As the recent desperate protest by Tamil Nadu farmers at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar attempted to highlight, the southern state is in the grip of severe drought. To draw attention to their terrible plight, the protesters stuffed live rats into their mouths, stripped naked outside Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home and drank their own urine. Tamil Nadu’s agrarian crisis has been exacerbated by the fact that the 2016 retreating Northeast monsoon, when the state receives most of its rainfall, was the worst in 140 years. The situation is so bad that more than 250 Tamil farmers have either died or committed suicide.
The theatrics of the protest might seem odd but were driven by a disastrous situation in Tamil Nadu. This map of water reservoir levels all across India gives a clear picture of just how bad things are in the southern state.
As can be seen, Tamil Nadu is facing acute water shortage, with 81% less water in its reservoirs than its 10-year average. The water level in its major reservoirs is at just 6% of their total capacity. And it is unlikely that the situation will improve soon. Already, Karnataka has refused to release water from the Cauvery river, which the two states share, to Tamil Nadu, saying that it has barely enough to meet its own needs. Last year, the tussle over the Cauvery river had led to protests, bandhs and violence in both states.
The drought has also led to a political ferment in Tamil Nadu, with Opposition parties observing a state-wide strike on Tuesday even as the ruling party is yet to get its house in order.
In all of this, there is a curious silence from the Union government. It is more than a bit ironic that Prime Minister Modi has done more publicly to try and give Bangladesh a stake in India’s river waters than to fix the pressing water problems of an Indian state.
As is clear from the data, Tamil Nadu’s water crisis needs immediate attention.