Wasn’t it just a storm in the teacup? Do we even remember the riots and the thousands who thronged Bangalore on the Cauvery issue? 3 days after the mass protests, the river waters reached a level of 110 feet against the capacity level of 124 feet. Either the river heard of the challenges that people were creating or Cauvery just got its regular rainfall in September. The state government will in any case now be forced to issue regular instructions for releasing water the moment it crosses 120 feet for it cannot hold anymore.
Is this a question of shallow politics, and of a few political leaders gaining mileage in constituencies where they need to be battling it out in the coming year? What are the real issues that need to be tackled?
The fact that this dam was built in 1920 to address cultivation water and irrigation water challenges is almost entirely forgotten. Today Cauvery offers up to about 300 million liters a day for Bangalore City. But still accounts for less than 10 per cent of the Cauvery’s primary purpose of irrigating farmlands in the districts of Mysore, Mandya, and neighborhood and of course releasing waters for farmlands downstream in Tamil Nadu.
The issue of water for Bangalore can be addressed differently. In the 1970s, planners in their innocence and drawing from the linear knowledge of the West, came up with these solutions that meant exploiting long-distance sources of water. It seemed the easiest thing to do.
The Cauvery issue is clearly not about water to another state. It is about skirting the real challenge of long-term pragmatic planning, which politicians are either not capable of, or do not want to address, or they seek justification in not having the capital resources needed to build the natural ecosystem of Coorg and the Wynaud region in order that the health of the Cauvery watershed is restored and healed, with a process of reforestation that will take years but will restore the vast swathe of skin of earth in the entire region, now-fragile mountain ecosystem that is the source of the river.
There will then be the question of who spent how much of such money, and bickering upon how much should Tamil Nadu bear as cost in order to enrich the forest ecosystem of Coorg. Are we willing to analyse how much of the degradation of lands in Coorg has been thanks to tourism—the tiny district of Coorg received more tourists last year than all of Kerala, it was reported last year. There were massive protests from landowners in Coorg when efforts were on some months ago to get the western ghats declared as a Heritage Zone. For that would have meant a fall in land costs and less economic opportunity for the minority rich. Coffee prices have remained stagnant, fertilizer input costs have risen, and has led to planters wanting no longer to continue to farm coffee and other plantation crops.
Some day, when the government as well as people have the vision and fortitude needed for a complete to enrich the Coorg ecosystem and its depleting watershed, is when there will be the balance restored – with positive yields, and more water to slake Bangalore’s thirst, and water Tamilnadu’s crops. Even with the best of intentions and the most earnest of efforts starting right now, this will take 8 to 10 years that such natural processes for improving water catchment is achieved.
Bangalore will also have to work on a plan that is easy to implement: demand side management that will drop the quantum of water by every one of us to as little as 50 or 30 per cent of the current demand of 1000 million liters. Will the government have the courage to introduce legislation to ensure that there is 100 percent reuse of sewage treatment plants water, of rainwater harvesting, of reinstalling a new generation of water fixtures that save up to 70 per cent?
Politicians, the media, and people simply are not willing to wake up to these very simple, doable realities. We can only shrug and hope that the crises that will befall us will be serious enough to have these people galvanize themselves into action. And that will mean you and I, all households and offices and hospitals and hotels. It will mean a government that is led by value-based governance objectives, and not by some populist acts that will win some more votes.