The paddy compulsion

War continues between Karnataka, Tamil Nadu farmers over Cauvery water for cultivation

By Jyotika Sood
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

The paddy compulsion

The 802 km Cauvery river has 32,000 sq km basin area in Karnataka and 44,000 sq km basin area in Tamil Nadu

On October 3, more than 5,000 farmers tried to lay a siege on the Krishna Raja Sagar dam in drought-hit Mandya district of Karnataka. The dam is the site from where 9,000 cusecs (255 cubic metre per second or cumecs) of Cauvery water is being released every day to Tamil Nadu under Supreme Court orders. The farmers are angry because Karnataka is diverting water to the neighbouring state for its crops, while its own land remains parched. The diversion began on September 29, when about 75 per cent of paddy sowing was completed in Mandya. Between September 29 and October 8, the water level in the reservoir in Mandya fell from 33 metres to 32 metres.

Mandya is one of the five districts in Karnataka hit by drought. The plight of the farmers in the other four districts, including Mysore, Hassan, Chamrajnagar and Ramanagara, is no different. Failed monsoons have affected 25 of the 30 districts in the state.

The genesis of the Cauvery conflict lies in two agreements—one signed in 1892 and another in 1924—between the erstwhile Madras Presidency and the princely state of Mysore. The Madras Presidency was given more water for being a part of the British empire. After Independence, Karnataka contended that it was not getting its due share of water from the river.

In 2007, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal ordered Karnataka to ensure release of 192 thousand million cubic feet or TMC (1 TMC=28.3 billion litres) water annually at the interstate border in a normal year. In the event of distress caused by scanty rainfall in consecutive years, the tribunal said that Cauvery River Authority (CRA), headed by the prime minister, would work out a formula to share the burden of distress among the states. The matter is in the Supreme Court.

Fearing that the drought might affect the standing paddy crop in Tamil Nadu, the state approached the court in August seeking more water supply from Karnataka. On September 28, besides ordering release of 9,000 cusecs everyday till October 15, the court asked the Cauvery monitoring committee , a recommendatory body of CRA, to conduct field inspections in the two states to decide the amount of water Karnataka should release to Tamil Nadu after October 15.

What hurts most

Paddy is the principal crop of the Cauvery delta region in both the states. The water-intensive crop is grown in two seasons—kharif and rabi in Karnataka, while farmers in Tamil Nadu reap three harvests—kuruvai (June-September), thaladi (October to December) and samba (August- January). Of these, Kuruvai is the most promising rice growing season with abundant sunshine and clear sky, resulting in higher yield. “This first rice crop has been impossible to grow this year because of the late release of Cauvery water,” says an agricultural expert from Annamalai University in Coimbatore, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Kannada outfits called a bandh on October 5 in Bengaluru to protest sharing of Cauvery water. They burnt effigies of the Tamil Nadu chief minister

The agro-climatic condition of the delta region in Tamil Nadu supports rice-based cropping system followed by a relay crop of black gram or green gram in the post-monsoon season (January-March). Traditionally, two cycles of rice contribute to the major share of production in wetlands of Tamil Nadu. But late release of Cauvery water has restricted the farmers to a single season of rice cultivation. “This single crop coincides with the northeast monsoon that extends from October to December, wherein the heavy rainfall results in flash floods that damage crops,” the expert says. He adds that the soil in the delta region is largely clayey, permitting lesser downward movement of water. “The distribution of rainfall is such that heavy downpour during rice growing seasons leaves no scope for water to drain into the sea because of tidal incursions, resulting in water stagnation in fields.”

Despite economic returns being marginal, the farmers are compelled to grow rice because of the soil and climatic conditions, he adds. But there is not enough water to grow paddy, says the expert. The southwest monsoon offers 250-300 mm of rain which is highly inadequate for the Kuruvai rice crop (it requires about 1,200 mm of water). These conditions render alternative crops in the Cauvery delta untenable.

However, an agricultural officer from Karnataka says paddy is a profitable crop for farmers of the southern region. Karnataka has 1.5 million hectares (ha) under paddy. “At this point when 75 per cent is under cultivation we have to think about our own farmers. We can’t just take away water from them for someone’s profit,” he says, on condition of anonymity. Rice crops on 7,153 ha have been lost in Mandya, leading to losses of Rs 268 crore. Farmers in the delta region of Tamil Nadu earn around Rs 10,000 per hectare from paddy, while they earn Rs 20,000 per hectare from pulses. The Karnataka government is trying to make farmers shift from paddy to sorghum, pulses, millets and other crops that require less water, the officer says. The Karnataka agricultural department is distributing pamphlets requesting farmers to stay away from paddy. “The state of Tamil Nadu should also make similar efforts,” says the officer. At present, the area under other crops is increasing in Karnataka and it may solve problems for farmers in the state, says Hemant Kumar of Bharathiya Kisan Utkarsha Samithi in Dharwad.

Challenges ahead

The expert from the Annamalai University says that apart from climatic and soil conditions there is another challenge farmers will have to face in case of water shortage. Rice transplantation, where the seed is sown in one place and the seedlings are transplanted to another after they have grown, requires water. If farmers do not transplant rice and instead opt for direct seeding, it would lead to invasion of weedy rice, a wild relative of rice that does not bear grains. This weed has caused problems in South-East Asian rice-growing countries like Thailand and Vietnam. At present, there is no such threat in India, except for a few instances in Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu. Farmers cannot get rid of this weed with weedicides because both weedy rice and cultivated rice belong to same species and weedicides will have same effect on both. What’s more, one cannot differentiate between the weed and the rice plant in its early growing stage, making it impossible to weed them manually.

Kumar says there is an urgent need for CRA and the tribunal to consult agricultural experts and farmers and recommend crop pattern, cropping area and crop alternatives. Besides irrigation, drinking water is also a concern. The drinking water requirement from Cauvery in both the states is 19 TMC, he says. “The most important thing which farmers from both the states need to learn is judicious use of water and this can be done only by educating them,” adds Kumar.”

With inputs from Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, Bengaluru

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  • How naive can you be, feeding

    How naive can you be, feeding in to this political frenzy of little minds! So if Karnataka and Tamilnadu were formed on some other basis - or were one contiguous state - then there would have been no problem? Or would you have argued on the merits of the farmers from the eastern half of the state versus the farmers from the western part of the state? They are ALL farmers and they ALL need the AVAILABLE water to be commonly used - and shared - as has been done over centuries (I suppose). So please don't excarcebate the situation with all your high-funda analysis, and feed it as gist to the mill of uninformed antagonists.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • This is wanton naivete on the

    This is wanton naivete on the part of CSE to attribute the woes of water sharing only to the paddy requirements on either side of the border. To anyone even remotely aware of the local situation, it is clear that a major share of Cauvery water use in Karnataka goes towards the sugar cane crop, which in turn fuels molasses production that fuels liquor production, and hence keeps the political engine of the state ticking. Political leaders mislead local youth into agitating for water rights so that their coffers are protected. Mandya's drought will directly affect the amount of liquidity available to politicians in the coming elections. The drinking water requirements of Bangalore and Mysore are also protected by IT barons and others so that their staff will stay on to work for them. On the other side of the border, has anyone done an assessment of how much Cauvery water goes to industrial use? One would expect a better researched and balanced article from DTE.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Jyotika, Read your story

    Dear Jyotika,

    Read your story on the Cauvery issue first with interest and then growing disappointment.

    I say this as someone with roots in both states, what on earth were you thinking of? The story is no story. Why are you repeating the bullshit that politicians have been trotting out regularly to work their vote bank?

    Though you give a neat pr├®cis of the origin of the dispute and unfair claims of Tamil Nadu (yes they are unfair but Karnataka too has made idiotic claims over water rights which you do not bring up at all), there is no analysis of whether the tribunal's judgement is fair. You go straight into rhetoric from Karnataka about how they are doing their best to reduce water use. Did you get any data to support this or independent corroboration of some kind to at least hint at this?

    If 2 parties agree to approach a tribunal for dispute settlement, then they have to abide by whatever the tribunal says. just because one party doesn't like (and there will always be one party who doesn't like it) the tribunal's judgement, you can't refuse to abide by the verdict. If a party believes the verdict to be unfair, there should be some sound reasoning behind this belief. Reason and logic have never been a part of the dispute, and now DTE too seems to have abandoned these ideals.

    Have you looked at Mandya district's agriculture profile? Mandya btw is where these protests crop (pun intended) up regularly. Half the agricultural area in the district is under sugarcane and paddy. Mandya is famous for its arrack - a roaring business. Take a bus through Mandya and you will never forget the smell of arrack. See the connection between the crops, industry, water use and politics? A simple google search would have given you some data on crop patterns and acreage in both states. so it's really hilarious to see DTE mindlessly repeat the claims made about responsible water use.

    Another oddity in the article- if Tamil farmers make Rs 10K from paddy and Rs 20K from pulses, why are they growing so much paddy? Hardly think farmers are so stupid they don't see the difference in profits. Did you even ask anyone that? How about your agricultural scientist from Annamalai university?

    And if you are going to write about the Cauvery (a British spelling btw) dispute, I suggest you flip through S.Guhan's writings on the subject. You will be hard-pressed to find a more nuanced and sane analysis.

    And finally a small proofing error- it is Annamalai University not Annamalli as spelt in the 2nd page, towards the bottom of the 2nd column.

    Hope to see more incisive articles from you in the future.


    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • I didn't get the point on

    I didn't get the point on weedy rice and how come it comes only when it is directly sown. What prevents it not occurring in the transplanting method.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply