Why Control Over Cauvery Reservoir Is Crucial for Kumaraswamy

The overarching powers of the water management bodies encroach upon state’s autonomy over reservoirs, say leaders. 

3 min read
A failure to maintain the state’s autonomy over the reservoirs can backfire against Kumaraswamy in his stronghold.

The favourable verdict of the Supreme Court in 2017 in the Cauvery river water was one of the biggest wins for the then Siddaramaiah-led Congress government. However, a year later, the same dispute has become a headache for Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S)-Congress-led government.

The Centre’s decision to form a Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) and a Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRA) threatens to take away the state’s autonomy over its reservoirs.

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Failure to maintain the state’s autonomy over the reservoirs can backfire for Kumaraswamy in his stronghold of Old Mysuru – a farmer-dominated region. In all this, leaders across political parties are rallying behind the government to counter the Centre’s decision.

For Kumaraswamy, the Pressure Isn’t From His Political Opposition

An all-party meeting held last week unanimously supported the government’s decision to approach the Supreme Court against the water management authority. While some BJP leaders agreed raise the issue in Parliament, Congress leader and Minister for Irrigation DK Shivakumar said the legal team was working on building the case.

So, if not political pressure, then what worries Kumaraswamy? The trouble for the new chief minister lies in in the Old Mysuru region, especially Mandya district, where Cauvery is a raging issue. Failure to ensue state’s autonomy over the reservoirs or even a perception of failure will result in a backlash from the stronghold of the JD(S) and the Gowda family.

Reservoirs and Retaining Control Over Old Mysuru

For Kumaraswamy, who wants to play a big role in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, keeping control over the districts of the Old Mysuru region is crucial. Seats gained from this region had ensured JD(S) was in a strong position after the Assembly elections, resulting in Kumaraswamy becoming the chief minister.

As the Congress formed the alliance with the JD(S) keeping the general elections in mind, to remain relevant even after the Lok Sabha elections, Kumaraswamy will have to ensure JD(S) sweeps the region during the general elections.

The districts of Mandya, Ramanagaram and others in the region are hotbeds of the Cauvery issue. Prior to any verdict on the dispute, this region saw more police deployment than Bengaluru itself.

Karnataka vs Lower Riparian States, Centre

During his last meeting with Prime Minister Modi, Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy had discussed the issue of the Cauvery Water Management Board.  
During his last meeting with Prime Minister Modi, Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy had discussed the issue of the Cauvery Water Management Board.  
(Photo Courtesy: PIB)

The SC judgment in 2017 had mentioned a ‘scheme’ for sharing the water. However, against the reservations of the state, the Centre formed the CWMA and the CWRA in the first week of June.

While the CWMA will oversee distribution of Cauvery waters, the CWRA will monitor the water levels at reservoirs in the state, which Karnataka claims is equivalent to controlling the reservoirs.

Leaders in Karnataka are also worried as majority of CWMA and the CWRA members are representatives from the central government and lower riparian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. Karnataka’s voice will drown in the meetings. 

Power Given to Central Authorities Ensure Control Over State’s Reservoirs

“Even though the board doesn’t talk about taking control over our reservoirs, their mandate of allocation, distribution and monitoring water levels will ensure that they have control of Hemavathy, Harangi, Kabini and Krishnarajasagar reservoirs in our state,” said a senior bureaucrat.

The powers accorded to the CWMA and the CWRA, the state leaders fear, will stop the state government from diverting water as per the needs of the state.

Karnataka had initially refused to be part of both the authorities. However, it eventually sent its representatives to the first meeting of the CWMA where a decision was made that Karnataka will release 34 TMC of water to Tamil Nadu.

How Kumaraswamy will play his cards on the Cauvery issue over the next few weeks will play a huge role in deciding the political future of his party. But Kumaraswamy, who is close to waiving off all farm loans in the state which was once considered impossible, is confident of a victory in the Cauvery dispute as well.

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