MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: When politicians as a tribe have failed the state, a quasi-judicial body like the River Water Disputes Tribunal has come as a saviour in safeguarding the interests of Karnataka in the Krishna waters’ dispute.
This in a nutshell sums up the net impact of the verdict given by the second Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal (KWDT) headed by Justice Brajesh Kumar last week.
Uniformly inept policies pursued by successive governments of all political hues, including the present one, had cumulatively pushed Karnataka to the brink on the utilisation of waters of the Krishna river.
Everything appeared to be lost.
The State had failed to utilise its one-third share of water allocated by the first KWDT, even 10 years after the expiry of the deadline.
If the new tribunal had taken the (under) utilisation as the basis for the fresh allocation, Karnataka faced the prospects of losing around 250 tmcft and whatever extra that might have accrued in the later allocation of surplus water.
As a result, Karnataka would not have got a drop of water extra, which would have been the end of the road for the State as for as the irrigation development is concerned.
On top of this underutilistion, there was an overactive Andhra Pradesh, which had laid its claims for the unutilised water and, in anticipation of the same, had gone ahead with its plans to create permanent infrastructure created with huge investments.
In contrast, Karnataka’s plans to raise the raise the height of the biggest dam across the Krishna in Karnataka at Alamatti had been stymied by the Supreme Court.
It was a self-inflicted problem that Karnataka had invited, thanks to two men in power, H.D. Deve Gowda and J.H. Patel.
In their eagerness to humour the Telugu Desam chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, they had landed Karnataka in the soup. Naidu raised a hue and cry over Karnataka’s move to raise the height of the Alamatti dam to 534 meters.
Gowda, then the Prime Minister of the United Front government, of which Telugu Desam was an important component, referred the matter to the steering committee of the UF, instead of allowing the State government of Patel to handle the same. The steering committee constituted a four-member panel, which in turn constituted an expert committee.
The expert committee was given a red carpet treatment when it visited Karnataka. The plea made by H.K. Patil for boycotting the committee since its interest would be detrimental to the interests of Karnataka fell on deaf ears. The expert committee recommended that the height of the dam should be pegged at 519 meters.
With the fall of the Deve Gowda government, no followup action was taken. But it came in handy when Supreme Court was hearing the case. The apex court adopted the expert panel’s recommendation to bar Karnataka from raising the height of the dam beyond 519 meters.
If this ban on the height were to be continued by the second KWDT, it would have been the end of the road of irrigation development in northern Karnataka since the ban would come in the way of storing the surplus water of Krishna as and when allocated.
Karnataka would have had no place to store water.
But the IInd KWDT has mercifully cleared Karnataka’s case for raising the height of the dam to 524 tmcft, providing Karnataka with the scope for storing surplus water.
The Krishna basin, spanning over more than thirteen districts and bulk of the drought prone areas in northern Karnataka, is the biggest basin in Karnataka, much more than Cauvery.
The basin area has the potential to turn Karnataka into a food granary with the proper exploitation of the irrigation potential of Krishna. But this has not happened due to the totally inept and slipshod handling of the issue by the successive state governments in Karnataka.
Nobody has been an exception to this, be it the Congress governments, the Janata Dal/Janata Dal U or the BJP/JDS coalitions, or the present BJP governments.
Barring a few individual leaders like the late S. Nijalingappa, Deve Gowda, the late H.M. Channabasappa, late H.N. Nanje Gowda and H.K. Patil, none who handled the portfolio had any semblance of understanding of the issue and its potential to change the fortunes of the State.
As a consequence of the follies of its rulers, Karnataka had missed the bus completely and was condemned to suffer and pay a heavy price. It is in this context that verdict of the IInd KWDT has brought cheer on the face of the farmers in Karnataka.
The tribunal has not only protected the allocation Karnataka had got despite its failure to utilise fully, it has not countenanced Andhra Pradesh’s claims for use of the unutilized waters and allocated more water to Karnataka from the surplus arising after the previous allocation.
This has resulted in Karnataka getting an overall allocation of 911 tmcft. The aspirations of the Karnataka farmers get a new lease of life.
Of all the people, it is the tribe of politicians of all hues who are extremely happy over the final allocation of share of Krishna waters. Because it has literally saved them from the consequences of an adverse verdict.
The people indeed are happy. But the happiness over the increased allocation and the removal of the ban on the height of the dam are nothing more than notional.
To use a Kannada adage, it is akin to the treasure visible in the mirror. You can see it, but you can’t touch it.
For the key factor is the expeditious utilisation of the allocated water. It is here that Karnataka has been faltering. It has poor track record of execution of irrigation projects.
The politicians of Karnataka have shown that they lack vision and commitment and are not averse to politicising development issues at the drop of the hat.
After nearly four decades of the award being made by the Tribunal, the Karnataka has been able to impound around 500 tmcft. But not all the water available in the dam has been able to reach the farmers fields even to this day.
In this context, the task of utilising a total of 400 tmcft as a consequence of the judgment of the IInd Tribunal is a tall order by any standard. Very few doubt whether it will be able to utilise the water within the 40-year deadline fixed by the Second Tribunal.
There could yet be a slip between the cup and the lip.