Court says agreements were not “political arrangements” but were based on public interest; decision valid for 15 years
The Supreme Court on Friday (February 16) ended the long-pending Cauvery river water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu by clearly demarcating the allocation of Cauvery water among Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
The bench comprising of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Amitava Roy, A M Khanwilkar reduced the allocation of water for Tamil Nadu by 14.75 trillion cusecs (tmcft). Tamil Nadu will now get 404.25 tmcft of Cauvery water instead of 419 tmcft allotted by 207 tribunal.
Karnataka will get an enhanced 14.75 tmcft of water which will now stand at 284.75 tmcft (including 4.75 tmcft for Bengaluru) as against the 2007 Cauvery River Water Disputes Tribunal award of 270 tmcft. The court’s logic on this was that the state needs more for its industrial use and for the use of the cosmopolitan city of Bengaluru.
However, the bench kept allocation of waters to Kerala i.e. 30 tmcft and to Puducherry i.e. 7 tmcft unchanged as per the 2007 tribunal award.
The bench directed that Karnataka will release 177.25 tmcft of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu from its inter-state Biligundlu dam while justifying its decision for increased water allocation to Karnataka on account of drinking water requirement and groundwater for Bengaluru residents. The order on Cauvery water allocation will continue for next 15 years, the bench said.
The bench also allowed Tamil Nadu to draw an additional 10 tmcft of groundwater, from a total of 20 tmcft beneath the Cauvery basin.
Upholding the validity of 1892 and 1924 agreements on Cauvery river water allocation, the bench noted that these agreements were not “political arrangements” but were based on public interest. The bench observed: “The 1924 post-Mettur dam agreement expired in 1974. Now the principle of water allocation is based on “equitable apportionment” and not primacy.”
Adjudging inter-state rivers are national assets, the bench stated: “The Constitution gave equal status to all States. No one riparian State can claim full rights over it.”
During the hearing, the bench rejected the Centre’s argument that it was Parliament’s prerogative to finalise the water sharing scheme.
Welcoming the verdict, the Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said: “This is good news for farmers in Cauvery basin and people of Karnataka.” Tamil Nadu’s AIADMK was careful in commenting on the decrease of allocation and said that it had to study the court’s order deeply before commenting.
- The dispute dates back to 1892 when an agreement was filed between the Madras Presidency and Mysore for arbitration but led to a fresh set of disputes. Later, attempts were renewed to arbitrate between the two states under the supervision of the Government of India and a second agreement was signed in 1924.
- As Kerala and Puducherry also laid claim to a share of the Cauvery water after Independence, a Fact Finding Committee was set up in 1970 to resolve the situation on the ground. The committee submitted its report in 1972 and further studies were conducted by an expert committee. The states reached an agreement in 1976. However, after a new government came to power in Tamil Nadu, it refused to give its consent to the terms of the agreement.
- Later, in 1986, the Tamil Nadu government appealed to the central government to constitute a tribunal for solving the issue under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956. However, the tribunal was not set up until the Supreme Court took cognizance of the matter and ordered the central government to do so in 1990.
- The Cauvery Waters Tribunal was constituted on June 2, 1990. After 16 years of hearing and an interim order, the Tribunal announced its final order in 2007, allocating 419 tmc ft of water to Tamil Nadu and 270 tmc ft to Karnataka. Kerala was given 30 tmc ft and Puducherry got 7 tmc ft. The Tribunal had come to a conclusion that the total availability of water in the Cauvery basin stood at 740 tmc ft. However, both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka filed a review petition before the Tribunal.
- In 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as chairman of the Cauvery River Authority, directed the Karnataka government to release 9,000 cusecs of water daily. The Supreme Court slammed the state government as it failed to comply with the order. The government offered an unconditional apology and started the release of water, leading to widespread violent protests.
- With the Karnataka government continuously failing to release the water to Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa filed an interlocutory petition in the Supreme Court in August 2016, seeking release of water as per the guidelines of the Tribunal. Announcing its verdict in the case, the Supreme Court, on September 5, directed the Karnataka government to release 15,000 cusecs of water to its neighboring state for 10 days.
- The Supreme Court modified its order and asked Karnataka to release 12,000 cusecs of water every day until September 20, 2016.
- On September 20, 2017 while reserving its order Cauvery river water-sharing dispute directed Centre to frame a scheme for the implementation of its orders on river water-sharing between these states and Puducherry after the judgement is pronounced.