From Perennial Water To Perennial Strife

The last few decades have been punctuated with strife between the riparian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka or Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu and Kerala. All for the sake of something as basic but essential as water.

The last decade has seen this battle intensify between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over the waters of Cauvery river.

We all know that the Tamil land had been prosperous for millennia. This could not have come about without copious water to support its prosperity generating activities and industries. Tamil Nadu was water surplus then.

Where did Tamil Nadu get its water then?

Tamil Nadu has not changed its location. The rains are more or less the same.

What has changed besides a few dams across a few rivers of such a large and expansive state?

We need to look at the ground situation then and what it is today.

Ground Surface Water Availability

Ground surface water consists of components which include,

  1. Large and small rivers, streams, rivulets, Odai, forest streams
  2. Large water bodies, manmade and natural – lakes, tanks, Eri
  3. Small local water bodies –
  1. Pushkarni / Kovil Kulam– Temple Tanks
  2. Grama Kulam
  3. Kuttai

Kulam and Kuttai

In India through the ages, every village temple had a tank, Kovil Kulam called Pushkarni. Apart from daily bathing and for local temple ritual, these tanks were primarily built for water harnessing.

Kulam and Kuttai are small local village troughs. Kulam is slightly larger, while Kuttai is smaller.

These were over 2 lakhs such small water bodies in number all over Tamil Nadu in the form of Kovil Kulam (temple tanks), Grama Kulam and Kuttai. These were used, for temple ceremonies, for daily ablution and other daily needs of men and cattle.


Temple Tank at Chidambaram Temple, Tamil Nadu

Thus, almost every village had atleast a Kulam or Kuttai, which also met the daily fishing needs of the local community.


All these in the last 60 years, have become dirty wastage dumps, and cesspools, where mosquitoes breed. Over half of them are lost due to illegal occupation and construction in connivance with the local administration

Tamil Nadu, A Land of Rivers

Tamil Nadu is not just a land of one river called Cauvery. It is verily a land of rivers. There are 102 rivers in this land. Thus Tamil Nadu is filled with rivers, one river after another.

All these were perennial rivers at the time of independence.

However, in the name of development, the people of this generation, and immediate earlier generation, have made these hundred rivers bone dry. Now we are going with a begging bowl, asking our neighbouring riparian states for water.


Continue to Ask

While we should continue to ask in a civil manner, for our share of Cauvery waters for Tamil Nadu through set legal norms,it is even more important, to ensure that within the next decade, we make these 102 rivers of Tamil Nadu flowing and perennial once again. Which is what, our forefathers had bequeathed to us as our real inheritance.

42000 to 7000

Adding to this woe of making our rivers go dry, our immediate and earlier generation has committed an even bigger blunder. Tamil Nadu was a land of water bodies, lakes and Eri.

As per the records of the government of Tamil Nadu, in 1967, we had 42000 lakes, Eri, tanks and large water bodies, all over the state.

Not only were they so many in number, they were also beautifully networked to keep overflowing into successive tanks down the chain. These networked tanks, called the Chain Tank System of the Carnatic, built across 500 years over 1500 years ago itself, qualify to surpass any Engineering marvel that the world has produced. More in our film Tamzhigam Oru Vaibhavam .

From 1967 to 2017, in 50 years, we have wontedly reduced these networked water bodies of ours, from 42000 to a mere 7000. 35000 water bodies, lakes, Eri and tanks have been wiped out from the topography of Tamil Nadu. No wonder, water shortage is looming large.

We should realize that for our mis-deeds and mis-adventure, we will have to bear the severe consequences within this generation itself. Even the 7000 large water bodies have been substantially encroached and converted into filthy cesspools. It is a catastrophic situation, we have on hand now.

Who is responsible for this?

Dravidian Parties Responsible

If we see, Tamil Nadu has been alternatively ruled for the last 50 years, since 1967, by Dravidian parties only. These are parties who have come up claiming to restore the lost pride of the Dravidians.

But it is under their very rule, that we are finding

  • the legacy left behind by our Dravidian ancestors eroded.
  • the world marvel of Dravidian Hydraulic and Civil Engineering raped
  • the successful and ingenious Dravidian Sustainability model destroyed.

How can anyone claim to be restoring the lost Dravidian pride then? Rather what little was left is also being wiped off from the face of Tamizhagam.

It is in the hands of the people now to wake up and understand what really is our wealth, our pride.


Tamil Nadu receives the highest rainfall

Alas is the situation all lost!? Thankfully no. If you look at the precipitation levels of the three Deccan states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu receives the highest rainfall among these three states, well spread out across its geography. Even now it is not too late, if we put our minds and efforts together.


Rainfall received by the three states


Tamil Nadu, has three rainfall patterns,

  1. South West monsoon
  2. North East monsoon
  3. 3 to 5 cyclones that unfailingly lash the coasts of Tamil Nadu, in the months of October, November and December.


While Tamil Nadu has three distinctive rainfall patterns, what is to be remembered is that it rains cumulatively for only less than 100 hours, out of the 8760 hours, every year.

So, when it rains, it really pours. This 100 hours of copious rain, we should carefully use for the balance 8660 hours.

That water needs to be harnessed and used by the people, livestock, industry, agriculture, animals, flora and fauna of the land, for the balance 8660 hours, when it does not rain.



Need to rejuvenate Rivers and Waterbodies

We need to rejuvenate the 102 rivers, and the remaining 7000 lakes, tanks, and Eri, and the overflow connections between them. Then Tamil Nadu can have bountiful waters to meet its needs once again. Tamil Nadu is a Nature endowed water surplus state. Mother Nature, endows us with sufficient waters every year. It is for us to harness the bounty of Mother Nature, and use it judiciously in a sustainable manner.

Our forefathers had understood this phenomenon of Nature, and with ingenuity harnessed waters to sustain their civilization. Today in the name of development, education, knowledge and hydraulic civil engineering skills, we have failed to maintain a sustainable ecology. It is time to recognize our faults, redevise methods, and rejuvenate our rivers for a prosperous and sustainable Tamil Nadu.

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