The rain gods seem to have conspired to push Karnataka and Tamil Nadu on a collision course, once again. The scanty south-west monsoon has so depleted the Cauvery that there now seems to be hardly enough water to meet the needs of one state, leave alone those of two. As a lower riparian state, which is dependent on the magnanimity of its upper riparian neighbour, Tamil Nadu has naturally directed its grouse against Karnataka for the havoc the water scarcity has caused. Its kuruvai crop is believed to have already failed, and the samba crop is in a precarious state. The sense of frustration has been magnified by rumours of Karnataka hoarding water in its reservoirs. Perhaps the tension would have been allayed had the Central government been more receptive to Tamil Naduís pleas. As a decade back, a prompt convening of the Cauvery River Authority, followed by a decision that the parties would have adhered to, could have resolved the crisis. But Tamil Nadu has had to move the Supreme Court for a CRA meeting. Technically speaking, the matter should have ended there as the CRA carries the authority to adjudicate in such emergency situations. But the dissatisfaction of both the states with the decision and Karnatakaís refusal to comply with it have pushed the issue to the next round, which, as usual, is bound to involve the apex court in the bitter wrangling again.
It is impossible to absolve the Central government for its failure to give the matter the urgent attention it deserved. But it is not possible either to absolve the states for the part they have played in aggravating the crisis. At the heart of the matter is the undeniable fact that no unanimous resolution has been reached on the sharing of the Cauvery waters in times of distress. The pro rata principle, on which Tamil Nadu is pushing its case, does not have the support of Karnataka that insists that the annual monsoon inflow into the river should be factored in. To reach a decision, however, the neighbours have to be willing to hear each other out without being susceptible to the pull of votebank politics. But the political pressure is so immense that none of the parties can afford to be seen to cave in. So even after decades, the Cauvery waters get muddier, as do the Krishna waters or the waters at Mullaperiyar.