• A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India, gave verdict on Cauvery river water dispute.
• The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) verdict in 2007: Of the 740 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) of water available for utilisation,
• 419 TMC was awarded to Tamil Nadu,
• 270 TMC to Karnataka,
• 30 TMC to Kerala and
• 7 TMC to Puducherry.
• The remaining 14 TMC was reserved for environmental protection.
Supreme Court verdict:
On Water distribution:
• Increase in Karnataka share: The Supreme Court awarded Karnataka 14.75 tmc (thousand million cubic feet) of Cauvery water from Tamil Nadu’s share, reasoning that Karnataka has historically suffered “limited access to and use” of the river water.
• The 14.75 tmc for Karnataka would be taken from the 192 tmc Cauvery water supplied by Karnataka from its Biligundlu site to Mettur dam in Tamil Nadu. This means that Karnataka would now supply 177.25 tmc.
• Total distribution: So, out of a total of 740 tmc available in the 802-km long Cauvery, the Supreme Court determined that:
• Karnataka would now get 284.75 (270 + 14.75) tmc,
• Tamil Nadu’s share has been reduced from 419 tmc to 404.25,
• Kerala and Puducherry would continue to be allocated 30 tmc and 7 tmc, respectively.
• Of remaining 14 TMC, the 10 tmc were allocated for environmental protection and spared another 4 tmc for “inevitable escapages” of Cauvery water into the sea.
• Special provision to Bengaluru: The 4.75 tmc of the 14.75 tmc would be diverted to the people of Bengaluru for their domestic and drinking purposes.
Reason for increase in Karnataka’s share:
• Drought: Compared to Tamil Nadu, the court found that Karnataka, despite being the upper riparian State on the Cauvery basin, has 28 districts still reeling under drought.
• Deprivation: The court found that Karnataka has been deprived of its legitimate share and unable to use of the water of Cauvery to develop its land for irrigation.
• Bengaluru’s demand was ignored: The judgment said the drinking water needs of Karnataka, especially the burgeoning and global Bengaluru city, was somehow ignored in the water-sharing agreement reached by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) in 2007.
Tamil Nadu to tap ground water:
• The court said there is confirmatory empirical data that Tamil Nadu has 20 tmc groundwater.
• The court asked Tamil Nadu to draw out at least 10 tmc groundwater instead of banking on Cauvery water from Karnataka.
Centre to form scheme and CMB:
• The court gave the Centre six weeks’ time to frame a Cauvery water-sharing scheme under Section 6A of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act of 1956. No extension shall be granted for framing of the scheme on any ground.
• The scheme has to be in consonance with the CWDT’s award and the changes introduced by the Supreme Court though this judgment.
• The tribunal had said the scheme will include the specialist body called the ‘Cauvery Management Board’ (CMB) to supervise the reservoir operations and regulate releases.
• The CMB will be an inter-State forum of technical experts with three whole time members appointed by the centre and representatives of the riparian States.
On plea of each States:
• Puducherry: The court allowed Puducherry’s request to grow a second crop. However, cultivation should be limited to 43,000 acres.
• Kerala: The judgment rejected Kerala’s request for a diversion of the Cauvery water for its hydro-power projects.
• Tamil Nadu:
• Tamil Nadu’s plea: Ever since the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) verdict, the State had sought the creation of a body to ensure effective implementation of the order.
• Establishment of the Cauvery Management Board: From the State’s point of view, the most important aspect of the court order is the recognition of the plea for the establishment of the Cauvery Management Board.
• Schedule of release of water: The court has appreciated the position of the Tamil Nadu government which had, over the years, complained that Karnataka was not adhering to the schedule of water release, as worked out by the tribunal in the interim order or final order.
• On the issue of irrigated area: It not only left intact the extent of irrigated area (24.71 lakh acres), as permitted by the tribunal in the final order, but also emphatically made it clear that the final determination of irrigated area arrived at by the Tribunal for Tamil Nadu cannot be declared incorrect or fallacious.
River as National Asset:
• An inter-State river like Cauvery is a ‘national asset’, and being in a state of flow, no State can claim exclusive ownership of its waters or assert a prescriptive right so as to deprive other States of their equitable share, the Supreme Court held.
• Basing its judgment on the equitable utilisation of inter-State river waters, the court said the precious right should be equally and reasonable shared by all States concerned.
• The court referred to the National Water Policy, which had reiterated time and again that water is a scarce and precious national asset.
• The Court said that, while river is common and equal to all through whose land it runs and no one can obstruct or divert it, yet as one of the beneficial gifts of nature, each beneficiary has a right to just and reasonable use of it.
• However, the court said the “principle of equality” among the riparian States does not imply equal division of water within an arithmetical formula.
• The apex court said, equality here means “equal consideration and equal economic opportunity of the co-basin States.”
• The court compared the sharing of inter-State river waters in India to the practices of sharing of international rivers among nations.
• The Supreme Court referred to the Helsinki Rules of 1966, which recognise equitable use of water by each basin State taking into consideration the geography and hydrology of the basin, the climate, past utilisation of waters, economic and social needs, dependent population and availability of resources.
• The judgment also refers to the Campione Rules in the context of the Cauvery dispute. These Rules hold that basin States would in their respective territories manage the waters of an international drainage basin in an equitable and reasonable manner.
• The judgment however does not provide for distress years when water in Cauvery basin depletes from the 740 tmc available during a normal year.
• It widened the rift between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu with the the former welcoming the apex court’s ruling and the latter, of course, expressing deep anger at it.