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SC Verdict in Cauvery River Water Dispute - II

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February 17, 2018

Click here for Part I

What is the issue?

  • The recent Supreme Court verdict in the Cauvery River dispute comes as a precedent in many ways.
  • It is imperative at this juncture to look into the multifaceted views and implications of the judgement.

What is SC's water sharing principle?

  • The Supreme Court declares an inter-State river like Cauvery as a ‘national asset’.
  • It is for the common benefit of the community as a whole.
  • It has emphasized the principle of equitable apportionment or the principle of equality among riparian States.
  • Importantly, it does not imply equal division of water.
  • It is rather a fair and equitable share of the water according to the needs.
  • In other words, an equal consideration and equal economic opportunity of the co-basin States.
  • Accordingly, no State can claim exclusive ownership of its waters.
  • None can either deprive other States of their equitable share.

What is the validity?

  • The water allocation arrangement will stand unchanged for the next 15 years.
  • The court also warned the States to not deviate from the judgment.
  • They are also not to use the allotted water for other than the designated purposes.

What are the implementation mechanisms?

  • The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal had prescribed two machineries to monitor the implementation of its order.
  • These are:
  1. Cauvery Management Board (CMB)
  2. Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC)
  • The CMB would monitor the storage position in the Cauvery basin and the trend of rainfall.
  • This is to assess the likely inflows for distribution among the States.
  • The CMB will have three full-time members including a chairman.
  • It will also consist of six part-time members.
  • Four of them will be from the riparian States of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and the Union Territory of Puducherry.
  • The CWRC is to ensure that the Tribunal's order is carried out in due spirit.

Why are CMB and CWRC important for TN?

  • Requirement - June to September marks the south-west monsoon season in Tamil Nadu.
  • Notably, Tamil Nadu gets less rainfall from the south-west monsoon than many other states.
  • It thus requires more water during June-September than in other months.
  • Control - With the Board and the Committee in place, Karnataka will lose its earlier supervisory control over the 4 Cauvery basin reservoirs.
  • These are Krishnarajasagar, Hemavathi, Kabini and Harangi reservoirs.
  • In other words, Karnataka cannot exercise the option to release water to Tamil Nadu.
  • Tamil Nadu will be ensured a regular release of water as per the order.

What does the verdict mean for TN?

  • Impact - The reduction in allocation of water will have only a marginal impact on Tamil Nadu.
  • This is because the quantum of reduction is small.
  • The reduction is less than 10% of the 192 TMC that TN ought to receive from Karnataka as per the Tribunal's award.
  • Groundwater - The Tribunal had noted that underground water use should not be reckoned as use of Cauvery water.
  • The Supreme Court, however, accounted the quantity of available groundwater in calculating the final determination of the share.
  • It thus calls for Tamil Nadu to bank on 10 TMC of groundwater available with it.
  • In other words, TN now has an increased responsibility to protect its groundwater reserves by taking adequate measures.

How does the verdict benefit Bengaluru?

  • The tribunal's allocation of 1.75 tmcft to the city proved to be insufficient.
  • Notably, it had miscalculated Bengaluru’s water needs.
  • It had assumed that 50% of the drinking water requirements would be met by ground water.
  • However, increasing urbanisation and population has been depleting and contaminating groundwater, making it unusable.
  • Moreover, the tribunal had accounted only the one-third of the city that falls within the Cauvery basin.
  • The Supreme Court has ruled out this approach.
  • Thus, the share of water for a basin State is for addressing the social and economic needs of its community as a whole.
  • With an additional entitlement of 4.75 tmcft, the verdict comes as much-needed relief for the whole of Bengaluru city.

What are the jurisdictional implications?

  • Article 363 - The 1892 and 1924 agreements were between the princely State of Mysore and the Madras presidency.
  • It pertained to the allocation of Cauvery water to regions now comprising Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Puducherry.
  • Article 363 of the Constitution restricts judicial review of a pre-Constitution treaty or agreement.
  • The court however dismisses the validity of Art 363 in the case of 1892 and 1924 agreements.
  • It observes that these agreements were not political arrangements but based on public interest.
  • Art 262 - The Centre had earlier maintained that the Court lacked the jurisdiction to hear inter-state river water dispute.
  • This is as per the Inter-State Water Disputes Act of 1956.
  • The provisions of Act restrict the Supreme Court from hearing or deciding any appeals against the Tribunal's decision.
  • The Centre had thus claimed the Tribunal award as final.
  • The Court, however, held that the remedy under Article 136 was a constitutional right.
  • Art 136 empowers the Supreme Court to grant leave to appeal from any judgment, decree or determination by any Court or Tribunal.

What is the significance of the verdict?

  • The verdict comes as a precedent for a fair and scientific adjudicative process in water sharing disputes.
  • It puts an end to the delaying procedures.
  • Sates do not have to rush to the court for ad hoc orders to open the reservoirs during monsoon-deficit years.
  • It affirms a basin State’s right to its share of water on a regular basis.
  • The Centre should now create the legal and technical framework to implement the Tribunal’s award, as modified by the judgment.


Source: The Hindu

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