On February 16, 2018, the Supreme Court announced its judgment on how the waters flowing through the Cauvery River should be shared between the states of Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Kerala and Puducheri. The judgment came in response to an appeal filed by Karnataka against the order of the Cauvery Waters Tribunal in 2007, which had allocated, in a year of normal rainfall, 270 tmcft to Karnataka. The Supreme Court Order increased the share of Karnataka by 14.75 tmcft to 284.75 tmcft. It reduced Tamilnadu’s share by the same amount to 404.25 tmcft. The share of Kerala and Puducheri have been kept unchanged. The judgment is to be valid for 15 years.
As part of its judgment, the Supreme Court has directed the Central government to set up the Cauvery Management Board and the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (to be constituted by the Board) within six weeks. The Board is supposed to ensure the implementation of water sharing according to the Court order. The Board is also expected to work out the allocation of waters amongst the four states during years of deficient rainfall.
The 765-km long Cauvery River is the lifeline for Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The river originates in Kodagu district in southern Karnataka and flows through Tamil Nadu to the Bay of Bengal.
The Cauvery river dispute is one of the most long-standing and bitterly contested interstate river water disputes in India. The Cauvery is a rain fed river whose waters are almost fully utilized. The waters of the river are extensively used by farmers in Karnataka and Tamilnadu for water intensive agriculture. Cauvery is also the source of drinking water to many cities in the two states. Whenever there is shortfall in the rains in the Cauvery basin, there is a crisis. Farmers of both states who depend on the Cauvery waters suffer. Cities in the two states which depend for their water supply on the Cauvery waters face acute drinking water shortage. There is widespread insecurity amongst the people of the two states, particularly the farmers, as to whether they will get adequate water for irrigating their fields or not. This insecurity is exploited by the parties of the bourgeoisie in both states to whip up passions. This is particularly the case when elections are around the corner in these two states.
There are competing claims on the waters of the river Cauvery. There are the claims of the farmers whose lands lie along Cauvery River in the two states for irrigation water. There are the claims of the working people living in cities and rural districts in the two states for drinking water. There are also the claims of industry. Furthermore, there are the national rights of the people of Tamilnadu and Karnataka over the rivers flowing through them.
A just solution to the river water dispute will require harmonisation of the interests of the various users of the water and the general interests of society. Such a solution must organise for the most suitable water usage and water management as well as caring for and nurturing all existing ground water resources. It must necessarily uphold the national rights of the people of Tamilnadu and Karnataka and other states in the Cauvery basin over their rivers and other natural resources.
The workers, peasants and working people of Tamilnadu and Karnataka, cannot expect the ruling bourgeoisie to ensure such a just solution. The bourgeoisie looks at the rivers of our country and our water bodies as a resource to be mercilessly exploited, for maximum profits. Because of this, the rivers and water bodies of our country are getting destroyed. For the working class and toiling peasantry, our rivers and water bodies are precious, the source of life, to be preserved and not exploited and destroyed. The interests of the big bourgeoisie are irreconcilable with the interests of the working class and toiling peasantry of our country.
Political parties of the bourgeoisie in both Karnataka and Tamilnadu posture as the greatest “patriots” of their respective states, while they have criminally abetted the biggest corporate interests in IT, real estate and other sectors, to destroy water bodies that were earlier the source of drinking water and irrigation for the people. They care nothing for the workers and toiling peasantry of their states.
The Supreme Court judgment reflects the interests and outlook of the big bourgeoisie of India headed by the biggest monopolies. It pits the urban areas against the rural, by asserting that the claims for drinking water must take precedence over claims for irrigation. It has nothing to say on the systematic destruction of the lakes and other water bodies which were the traditional source of drinking water, by the big capitalists in their greed for maximum profits.
The Supreme Court judgment declares that rivers do not belong to a particular state, but to the “nation”. By “nation”, the Supreme Court means the Central state. In other words, the Cauvery does not belong to the people of Karnataka and Tamilnadu and other states in the Cauvery basin but to the big bourgeoisie headed by the capitalist monopolies which control and dominate the Central state. This is a complete denial of the national rights of the different nations and peoples constituting the Indian Union.
The Supreme Court is an arm of the Indian state, which legitimizes the claims of the big bourgeoisie headed by the capitalist monopolies and denies the working class and peasantry their rights. The big bourgeoisie denies the fact that historically formed nations and peoples have existed in India over centuries with their inalienable rights over their natural resource. It considers all the natural resources of the country as its private property.
Various political forces are hailing the directive of the Court to the Central government to set up a Cauvery Management Board. The harsh reality is that such Boards and Tribunals set up by the Central Government are instruments of the Indian State and the ruling class to keep the people of the two states divided and permanently at loggerheads with one another. They are used by the party in power at the centre to further its own political interests. They are used to favour, sometimes one and sometimes the other, in the interests of the ruling class.
The Supreme Court judgment on the Cauvery waters dispute is going to fuel further conflicts not only between Karnataka and Tamilnadu, but also between other states of the Indian Union.
All those working for the interests of the workers and peasants must come together to defeat the divisive and sectarian agenda of the ruling class, its state and its parties. As long as the economy is oriented to fulfill capitalist greed and political power is in the hands of the big bourgeoisie, our rivers and water bodies will continue to be destroyed and disputes such as the Cauvery waters dispute will keep getting inflamed to set people against each other.
The solution lies in the Navnirman of India. The toiling majority headed by the working class must organize to take political power in its hands, and reorient the economy to fulfill human need instead of private capitalist greed. With political power in its hands, the working class in alliance with the toiling peasantry can and will harmonise the interests of different users of water.
Karnataka raises the issue of historic injustice done to it in the agreements made on Cauvery water sharing in the colonial period. Tamilnadu raises issue of injustice done by successive central governments on the same issue over the past several decades. Similar disputes have been deliberately fanned by the ruling class and Central state over river water sharing between other states as well. No such dispute has till now been solved to the satisfaction of the people of the concerned states. The Central state has used its powers to prevent just and lasting solution to these disputes. This points to the need to reconstitute the Indian Union as a voluntary union of consenting nations and peoples, where the national rights of each constituent are respected, including their right over their natural resources, and the Union works for the benefit of all constituents. Only in such a voluntary union, can issues such as river water sharing be amicably resolved keeping the interests of people as the central focus.
The Cauvery water dispute shows the necessity for the working class to take power in its own hands, reorient the economy to provide for all, and reconstitute the Indian Union as a voluntary union of consenting nations and peoples.