Scram­ble for wa­ter

Most reser­voirs in the Cau­very basin are run­ning low on wa­ter due to deficit rainfall in Kar­nataka and Tamil Nadu this year

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in­creased nearly three­fold in the past 20 years. Bengaluru’s cur­rent de­mand for wa­ter from the Cau­very is 30 tmc. This comes to over 10 per cent of the to­tal wa­ter al­lo­cated to Kar­nataka, much more than the city should get if the al­lo­ca­tion is done on the ba­sis of its area as a per­cent­age of the to­tal Cau­very basin in the state. “Though most of Bengaluru is out­side the Cau­very basin, the city com­mands much more than its share of the river,” says V Bala­sub­ra­ma­niam, for­mer ad­di­tional sec­re­tary in the Kar­nataka govern­ment. “What’s worse is that around 45 per cent of the wa­ter is lost in leak­ages. You can see the in­dis­crim­i­nate use of the re­source.” More­over, the wa­ter has to be pumped up to an el­e­va­tion of 540 m from the Cau­very, which is 100 km away. “It would be much more ef­fi­cient to re­store the lakes in the city and re­cy­cle wa­ter for us­age,” says Bala­sub­ra­ma­niam.

Van­ish­ing for­est cover

An equally im­por­tant change is in the land use pat­tern along the Cau­very. Along with an in­crease in crop­ping area and ir­ri­ga­tion com­mand area bet-ween 1980 and 2000, there has been a re­duc­tion in the for­est area, es­pe­cially close to the source of the river in Kodagu district and in the down­stream My­suru district. Ac­cord­ing to the “State of For­est” re­ports pub­lished by the Min­istry of Environment, For­est and Cli­mate Change, dense forests in both these dis­tricts have de­clined by about 10 per cent be­tween 2001 and 2013. An es­ti­mate by the Cof­fee Agro-forestry Net­work ( cafnet), an in­ter­na­tional project funded by the Euro­pean Union to study the loss of di­ver­sity, shows that be­tween 1977 and 1997, for­est cover de­creased by 28 per cent in Kodagu. The re­port links the drop in for­est cover to changes in the cof­fee-growing sys­tem that has shifted from stream-fed shady plan­ta­tions to ir­ri­gated plan­ta­tions. The tri­bunal award and mech­a­nisms of farm­ing across the basin are not in con­so­nance, says T V Ra­machan­dran, a pro­fes­sor of ecol­ogy at the Cen­tre for Eco­log­i­cal Sciences, In­dian In­sti­tute of Science ( iisc), Bengaluru. “Nei­ther the ju­di­ciary, nor the farm­ers seem to un­der­stand the hy­drol­ogy or ecol­ogy of the river­ine sys­tem. For­est re­duc­tion close to the source of the river in Kar­nataka is a ma­jor fac­tor that could po­ten­tially re­duce the yield of the river in the years to come,” he says. The tri­bunal award does not take into con­sid­er­a­tion the eco­log­i­cal and hy­dro­log­i­cal as­pects that keep the river flow­ing, he adds.

An­other fac­tor that has con­trib­uted to the scarcity of wa­ter in the river is ir­reg­u­lar rainfall.

In­stead of fo­cus­ing on the quan­tum of wa­ter for al­lo­ca­tion, which is de­cided by bu­reau­crats and politi­cians, the mech­a­nism of shar­ing must be cen­tred on ef­fi­cient us­age

Ac­cord­ing to the cafnet study, the aver­age rainy sea­son in the Kodagu re­gion has re­duced by 14 days over the past 35 years. A study by iisc found that although the over­all rainfall in the Cau­very basin has in­creased by 2.7 per cent, the wa­ter in the river has re­duced by two per cent, while evap­o­tran­spi­ra­tion losses due to higher tem­per­a­tures have in­creased by about 7.5 per cent. An­other study pub­lished in Cur­rent Science in 2011 has pre­dicted that cli­mate change might cause an up to 50 per cent re­duc­tion in the waters of the Cau­very sub-basins by 2080.

The de­cline in the qual­ity of the river wa­ter is also an area of con­cern. A the­sis sub­mit­ted to the Bharati­dasan Univer­sity in Tamil Nadu in 2015 de­tails the pres­sures of un­treated sewage, agri­cul­tural runoff and dump­ing of in­dus­trial ef­flu­ents into the river along its course to the Bay of Ben­gal. “Be­yond the dis­pute, the lev­els of pol­lu­tion in the river are mind-bog­gling,” says Janakara­jan. “Sewage and in­dus­trial ef­flu­ents from hun­dreds of vil­lages, towns and cities are dumped un­treated into the river, re­duc­ing its qual­ity and flow,” he adds. In­dus­trial cor­ri­dors that house tex­tile, ce­ment and steel units are found in heavy con­cen­tra­tion around My­suru, Coimbatore, Salem and Tiruchi­rap­palli. These units reg­u­larly and un­abashedly re­lease ef­flu­ents into the river. This has de­graded the qual­ity of wa­ter and sam­ples from the river of­ten fail to meet the lim­its set by the Cen­tral Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board.

No one owns the river

What has ex­ac­er­bated the cri­sis is the strictly util­i­tar­ian ap­proach adopted by the states and even the tri­bunal to­wards the river, says T N Prakash Kam­maradi, chair­per­son of the Kar­nataka Agri­cul­ture Price Com­mis­sion, a found­ing mem­ber of the Cau­very Fam­ily, an in­for­mal net­work which me­di­ated be­tween farm­ers of both the states be­tween 2003 and 2007. “The prob­lem is that while the al­lo­ca­tions are al­most purely based on quan­ti­ties re­quired by states, this ap­proach com­pletely un­der­mines the fact that the river is a sep­a­rate agro-eco­log­i­cal unit that sup­ports an ecol­ogy and has an ap­pro­pri­ate mech­a­nism of agri­cul­ture that it can sus­tain. We need to move away from viewing the river as some­thing over which we have a right,” says Kam­maradi.

Kam­maradi is also critical of the wa­ter­shar­ing mech­a­nism pro­posed by the tri­bunal. In­stead of fo­cus­ing on the quan­tum of wa­ter for al­lo­ca­tion, which is de­cided by bu­reau­crats and politi­cians, the mech­a­nism of shar­ing must be cen­tred on ef­fi­cient us­age. Demo­cratic pro­cesses of grass­roots di­a­logue be­tween

ag­grieved par­ties should also be en­cour­aged. “In­stead of lump sum al­lo­ca­tions, if a mech­a­nism is ar­rived at to pro­vide wa­ter on the ba­sis of acreage and re­quire­ment, as­sum­ing ef­fi­cient use by ev­ery user, peo­ple will have no choice but to start treat­ing the re­source with the re­spect that it de­serves,” says Kam­maradi.

Singh dis­agrees. “The job of the tri­bunal is not to de­cide how wa­ter should be used. That falls un­der the state govern­ment’s am­bit. The job of the tri­bunal is to allocate wa­ter and try and re­solve any wa­ter con­flict, which I think the Cau­very tri­bunal has done de­cently well,” he says.

Dis­putes re­gard­ing wa­ter-shar­ing are not new and have been re­solved across the world. The se­cret lies in ne­go­ti­a­tions based on how each party ben­e­fits from the wa­ter being shared, says Ram Avi­ram, for­mer am­bas­sador to Is­rael and lead con­sul­tant at bit Con­sul­tancy, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that spe­cialises in cross-bound­ary wa­ter in­ter­ac­tions. “As long as wa­ter is seen from the per­spec­tive of ‘right­ful own­er­ship’, there can­not be a sus­tained so­lu­tion. The an­swer rather lies in viewing it as a shared re­source,” he ex­plains. This is how the wa­ter dis­pute be­tween Is­rael and Jor­dan was re­solved in 1994, with each na­tion of­fer­ing some­thing to the other based on the needs and the ben­e­fits de­rived from the re­lease of wa­ter. Sim­i­lar agree­ments have re­solved the con­flict sur­round­ing the Danube that flows across ten na­tions in Europe.

Whether bet­ter sense will pre­vail among the pow­ers that be is yet to be seen but one thing seems cer­tain—the wa­ter wars of the in­creas­ingly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing Cau­very basin are set to es­ca­late if emo­tions and ego clashes over the own­er­ship of the river con­tinue to dom­i­nate the dis­cus­sions.

On Septem­ber 24, Tamil Nadu re­leased wa­ter in the Cau­very delta from the Grand Ani­cut dam in Than­javur to save the win­ter paddy crop from fail­ing

In the past decade, though the area ir­ri­gated by the river has re­mained the same, the ef­fects of the change in crop­ping pat­terns are clear

The river is a sep­a­rate agroe­co­log­i­cal unit that sup­ports an ecol­ogy and has an ap­pro­pri­ate mech­a­nism of agri­cul­ture that it can sus­tain. We need to move away from viewing the river as some­thing over which we have a right As long as wa­ter is seen from the per­spec­tive of right­ful own­er­ship, there can­not be a sus­tained so­lu­tion. The an­swer rather lies in viewing it as a shared re­source

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