CHURUMURI POLL: Who is right on Hogenakal?

True to its name, the Hogenakal row has generated more smoke than light. Both sides are convinced that they are dead right and the other side is dead wrong—and neither side can entertain any other possibility in a surcharged atmopshere.

Karnataka says that since Hongenakal lies in a “disputed area“, TN cannot go ahead with the integrated water scheme till its “inter-State implications” are examined under the inter-state water disputes Act. It says the grant of a no-objection certificate by the Union water resources ministry in September 1998 cannot be considered as a resolution of the “inter-State implications” since the project was not part of TN’s case before the Cauvery water disputes tribunal (unlike the water supply scheme for Bangalore which Karnataka undertook).

For its part, Tamil Nadu avers that Karnataka has no locus standi to oppose the Hogenakal project since it is based on the NOC issued by the Centre 10 years ago. It says the two States had agreed not to object to drinking water supply schemes as long as the State concerned utilised water from its allocated share. It says the project is on the left bank of the border “which is well within Tamil Nadu”, hence there is no border dispute. It says it is using water allocated to it and which runs through TN for the project. And it says that the border dispute was solved fifty years ago.

But the intemperate statements of Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, the call for a Karnataka bandh on April 10 issued by language activists, the blackout of Tamil TV channels, disruption of bus services on either side, and the call for a Tamil film industry fast on Friday have queered the pitch.

Questions: Is the Hogenakal controversy only about water or is it also about land?
2. Is this an issue to be settled on the streets through the show of emotions by language chauvinists, writers and cinema stars, or in calm environs by water experts, people’s representatives and lawyers?
3. How specifically is Karnataka’s interests harmed? Will farmers or consumers be deprived of water because of the project, or is Karnataka wary that allowing water use will open the floodgates?
4. Can 30 lakh people of two districts (Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri) be deprived of drinking water merely because there is an resolved border row between two States for 50 years?
5. If more Tamil Nadu districts suffer from water shortage, can TN build similar dams downstream and seek a corresponding increase in Cauvery water allocation to meet the new requirements?
6. If Tamil Nadu’s intentions are entirely honourable and above-board, why was it so difficult for their State government to divulge the details of the project before formally launching it?
7. Would the Japan Bank for International Co-operation have agreed to fund the Hogenakal project if the legality of the location or the status of the river water dispute was not so clear?
8. Is Karnataka (and are Kannadigas) gaining any friends through knee-jerk reactions which seem to convey as if the people speaking a certain language (and their property) are the target?
9. Why in democratic India has it become so difficult for two States of the Union to sit and resolve an issue amicably? Why can’t the tribunal adjudicate on the “inter-State dimensions” expeditiously?
10. Has Hogenakal become an election issue? Are DMK in Tamil Nadu and the BJP in Karnataka trying to take electoral mileage out of it? Has Karnataka’s case been hurt by the absence of a popular government?

Also read: What your nela and what your jala says about you

Photograph: Kannada activists, including former minister B.T. Lalitha Naik (second from left), the BJP’s Mukhya Mantri Chandru (third from left) and T.A. Narayana Gowda of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (second from right), take out a torch-light march in Bangalore on Wednesday in protest against the statements of Tamil chief minister, M. Karunanidhi (Karnataka Photo News)