Mannargudi S. Ranganathan of the Cauvery Delta Farmers Association says that the Cauvery protests are instigated by vested interests. In an interview to E.T.B. Sivapriyan, Mr Ranganathan, one of the first to move the Supreme Court on the Cauvery issue, says there will come a time soon when farmers of the delta region will cultivate other crops like millets rather than depend upon water-consuming paddy.
You have been fighting for the rights of farmers in the Cauvery delta region for the past few decades. How do you see the present agitation against the backdrop of release of water to Tamil Nadu from Karnataka?
Cauvery is the only deficit river in the whole country and by deficit I mean it cannot satisfy the full requirement of at least the main contenders — Tamil Nadu and Karnataka — for its waters. As early as 1976, thinking that the 1924 Agreement had lapsed in 1974, Karnataka started unilaterally developing its ayacut (the area served by an irrigation project such as a canal, dam or a tank). Their aim was to augment their infrastructure equivalent to that of Tamil Nadu, if not more. They also approached the World Bank to fund their schemes, but nothing worked for both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu since they sought aid for a disputed river. Talks continued between chief ministers of both states under the leadership of several Prime Ministers, but nothing could be achieved. Farmers’ associations from the delta region pursued cases in the Supreme Court and finally got the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal in 1990. The tribunal gave its interim verdict and the Union government published it in the gazette in December 1991. The Kannada actor, Rajkumar, had planned a protest against the portrayal of the rulers of Mysuru in a bad light in a TV show on December 10, 1991. That protest was suddenly changed into a “Cauvery protest” and on December 12, 1991 the entire Tamil population living in the city station area was attacked and they were all removed from their places. Properties were taken over. Miscreants have tried to use the Cauvery agitation. No farmer would be part of this. This is how the Cauvery issue is being used.
It is said that only a farmer can understand another farmer’s problem. Why can’t farmers of both states sit and talk?
We do. Most of the farmer leaders in Karnataka are my good friends. The legendary leader of farmers in Karnataka, Dr Nanjundasamy, was my good friend. In 1999 when farmers in Karnataka were protesting against releasing water to Tamil Nadu, I requested him to send a farmers’ team to the Cauvery delta. My request was accepted and he sent a team within the next 24 hours. The team went around the entire region, spoke to farmers, and was convinced that the farmers here needed water. The delegation, after their arrival in Karnataka, suggested that water be released to Tamil Nadu. Like I said earlier, a farmer wants other farmers to thrive. We fight for our own rights but we don’t deny each other their due.
But why is the dispute lingering? Is there no solution to it?
Cauvery is a deficit river and Karnataka has all along been an area where dry crops other than sugarcane or paddy can be cultivated. Sugarcane and paddy are the most water-consuming crops in the world and everyone should remember that most parts of today’s Kerala and Karnataka were part of the Madras state and the peninsula was one. Saint Thyagaraja sang the best of Telugu songs in Thanjavur and we still follow the traditions of the rulers who hailed even from faraway places like Maharashtra. Tamil Nadu was looking after the food requirement of the entire peninsula and the “unintentional” act of the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in splitting the states on linguistic lines split the country more than it united. Till 1956, we were all united and the railways united the whole of South India which extended up to Maharashtra.
You have been propagating a change of crop in the delta region but why much has not changed?
Mono-cropped paddy is as historical as Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Since the Cauvery delta region has plastic clay soil, you can plant some normal crop that can be just sowed and plucked out. The area is limited to paddy and water contribution from Cauvery is essential for Karnataka and Kerala. If they don’t give anything, paddy crop will not grow. If paddy crop will not grow, there will be no crop. Being on the seashore, extensive usage of ground water has slowly allowed seawater to seep into our land. Above all, free power encourages farmers to pump out water and soon we will not have drinking water. Karnataka should accept this and provide us the water we need.
What about millets? You have been propagating cultivation of millets since they are very rich in fibre and were used extensively by our forefathers. Your comments, please.
As I said earlier, in plastic clay soil, millets cannot be grown. I have tried jute but unfortunately jute is not a food crop; it can be grown only as a commercial crop. The new Cauvery delta region can grow crops like millets and the mono-crop pattern of the Cauvery delta region can be changed to some other crop. But a lot of time is needed to bring about a change of heart.
You say no farmer will be against giving water, but one can see a lot of protests that happen and people keep fighting over Cauvery. Why?
We are basically not here to fight. We treat Cauvery River as our mother and the four states that share the water as sons of this mother. We only pray for love and affection of our mother. Probably, our mother has more love and affection for her eldest son, i.e. Tamil Nadu. Whatever we produce, we sell most of that to Kerala and Karnataka. But now we are being denied water. Because of non-availability of water, the three-crop cultivation method has now come to just one crop. We have only 80 days of work for Samba cultivation. This was the prayer by the Farmers’ Association and the Supreme Court rightly realised our position and gave us water.