ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Lowering the Water Footprint

This has reference to the excellent article entitled “Cauvery Dispute: A Lament and a Proposal” (EPW, 30 March 2013) by Ramaswamy R Iyer on the history, complex dynamics and current status of the Cauvery River dispute. I run a conservation foundation in Bangalore and, as much of our work is along the river, I have had an opportunity to see the issue up-close. As Iyer points out, there is considerable political capital to be had in helping the dispute fester; this makes any sort of solution unacceptable to one state or the other.

In such a rather murky environment, perhaps the best long-term option is to make the dispute as irrelevant as possible to stakeholders in both states. This involves thinking differently and being able to look at the root cause (again, as pointed out by Iyer, the root cause being the demand for water). Along the river, in the districts of Mandya and Chamrajnagar, about 1,50,000 hectares of land have been planted with sugar cane and rice, in the approximate ratio of 1:2. The diversion of water for sugar cane alone – 50,000 hectares – is around 100-125 million litres of river water per hectare (computed from official statistics on acreage and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University data on yields and water footprint and excluding the water consumption during the monsoons). In the current sugar cane year (October 2012 to September 2013), the water footprint is likely to be significantly higher. The problem is further compounded by the fact that, as the Soil Science Display Centre at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore shows, the soil in the Mandya belt is most unsuitable for sugar cane. Prior to the construction of the canal network, the principal crop – and staple food – was ragi, which has a water footprint of about one-sixth that of rice, and which is principally rain-fed.

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