Water Ministry seeks legal opinion on implementation mechanism

On the directions of the Supreme Court, the Centre has notified the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) on sharing the waters of the Cauvery system among the basin States of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala and Union territory of Puducherry. The “extraordinary” notification in the gazette dated February 19, 2013 says the order takes effect on the date of publication.

However, the Union Water Resources Ministry is learnt to have sought the Law Ministry’s opinion on setting up a mechanism as prescribed by the CWDT for implementation of the final award. The Tribunal had recommended the setting up of a Cauvery Management Board/Authority on the lines of the Bhakra Beas Management Board for implementation of the order. The board would in turn constitute a Cauvery Water Regulation Committee for assistance.

Clause XVII of the notification makes it binding on the government to take note of “all such orders, directions, recommendations, suggestions etc., which have been detailed in different chapters/volumes of the report with decision for appropriate action”.

Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal report (Gazette Notification)

The Water Resources Ministry is also seeking legal opinion on whether the existing Cauvery River Authority, chaired by the Prime Minister, and the Cauvery Monitoring Committee, which were set up to oversee implementation of the interim award, shall cease to exist.

The notification was hailed by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, whose birthday falls on February 24, as the “best birthday present” even as Karnataka Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar appealed to the Centre not to constitute the implementation mechanism until the civil suits pending in the Supreme Court were disposed of.

Some observers saw in this an attempt by Karnataka, which is scheduled to go to the polls in May, to delay the implementation process.

The Tribunal, in a unanimous decision in 2007, determined the total availability of water in the Cauvery basin at 740 thousand million cubic (tmc) feet at the Lower Coleroon Anicut site, including 14 tmcft for environmental protection and seepage into the sea. The final award makes an annual allocation of 419 tmcft to Tamil Nadu in the entire Cauvery basin, 270 tmcft to Karnataka, 30 tmcft to Kerala and 7 tmcft to Puducherry.

Tribunal final award settles definition of ‘water year’

The final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) notified by the Centre has settled the definition of a normal year, water year and irrigation season which has been a bone of contention between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

A “normal year” shall mean a year in which the total yield of the Cauvery basin is 740 tmcft; a “water year” shall mean a year commencing on June 1 and ending on May 31 and the “irrigation season” shall mean the season beginning on June 1 and ending on January 31 of the next year.

In a normal year, Karnataka has to release to Tamil Nadu at Biligundulu 192 tmcft (as against 205 tmcft in the interim award) in monthly deliveries. This comprises 182 tmcft from the allocated share of Tamil Nadu, including 10 tmcft for environmental purposes. In a distress year, the allocated shares shall be proportionately reduced among Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

The Cauvery includes the main river, all its tributaries and all other streams contributing water directly or indirectly to it. The award authorises the Board/Authority to monitor the monthly releases with the help of the States concerned and the Central Water Commission for five years. Thereafter, if any modification/adjustment is needed in the schedule, it may be worked out in consultation with the party-States with the help of the CWC “without changing the annual allocation among the parties”.

The Tribunal, comprising chairman Justice N.P. Singh and members N.S. Rao and Sudhir Narain, was set up in 1990 and its final award came in 2007.