The Cauvery water dispute:

The Indian state is responsible for the deliberate inflaming of passions

The first two weeks of September witnessed large scale arson, violence, and destruction in several areas of Karnataka, including many parts of Bengaluru city as well as in parts of Tamilnadu. In Karnataka, Shops and establishments with Tamil names were attacked and destroyed, and trucks, buses and other motor vehicles bearing TN registration numbers were set on fire. On the other side of the border, people from Karnataka were mobbed, their shops and businesses vandalized. Violence also erupted on the Bengaluru-Mysuru Highway.Section 144 was imposed in Bengaluru city, Mandya, Mysuru, Srirangapatna and at four dams in the Cauvery basin. All the ruling class parties in these two states — Karnataka and Tamilnadu — participated actively in organising bandhs in their respective states with the full support of the respective state governments.

Thousands of people have lost their properties and source of livelihood, hundreds have suffered grievous injuries, and at least two people have lost their lives. The Communist Ghadar Party condemns the Central government, the state governments of Karnataka and Tamilnadu, and the monopoly controlled media in both the states for deliberately inciting and organising this violence and destruction. Images of the targeted attacks in both states, deliberately flashed repeatedly on the TV screens, served to fuel the mob violence. While the Chief Minister of Karnataka, Siddaramaiah made claims of protecting Tamil people in Karnataka and his counterpart in Tamilnadu, Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa called for protection of people from Karnataka in Tamil Nadu, reports indicate that the police remained mute spectators. After systematically inflaming passions, and supervising over the large scale violence and terror, the state governments of Karnataka and Tamilnadu let loose the security forces to unleash repression on the people in the name of “maintaining law and order”.

The Cauvery water dispute and its cynical manipulation by the ruling class

The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal was formed 26 years ago, with the declared intention of resolving the water dispute between Tamilnadu and Karnataka. 17 years later, the Tribunal came out with its verdict in 2007, which was finally announced in the Gazette in 2013. The announcement was used to whip up large-scale violence and arson in both states at that time.

9 years after the verdict, in August this year, the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu filed a petition on behalf of her state with the Supreme Court, urging Karnataka to release water as mandated by the Tribunal. The Supreme Court ordered the Karnataka government to do so. This was the occasion for inciting the latest round of violence. While starting to release the water according to the Supreme Court’s order, the Karnataka Chief Minister filed a petition with the SC to stay the order. While the SC refused to stay the order, it reduced the amount of water to be released from 15,000 cusecs to 12,000 cusecs. It also ordered the Karnataka government to release 6000 cusecs of water daily up to September 27. However, the Karnataka state government deferred the release of 6000 cusecs of water daily, as ordered by the SC, and on September 23, convened a special sitting of the Assembly and declared its inability to release water to Tamilnadu, citing “severe distress” and fearing “law and order problems”.

The Cauvery river dispute is one of the most long-standing and bitterly contested river disputes in India. Cauvery is the major river of both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and the lifeline for agriculture in both these states. The Cauvery basin covers regions of four states - Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Kerala and Puducherry. All these states are hence party to the water sharing arrangement. Cauvery is an almost fully utilised river. It is also a rain fed river. The waters of the river are extensively used by farmers in Karnataka and Tamilnadu for water intensive agriculture. Further, Cauvery is the source of drinking water to many cities in the two states, as well as to Puducherry. As a result, whenever there is shortfall in the rains during the South West monsoon in the Cauvery basin, a situation of crisis emerges. If Karnataka, the upper riparian state, decides to reduce the flow into the lower riparian state of Tamilnadu, it affects the livelihood of lakhs of peasants in Tamilnadu. It also affects the availability of drinking water in various cities of Tamilnadu.

Under British colonial rule, there were agreements on the use of Cauvery water between Madras Presidency and the Princely state of Mysore, in 1892 and 1924. The British colonialists used their dominant position and the position of Mysore as a vassal state to push through an agreement against the interests of the people of Mysore. Uneven development of capitalism amongst different regions after India gained political independence further aggravated the problem.

The Cauvery agreement of 1924 was to elapse in 1974. Before this, in 1968 Tamilnadu made a formal request to the Government of India to refer the dispute to a Tribunal under section 3 of Inter-state water disputes Act. At that time, the first non-Congress Government was in place in Tamilnadu, while Karnataka was ruled by the Congress Party. The central government quietly permitted Karnataka to build numerous dams on the Cauvery, which resulted in significant reduction of water supply to Tamilnadu.

More than two decades later, at the direction of the Supreme Court, a Tribunal was set up by the central government in June 1990. In 1991, the first order issued by the tribunal was followed by large scale state organised attacks on Tamils and their properties in Karnataka. Over 200 people were killed in this reign of terror, the homes and properties of lakhs of people were destroyed. Over two lakh people were forced to flee from Karnataka at that time.

Since then, the fact is that every time there is actual or feared shortage of water in the Cauvery River, every time elections are around the corner in these two states, the ruling class and its political parties whip up passions. The delay in setting up the Tribunal, delivering a verdict and its final announcement in the Gazette is condemnable. After all that, the dispute remains unresolved, as the current situation of conflict over the sharing of these river waters reveals.

In years of normal monsoon, there has been no difficulty for Karnataka to release the quantum of water, which the tribunal has allocated. The problem has come up only in distress years like in 2002-03 and 2003-04 and again in 2012 and now in 2016. The dispute therefore is mainly over the formula for sharing the water between these states during the distress years. Karnataka receives its rain mainly from the south west monsoon. In the case of a weak early monsoon, the first 4 months (June-September) are the months of water shortage, when it has not been able to fulfil the demand from Tamilnadu. It is precisely in these months of shortage that passions have been inflamed on both sides and large-scale sectarian violence organised. Political parties of both states have used the issue to posture as the greatest defenders of the people of their respective states, while they have criminally abetted the biggest corporate interests in IT, real estate and other sectors, to destroy water bodies that were earlier the source of drinking water for the people.

The ruling class and its political parties have no intention of resolving the Cauvery dispute. On the contrary, they have worked overtime to prevent a lasting solution to the problem. Political parties in both states deliberately portray that people of the other state are the source of the problem. Whether in power or in opposition, they have never addressed the issue of how the interests of different users of the Cauvery waters can be harmonised. In both the states, successive governments have been destroying water bodies that were earlier sources of drinking water for the people.

For a fair and amicable resolution of the issue

The workers and peasants of both Karnataka and Tamilnadu must not allow themselves to be victims of these diabolical plans of the ruling class and its parties. It is essential to build the unity of workers and peasants and masses of people in Tamilnadu and in Karnataka, in order to resolve the Cauvery dispute amicably.

A just and mutually acceptable solution to the river water dispute will require harmonisation of the interests of the various users of the water and the general interests of society. Such a solution must organise for the most suitable water usage and water management as well as caring for and nurturing all existing ground water resources.

The Indian state is driven by the dictates of the biggest capitalist monopolies. All the political parties of the ruling class — Congress, BJP, as well as various regional bourgeois parties of the two states — are sworn to defend the interests of these capitalist monopolies. They have utter disregard for the peasants and broad masses of workers and working people. These parties shed crocodile tears about the peasants, whip up narrow chauvinist hysteria, and act as “patriots” of their states, to hide their real anti peasant, anti people agenda. All of them are bitter enemies of the unity and solidarity of our people.

All those working for the interests of the workers and peasants must come together to defeat the divisive and sectarian agenda of the ruling class, its state and its parties. Peasants and workers organisations of the two states are best placed to understand the problems when there is a shortage of water, and how it should be shared so that interests of all the affected sections can be harmonised. They will know what crops to sow in a year of shortage, and what crops to sow in a year of plentiful rainfall.

The solution in fact lies in the empowerment of the people, of the workers and peasants. It is precisely because the broad masses of people are disempowered in the present political system that the Cauvery water dispute continues to fester. Therefore, as organisations which want to find a lasting solution to the problem of the Cauvery waters sharing put forth their proposals, they must take up at the same time the burning problem of working for a new political system and process that will ensure that decision making power actually vests with the workers and peasants and broad masses of people.


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