Verdict on Cauvery: fair enough?

Context:

  • Even though the Supreme Court has come up with a verdict that serves the cause of both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and has given peace a chance, there are still a few grey areas which need to be attended.

Background:

  • The judgment was passed on a batch of appeals by the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala challenging the 2007 award passed by the Cauvery River Water Disputes Tribunal.
  • The Supreme Court curtailed Tamil Nadu’s share of Cauvery water by 14.75 tmcft and increased Karnataka’s share to meet Bengaluru’s drinking water needs.
  • Tamil Nadu will get 404.25 tmcft, which will be 14.75 tmcft less than what was allotted by the tribunal in 2007.
  • Karnataka will now release only 177.25 TMC ft Cauvery water from Billigundlu site to Mettur dam in Tamil Nadu.
  • The SC has also directed the formation of the Cauvery Management Board (CMB)
  • The 2007 tribunal award of 30 TMC ft to Kerala and 7 TMC ft water to Puducherry will remain unchanged

What are the reasons for which the judgment of additional allocation of 14.75 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) of water to Karnataka can be justified?

Yes, there is much to be satisfied with in what has been allotted to Karnataka in the recent order. The reasons are as follows:

  • Referring to river Cauvery as a “national asset”, the Supreme Court has further said that “no state can claim exclusive right to a river passing through different states”.
  • The order is fair and does not take away anything significant from Tamil Nadu.
  • What the apex court has done is to address some concerns that were present in the 2007 order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal.
  • The court observed that several clauses in the 1924 agreement did not indicate permanency, and had lapsed after 50 years, by 1974. +-
  • The court also rightly observed that the overall population of river basin States has to be placed on a pedestal, and be taken into account as a fundamental principle for equitable distribution.
  • Keeping this in mind, the court acknowledges the need for a higher share of Cauvery water for Bengaluru, which now has more than 10 million inhabitants.
  • The Supreme Court rightly notes that the tribunal’s view ignores the basic principle pertaining to drinking water.
  • Keeping in mind the global status that Bengaluru has rightly attained, an additional 4.75 tmc ft has been awarded to it in order to implement the existing water supply schemes.
  • The remaining 10 tmc ft can be used to expand agricultural activities.
  • The Supreme Court’s judgment significantly includes some aspects of groundwater, references to water allocation priority from the National Water Policy, directions to set up the implementation mechanism in six weeks, and fixing the water-sharing quota for 15 years.

What are the grey areas in the judgment provided by the apex court to resolve Cauvery water dispute?  

The grey areas in the judgment provided by the apex court to resolve Cauvery water dispute are as follows:

  • The apex court treats the dispute as a water-sharing dispute rather than as a river-sharing dispute.
  • There is inattention to factors like changing rainfall pattern, rainwater harvesting, the potential of soil water capture, catchment degradation and local water systems.
  • The order also justifies water supply to areas outside the Cauvery basin when other options exist.
  • The court has opened up possibilities of some sub-optimal allocations in the name of higher priority uses in other basins.
  • Considering areas outside the Cauvery basin (two-thirds of Bengaluru) for such allocation is another aspect that is bound to set a complicating precedent.
  • The court has brought groundwater into the equation of water-counting which is ad hoc and not based on science.
  • If groundwater is to be taken into account, full assessment of the groundwater (as also water stored in storages smaller than 3 tmc ft) should have been taken into account.
  • While the Supreme Court sought the assistance of technical experts in the coal scam and the iron ore mining case, it has not done so in the Cauvery dispute.
  • Fixed allocation of water can be also problematic in case of an unusual drought year, which is not very uncommon these days. 

What are the impacts of Supreme Courts’ verdict on Cauvery water dispute?

The impacts of Supreme Courts’ verdict on Cauvery water dispute are as follows:

Political significance:

  • This Supreme Court verdict will have a huge political significance, particularly when Karnataka is going to election soon and the Tamil Nadu’s post-Jayalalithaa politics is passing through a churning process.

Hydro-politics:

  • More than the on-going politics in these two southern states, the impact of this Supreme Court’s verdict will be immense on country’ hydro-politics as well.

Emerge new water conflicts:

  • Cauvery River is not the only inter-state water sharing dispute India is facing.
  • The list of this type of dispute is a very long one: Sutlej, Yamuna, Krishna, Bhima, Narmada, Mahi, Sone, Mahadayi and Mahanadi rivers to mention a few.
  • Many new inter-state water disputes will come up if Narendra Modi government pursues its obsession with river-linking projects, in order to transfer the waters of Himalayan rivers to southern peninsula.

Conclusion:

  • It is a virtual win-win for both states.
  • But it would require statesman like conduct from our politicians to behave responsibly.
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