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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

Cauvery Water Dispute and Tamilnadu Independence

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, December 2004 (ID. 2004-12-01); Updated 2017-03-01
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OUTLINE

1. Question

2. Answer

3. Economic Times Article

4. Final Thoughts


1. Question

Tamil Nadu farmers from Cauvery Delta depend on Cauvery River water coming from Karnataka State (India) for their rice crops. What will independent Tamil Nadu do without Cauvery water? (Cauvery Delta = Thanjavur, nearby districts and Pondycherry)

2. Answer

Many countries have one or more rivers flowing in from a neighboring country or flowing out to a neighboring country. Countries that have a common river need not have to artificially join together to form a single country in order to share the water. If that were the case, there could be only a few dozen countries in the whole world. There are international norms and modalities on sharing river water. It is internationally recognized that downstream countries (riparian countries) have certain legitimate rights to a share of the river water. Though there are no international mechanisms to enforce the water sharing by force, international moral and economic pressures assure that river water is shared equitably between independent countries. 

If a country flouts the international norms and refuses to share the water, international community would look down on it as a "bad world citizen". This will also reflect negatively on loans from World Bank to the offending country and reputation at international organizations. That is why river waters are shared more or less equitably between countries, even countries that are not friendly with each other.

There are so many examples one can show of how countries share river waters. We will present here just two examples closer to home; water sharing agreement between India and Pakistan, and water sharing agreement between India and Bangladesh. India has river-water sharing treaties with both these countries and sends the agreed amount of water regularly. Independent Tamilnadu will also sign a water sharing treaty with India. Some of you may ask the following questions:

1. Why would India sign a treaty with independent Tamil Nadu to share Cauvery River Water?

2. India signed a treaty with Pakistan and Bangladesh because those countries had a legitimate claim for a share of water from rivers originating in India. Does Tamil Nadu have a legitimate claim?

3. Even if India signs a treaty with independent Tamil Nadu, will it abide by it if relations between the two countries sour?

4. Even if India signs a treaty with independent Tamil Nadu, will it abide by it during distress years (dry years) when there is not much rain fall in Karnataka State?

5. Presently Karnataka State Government refuses to implement fully Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal's interim orders and Indian Supreme Court decisions. Will it honor the terms of a treaty signed by the Indian Government?

Let me answer these questions one by one.

2.1. Why would India sign a treaty with independent Tamil Nadu to share Cauvery River Water?

India will sign a Cauvery River Water Sharing Treaty with independent Tamil Nadu because of the same reasons that it signed such treaties with Pakistan and Bangladesh. India's relationship with Pakistan is hostile from the very beginning of their births in 1947. They fought several wars in the past seventy years. Yet India signed a water sharing treaty with Pakistan and sends water to it per agreement. India's relationship with Bangladesh is not rosy either. Though the two countries did not fight any war, they have occasional minor clashes at the border. Yet India signed a water sharing treaty with Bangladesh and sends water to it per agreement. Why?

These two countries have a legitimate claim to a share of the water from rivers emanating from India. If India were to dishonor their legitimate claims and refuse to share the water, world community would look down on India as "a bad world citizen". India's reputation at international bodies would also suffer. India wants the world to respect it and water sharing is a small price to pay. These were the reasons for India signing water sharing treaties with Pakistan and Bangladesh although its relationship with these countries are not good, especially its relationship with Pakistan. India would sign a treaty with independent Tamilnadu to share Cauvery River water because of the same reasons.

2.2. India signed a treaty with Pakistan and Bangladesh because those countries had a legitimate claim for a share of water from rivers originating in India. Does Tamil Nadu have a legitimate claim?

Absolutely. Tamil Nadu has definitely a claim for a share of Cauvery River water as a lower riparian (downstream country). This is attested by the very fact that every Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal's order and every Indian Supreme Court decision has favored Tamil Nadu's claim.

2.3. Even if India signs a treaty with independent Tamil Nadu, will it abide by it if relations between the two countries sour?

Yes. When India and Pakistan had disagreement over the implementation of Indus Water Treaty (IWT), they went to the International Court of Arbitration at the Hague. The court ruled in favor of India and both sides accepted the verdict (NDTV website; February 18, 2013). 

2.4. Even if India signs a treaty with independent Tamil Nadu, will it abide by it during distress years (dry years) when there is not much rain fall in Karnataka State?

The Ganga Treaty between India and Bangladesh could be a model for the treaty between India and independent Tamil Nadu. The Ganga Treaty specifies a formula for how much water should flow from India to Bangladesh; it even specifies the amount of water Bangladesh should receive in distress years (dry years). India has honored that agreement even during distress years.

2.5. Presently Karnataka State Government refuses to implement fully Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal's interim orders and Indian Supreme Court decisions. Will it honor the terms of a treaty signed by the Indian Government?

Presently Karnataka State Government does refuse to implement fully Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal's orders and Indian Supreme Court decisions. Today, Karnataka's refusal is an internal matter (inter-state dispute) and so Indian Government does not bother to force Karnataka to send the water to Tamil Nadu. It would be an entirely different scenario if India signs a treaty with independent Tamil Nadu. That would be an international obligation of the Indian Government to an independent country and so Indian Government would do whatever is necessary to make sure the terms of the treaty are fulfilled.

3. Economics Times Article

Economic Times published an article in their October 2, 2016 issue on India-Pakistan Water Sharing Treaty known as "Indus Water Treaty (IWT)". Views expressed in that article are relevant to our article published in December 2004. Here are some excerpts from that article: "In 1948, India asserted for the first time its geographic advantage on controlling waters. This led to a series of water-sharing negotiations [between India and Pakistan] that ultimately culminated in the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) brokered by the World Bank... Linking water to security might suit the interests of hawks in India and Pakistan but India, an emerging power aspiring for a seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), should safeguard rather than violate bilateral treaties. Abrogation of the IWT is not in the interest of India as it is wary of the China factor... India has to safeguard its political and diplomatic interests with other co-riparian states like China, Bangladesh and Nepal."

This same reasoning goes to water to sharing between India and an independent Tamil Nadu. If India would share water with Pakistan that separated from it in 1947, why would it not do so with Tamil Nadu?

4. Final Thoughts

Presently, with both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as states in India, Karnataka withholds water or sends a little water during dry season when we most need it and sends their excess water during rainy season. How can it get any worse if Tamil Nadu becomes an independent country? As explained in the previous sections, Tamil Nadu would be in a better position to get its share of the water if it were to become an independent country.

Also, equally importantly, we should not consider Cauvery Water in isolation. Indian government takes much money out of Tamil Nadu as central government taxes and returns only a fraction back. For example, The July 14, 2016 issue of TheMinuteNews published some interesting statistics [Reference 1]: For every 100 Rupees that Indian government collects in taxes from Tamil Nadu, Indian government gives back only 40 Rupees in projects, grants, etc. On the contrary the Hindi speaking state of Uttar Pradesh gets 179 Rupees for every 100 Rupees it pays in taxes. Tamil Nadu would have billions of Rupees (tens of thousands of crore Rupees) more in its treasury if it is an independent country. Some of that money could be used to develop advanced solutions of irrigation in addition to getting our share of water from Karnataka.

Israel is a water-poor country in an arid land. It has developed methods of crop cultivation suitable for that situation. Israelís water self-sufficiency methods include drip irrigation, energy-efficient desalination, reclaiming water, catching rainwater and reducing evaporation. These approaches takes money and Indian government that is taking away thousands of crores of Rupees every year from Tamilnadu is not adequately funding such projects. If Tamil Nadu becomes independent we would have the funds to develop these projects. Our farmers would be better off.

In summary, looking at all potential scenarios, Tamil Nadu's Cauvery Delta farmers from Thanjavur and nearby districts and Pondycherry would be better off than now if Tamil Nadu becomes an independent country.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Cauvery is sometimes spelled as Kavery. Pondycherry is sometimes spelled as Pondicherry. Thanjavur (Thanjavoor) is also called Tanjore and Thanjai.


REFERENCES

1. TheNewsMinute Article on Indian Economy

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Thanjai Nalangkilli

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