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State keenly awaiting Cauvery tribunal award

By S.K. Ramoo

Bangalore Dec. 28. After a "delay" of 14 years, the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal is likely to submit its final report by August 2004. Karnataka is keenly awaiting the final award and hopes that it will not go against farmers in the Cauvery Basin in the State.

The announcement about the tribunal report was made by the Union Water Resources Minister, Arjun Charan Sethi, in the Lok Sabha recently. He stated the legal position: that the Union Government would abide by the final award of the tribunal.

Plea against tribunal

The tribunal was constituted in 1990 by the then V.P. Singh Government bowing to pressure from the Tamil Nadu Government for settling the century-old dispute over sharing the Cauvery waters, mainly between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Veerendra Patil Government in Karnataka at that time opposed the constitution of the tribunal. But it was helpless as the Union Government established it under the provisions of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act.

Karnataka has always desired to share the Cauvery waters with Tamil Nadu on the basis of a negotiated settlement, and this has been the consistent stand of successive State governments. But Tamil Nadu has assumed a tough stand, and the dispute has remained unresolved ever after about 100 meetings between the two governments.

The tribunal's final award is binding on all the States involved in the dispute and is non-justiciable as an aggrieved State cannot approach any court of law seeking relief. The tribunal submitted its interim report in June 1991, which stipulated that Karnataka release 205 tmcft. of water to Tamil Nadu according to an annual schedule. The interim award also imposed a stiff condition that Karnataka should not extend irrigation facilities beyond the existing 11.2 lakh acres in the Cauvery Basin.

The State tried in vain to get the tribunal's stipulations revised on the ground that they were "unjust". But the tribunal did not relent, and the State had no option but to accept them. Karnataka was releasing 205 tmcft. of water annually, and the only exceptions were during the drought years, following inadequate rains in the catchments areas of the Cauvery Basin reservoirs. During the good monsoon years, Cauvery waters in excess of 205 tmcft. have flowed into the Mettur Dam.

Failure of talks

The dispute over sharing the waters becomes the focus of public attention only during drought years, when Nature is unkind to both States. On occasions, Tamil Nadu has approached the Supreme Court for compelling Karnataka to release the stipulated quantity of water on the basis of the interim award. Attempts to seek a negotiated settlement have gone in vain time and again.

The Union Government has constituted the Cauvery River Authority and the Cauvery Monitoring Committee for overseeing the implementation of the interim award. The meetings are presided over by the Prime Minister, and have, on several occasions, provided relief to Tamil Nadu by requesting the Karnataka Government to spare water for saving standing crops. The dispute is politicised in both the States, and politicians, by issuing statements and counter-statements, fish in troubled waters.

It is for experts to say how far the proposed linking of major national rivers will help in finding an amicable solution to the dispute. Karnataka, on its part, is seeking the early submission of the final report. It wants farmers in the Cauvery Delta in Tamil Nadu to change the cropping pattern and go in for crops that consume less water. It also wants them to adopt modern methods of water management to prevent water wastage.

For the first time in the history of Karnataka, the Krishna Government recently approved a financial package of Rs. 22 crore for payment of compensation to farmers in Mandya district in the Cauvery Basin for the loss or damage to crops last year owing to inadequacy of water in the Cauvery Basin reservoirs. The financial package may serve as a precedent for decision-makers during drought years.

Krishna waters issue

Karnataka has been pressing the Union Government to set up a tribunal for sharing the surplus waters of the Krishna, although the Bachawat Award, under Scheme `B', had made a scientific allocation of surplus waters of the river among the States. The State has differences over sharing the Bhima waters with Maharashtra, and over the proposed diversion of the waters of the Mahadayi with Goa.

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