The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Farmers skirt politicians

Chennai, June 22: Farmers from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have bypassed officials and politicians and met to break the deadlock on sharing Cauvery water.

Farmers from the two states and Pondicherry, located at the river’s delta, have held two meetings in the last two months, at Chennai and Bangalore.

The meetings have taken place because of a non-partisan initiative by the Madras Institute of Development Studies here which picked up the cue from late economist S. Guhan and played the role of a facilitator.

The key question facing the farmers was: “Do we really have a measure of fair sharing of available Cauvery water, the crux of the problem being that the river has much less to contribute in comparison with other major rivers in the country'”

S. Ranganathan, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association, says the dispute centres around the lack of surplus water. “It is no longer an issue of sharing surplus water, but of sharing the available water,” he said despairingly.

The meetings, held to create mutual trust and understanding, allowed farmers to have a frank exchange of views. A few experts, like Ramaswami R. Iyer, a former employee of the Union water resources ministry, were also present.

Those present sought to stem the demoralisation caused by misinformation spread during last year’s agricultural season, which they termed “one of the worst drought years in living memory”.

The farmers first tackled the facts: over 1,000 thousand million cubic feet of water is needed for basic irrigation in Tamil Nadu’s Cauvery basin districts alone. But only 671 thousand million cubic feet is available from the river on a 75 per cent dependability basis, as per the findings of the Cauvery fact-finding committee.

Farmers on both sides thus soon realised that “left with such an amount of water, it is important the basin states should approach the problem… in a spirit of give and take to enable the available water to be equitably shared”. Having articulated the problem, farmers then addressed their own “duty” towards food production and security.

Ranganathan said the last 10 years had created enough discord to make it “absolutely necessary to arrive at a formula by which the available water is shared among us in an empirical manner.”

The farmers also felt the distress sharing formula (in years of deficits) should be fair and reasonable, taking into account the seasonal variations in rainfall. The Cauvery Monitoring Committee was intended to just do that, but is yet to formalise the formula.

The farmers’ dialogue represents an attempt to find a formula for sharing water in distress years.

The farmers wanted tribunal proceedings to continue and felt “droughts could be faced and managed”. They said that last year “false information and publicity was constantly floated that disturbed the farmers’ orientation” to the extent that it became impossible for the states to “get down to any working arrangement at any level”.

It is this sort of impasse farmers in both states wish to avoid this year with the southwest monsoon in its early stages and the first short-duration kuruvai rice crop planted in Tamil Nadu having virtually been written off.

The meeting kept in mind that Karnataka also requires water during the June-August period for planning its kharif crop.

Farmers felt that during these “crucial periods of crop growth” the monitoring committee would earn goodwill if it frankly and transparently assessed the water requirements of standing crops and gauged storage levels in reservoirs.

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