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The emerald route

PUSHPA SURENDRA

Tamil Nadu is not blessed with as many rivers as Karnataka. But why the latter has such a serious water problem is a question that farmers and political leaders do not care to address.



Cauvery water being released from the Kabini Dam at Heggadadevankote.

OUR farm workers were happy when I announced that I was going to Bangalore for three days. I made sure to tell them the amount of work I hoped to see completed when I got back. I repeated myself several times to impress upon them the need to take chikkus to market as soon as I returned and how much I worried about theft of fruits. Old Shivanna's sunken eyes stared at me and his look seemed to say "I will need more eyes than Shiva to keep watch on your farm and more hands than of Kali to do all the work you ask me to." The women seemed overjoyed that I was going away saying I really needed the break. They had been working hard at manuring our fruit trees after the recent rains. I was particular the manuring is done while the soil was still moist. I now realised that more than me the workers needed a break. The fruits on my farm were ready for harvesting but I left them on the trees because it was doubtful whether they would reach the market and if the market would be open given the bandhs and processions in the city.

Unlike growers of easily perishable crops like vegetables, I was fortunate with a crop like the chikku that had a longer keeping quality. There was also no danger of the fruits falling off trees as the rains had delayed their ripening by bringing down the fruit temperature. My only worry was that bats from nearby Ranganathittu bird sanctuary would discover the fruit on my farm. The bats had still not become a menace on my farm as they had enough fruit on farms closer to their habitat. I shall be a conservationist at heart until they start raiding my farm. The Mysore city "square", actually a circle, had been literally taken over by organisations taking out processions in support of the agitating farmers of Mandya- Maddur belt objecting to the release of Cauvery waters to Tamil Nadu. There had been a series of processions for almost a month by various organisations expressing solidarity with farmers.

Organisations of lorry and tempo owners parading their vehicles, by Corporation workers carrying their brooms, by the washermen community marching their donkeys and owners of pedigree dogs with protest placards hung around the necks of their pets. The local wing of the Kannada Sahithya Parishath took out a procession which included noted writers. A well-known writer was reported to have given a call to people of the state not to confine the agitation just to the Mysore-Mandya region. In the past one month every organisation had shown solidarity with the agitating farmers except farmers from other nearby districts. Villages in and around Mysore had received their first good rains of the season and were busy with agricultural work. The farmers growing rain-fed crops were putting in their last bit of effort to make the parched earth relent and yield something for their cattle if not for themselves. They had no reason to make common cause with farmers dependent on water supply from Cauvery irrigation canals. None of the leaders of the agitation or their political benefactors had expressed any concern for farmers displaced by the irrigation schemes. The displaced farmers of the Kabini reservoir are yet to receive compensation for loss of their lands. Even if other farmers had wanted to express solidarity, the stage was dominated by non- farmers, especially politicians of every hue along with genuine farmer leaders and marginalised leaders aspiring to assume leadership. The continued support to the agitation by many urban based organisations made one wonder if their support was spontaneous and genuine or whether they were motivated by fear of repercussions by political parties if they did not come out openly in support of the agitation. It was hard to tell if their support was motivated by self-interest in ensuring water supply to the cities.

Most have only contempt for farmers and farming. Farmers have unpleasant experiences to recount of the arrogance of well-heeled consumers and prefer to sell their produce to the honest middle-man than directly to the urban professional. Whatever the reasons behind expressions of solidarity with farmers, it definitely was an expression of the widespread resentment at the shocking behaviour of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms. Jayalalithaa. Most were shocked by the aggressive nature of her statements and her narrow-minded chauvinist views on the rights of a lower riparian state. People are not unaware of the extreme difficulties faced by Tamil Nadu, a state not fortunate enough to be blessed with as many rivers as Karnataka. Why does a state like Karnataka have this serious a problem for water is a question farmer and political leaders do not care to address? It is also time the urban supporters of agitation begin to ask themselves why they are reluctant to implement rainwater harvesting measures.

In Mysore there are still forums that question the need for rain water harvesting measures on the grounds that it may become a pretext for the government to abdicate its responsibility of supplying water to residential areas. It is also time to explain the reasons for the "roguish" conduct of Karnataka, which has spent billions of rupees in building reservoirs and irrigation canals. In Tamil Nadu all investments on irrigation have so far been made only by farmers in sinking bore-wells on their lands.

Due to the padayatra of the Karnataka chief minister, the morning commuters on the busy Mysore-Bangalore road took seven hours to reach Bangalore instead of the usual three. Trains had ceased to run because the agitators had caused damage to the tracks. I cut short my holiday in Bangalore and hurried back after a day, because of rumours of another bandh called by politicians opposing the padayatra. The bus fare cost double that of the normal train fare. The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation was making good its losses of the past several weeks. The bus reached Mysore via Nelamangala and Kunigal , the dry catchment areas of the Cauvery that had not received any rains.

It was obvious that those who reported the agitation for the world outside and the Cauvery Monitoring Committee travelled the "emerald route" from Bangalore to Mysore where fields are always green because of irrigation. The impact of drought in Karnataka naturally must have seemed inconsequential in comparison to that of Tamil Nadu.

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