Modi Govt Could’ve Played Role of Mediator in Cauvery Dispute

Not judicial intervention but a political solution will bring Cauvery row to a closure, writes Sandeep Shastri.

4 min read

Firemen dousing a torched truck in Bengaluru on Tuesday, a day after violent protests by pro-Kannada activists over Cauvery water row, 13 September, 2016. (Photo:PTI/ Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

The sharing of the Cauvery waters between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has been a matter of acrimonious debate for several decades. A poor monsoon year invariably witnesses charges and counter-charges by the two states on the quantum of water that should be allowed to flow from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu. This year, the dispute has assumed alarming proportions. While one does concede that the dispute has evoked strong emotional sentiments, the senseless violence that has been unleashed is condemnable.

Also read: Cauvery Issue: Local Media Fanned The Flames, Encouraged Violence

Centre’s Failure

The sharing of waters of rivers flowing across two or more states has led to serious disputes in federal systems across the world. The Indian Constitution clearly places the onus on the central government to manage and resolve inter-state river disputes. Over the years, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have had strong individual positions on the sharing of the Cauvery waters.

One had hoped that in the early years of the dispute, the central government used its good offices to negotiate a settlement. If water experts were allowed to resolve the challenge, it may not have been as contentious as it is today.

Over the years, not only has much water flowed in the Cauvery, but several steps have been taken by both states for the use of the river waters, creating a situation in which allegations and counter-allegations on ‘unfair claims’ by the other state have been made. At this stage, it is not so much about merely water sharing. The issue has been transformed into an emotional and political tussle between the two neighbouring states.

Also read: Strong Solutions, Proactive Methods Alone Can Solve Cauvery Crisis

Tamil Nadu-bound buses in flames after they were torched by pro-Kannada activists during a protest over Cauvery water sharing row, in Bengaluru, 12 September, 2016. (Photo: PTI)
Tamil Nadu-bound buses in flames after they were torched by pro-Kannada activists during a protest over Cauvery water sharing row, in Bengaluru, 12 September, 2016. (Photo: PTI)

A Legal Solution is Not a Great Idea

Rather than resolving the dispute through serious, protracted and meaningful negotiations, the matter was finally left to judicial adjudication. When disputes take on such a strong emotive flavour, a strictly legal solution is often not the best way forward. Given the nature of justice dispensation, a court-directed solution invariably upholds one position as right and another as erroneous. This results in a ‘winner-take-all’ solution.

A water dispute between states requires a ‘win-win’ solution which can often be achieved through detailed and sustained negotiations between the parties to a dispute, preferably in the early stages of the confrontation. By allowing the dispute to linger for so long and with little sincere effort to work towards a negotiated solution, the controversy gets tossed to the lap of the judiciary.

Also read: Don’t Ruin Bengaluru-Chennai Bond, Twitter to Cauvery Protesters

Police personnel disperse pro-Kannada activists during their violent protest over Cauvery water row, in Bengaluru, 12 September, 2016. (Photo: PTI)
Police personnel disperse pro-Kannada activists during their violent protest over Cauvery water row, in Bengaluru, 12 September, 2016. (Photo: PTI)

The Central Govt Ought To Have Played an Active Role

When the dispute has reached a stage for the judiciary to be the final arbitrator, one is left with no choice but to adhere to the directions of the court. One can disagree with a court’s direction but in a democratic polity that seeks to uphold the rule of law, it would be a bad precedent if one were to challenge a judicial pronouncement.

It is often left to the wisdom and sagacity of those in power to quietly continue to use other channels of dialogue to amicably resolve issues. The central government here could have played a lead role as, given the stage the dispute has reached, it would be difficult to expect the parties involved in the dispute to take the initiative.

Also read: Is the Cauvery River Dispute Meandering Off Course?

Hooliganism Not Justified

The developments of the last few days (especially the violence on 12 September) needs to be condemned. In a democratic polity, no individual or group of individuals can be allowed to run amok and take the law into their hands. For quite a few years, ‘vigilante’ groups have felt emboldened to challenge the state’s authority and act with brazen disregard for norms of civilised legal governance.

What has further encouraged these groups is the belief that the government in power will do precious little to bring the perpetrators of such hooliganism to justice. While immediate detentions and arrests may happen, once the dust settles, those accused of instigating and being involved in mob violence often get away lightly.

State Governments’ Role

Given the strong emotions connected to the Cauvery issue, the state governments involved should have anticipated the possibility of unrest that could easily be manipulated and result in serious law and order challenges. There is little evidence of any dialogue at the highest level between the leadership in the two states to proactively anticipate and check any such development.

Given the intelligence inputs at the command of authorities, the possibility of certain elements taking advantage of the situation could have been foreseen and preventive action taken. This is not the first time the state has faced such situations. Lessons from the past could have guided the authorities to act in a proactive manner and prevent mayhem and violence by fringe groups.

Also read: The Cauvery Dispute: An Excuse for Thugs to Come Out and Play

No ‘Quick Fix’ Solution

It is important now that the central government takes the lead in ensuring that the channels of communication are kept open with and between the leadership Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. There is no ‘quick fix’ solution to the problem. Above all, it is critical that those in power ensure that in the future, no group of people is allowed to take the law into their hands and the presence of the state machinery ensures that the lives and property of the people are safe and secure.

(The writer is Pro Vice-Chancellor of Jain University and a keen student of politics and society and a resident of Bengaluru for four decades. He can be reached at @SandeepShastri2. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

Also read:
Cauvery Row: Siddaramaiah Govt Failed to Stem Bengaluru Violence
Bengaluru Gets 1450 Mn Litres of Water a Day; 24% Goes Missing

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