

Karnataka also pointed out in the Supreme Court on August 24, 2023 that Tamil Nadu was demanding water from the Cauvery as if it was a normal rainfall year. Karnataka pointed out that this was a distress water year as the southwest monsoon was weak in the state.

With Karnataka and Tamil Nadu confronting each other over the Cauvery water dispute, the AIADMK grouping NDA can politically capitalise on the issue as both the Congress that is ruling Karnataka and the DMK which is in power in Tamil Nadu are part of the INDIA front.
R. Arumugham, a retired professor of political science, told IANS “The water dispute will reach a flash point and with both the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments being part of the INDIA alliance, the rift can turn into a major crisis for the front in Tamil Nadu unless Stalin takes pro-active steps and buries the differences till the 2024 general elections are over.”

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