The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Reason need not necessarily make human beings unselfish. Desperation is equally powerful in driving them to unselfishness. And it is an index of the desperation of the farmers in Tamil Nadu’s Cauvery basin that they are now sharing the little work available. As a result, wages for ten can be distributed among sixty. Evidently, even a little rice bought with shared wages will be enough for the thin gruel that will save them from total starvation. The failure of understanding between the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka about sharing the Cauvery waters has reportedly led to drought-like conditions in the river’s delta areas in Tamil Nadu. One death has been reported, that of a Dalit child, although the administration has denied that it has been caused by starvation. The administration’s protests are immaterial, there can be no denying the fact that farm labourers across the three districts of Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam are experiencing a drought. Typically, the Rs 165-crore drought relief package evolved by Ms J. Jayalalithaa’s government does not seem to have reached its beneficiaries very effectively.

The politics of water has always been troublesome. The recent sequence of events in which Karnataka and Tamil Nadu clashed over the sharing of the Cauvery waters, has proved that if the neighbouring states are recalcitrant, no number of authorities can help. Tamil Nadu’s claim that its seasonal crops were being destroyed because Karnataka had reneged on the interim water sharing arrangement did not do it any good. The Cauvery river authority and tribunal have all had their say, so has the Supreme Court. It is very clear that without an understanding between the states themselves, little is going to change. It is unfortunate that regional tensions, ethnic rivalries as well as political hostility should all end up in the drying of channels. The authorities in the two states may haggle over the river water as long as they please, it is the poorest and most backward of their people who must bear the brunt.

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