“Let us never fear robbers nor murderers. Those are dangers from without, petty dangers. Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices are the real murderers. The great dangers lie within ourselves. What matters it what threatens our head or our purse! Let us think only of that which threatens our soul.”- Monseigneur Bienvenu, Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
As the state erupts in the wake of the cauvery water verdict, the reaction of the Karnataka people represents the enduring problem of the legal system, i.e., the deficit between judicial reasoning and grass-root sentiment. While the state must reflect upon how this deficit can be bridged, the culture of violence and protests emerging on both sides of the border are counterproductive and is diverting attention from the issues surrounding water resource management.
The Cauvery water dispute is not of recent origin and is at least a couple of decades old. The amount of energy and thought that went into the legal battle sharply contrasted the energy and thought invested into conservation and management.
Singapore has hardly any fresh water resources, but never the less utilizes cutting edge water recycling and desalination technology to manage whatever fresh water it purchases or imports effectively. The result is that tap water can be drunk straight out of the sink with minimal consequences. Israel’s tryst with desalination technologies has allowed them to turn deserts into orchards. Yet, India with its bountiful tropical climate has water deficits? This should offend us, especially a country that prides its scientific temper and acumen.
The fact is that south Indian rivers are not glacier dependent. As a result, the monsoons are their primary source. However, the eco system in the western ghats involves certain flora that store rain water and then discharges them as droplets throughout the year, thus feeding our rivers and ensuring water security. However, large scale destruction of western ghats has destroyed this delicate eco system thus killing nature’s ability to replenish water.
The very protestors around the cauvery delta today, are also those who drink by the river and leave beer bottles carelessly around. A visit to Srirangapatna leaves one with the miserable sight of a river clogged with plastic, broken beer bottles and an abused river body. Across the border, things are no better. Reports suggest that untreated toxic chemicals from industries in Tamil Nadu lead to rapid deterioration of water quality the moment the river enters Tamil Nadu.The Pollution Control Boards have been casual and lackadaisical in their efforts to enforce the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.
Make no mistake, South India as a whole has taken upon itself the task of competing with the North to ensure Cauvery becomes the next Ganga or Yamuna. The trouble is that we are dangerously close to succeeding.
In all the years spent fighting the legal battle, we have ignored the destruction of lakes in Bangalore city. No effort has been made for rain water harvesting. Sand mining mafia continues to have a free ride in the state with minimal enforcement, suffocating our rivers in the process. The western ghats are rapidly losing their inherent strength as a balanced eco system. Yet, no effort has been made to address any of these issues. It is not the absence of legal acumen that is the problem, it is the absence of effective science and conservation efforts that ails our farmers and our populace.
Who are these Tamilians that we now want to lynch? They are not just our neighbours, they live among us. Bangalore as a demographic has strong representation from the Tamil and Andhra communities, communities who still have links across the border. Us losing water affects them also. We have friends in Chennai. When their city suffers from bloods- it hurts our conscience. Software engineers in Bangalore work in Chennai and vice versa. We have similar food, similar taste in cinema (some part of which is questionable).
When the relationship is so complex, water allocation will not be easy and it will certainly not win popularity contests on either side of the border. But there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever to resort to violence- no matter how grave the provocation. The solution is to collaborate for solutions and not fight among each other.
Successive governments have sustained the problem rather than trying to solve it. What is it that we are doing to address wastage by way of water pipe leaks? Are there any efforts to address cartelisation and artificial depravation that the water mafia has become notorious for? Have we even bothered to ask our government how much money and effort is made to develop sewage treatment and water recycling facilities? These are the questions that we need to ask. Answers to these questions will help our farmers, not burning buses and lynching our fellow Indians.
Like every family dispute, the solution to the cauvery water issue is not legal but scientific. If we can come together, collectively build infrastructure for better weather forecasting, drip irrigation, rain water harvesting and water conservation, we can relieve our states from Cauvery Water dependence. Such efforts and initiatives will help farmers from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to yield the benefits of water security. We can either choose to be mature about this or continue to fight like little children. But when our kids wonder why there is no water to fight over, all the best in explaining to them where we went wrong.
By Ashok G.V.