The notification of the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal is the most important step in providing the legal and technical framework for sharing of the waters among the river basin States, particularly Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. That it took six long, distressful years after the announcement of the award cannot be easily forgotten, but the effort now must be to look ahead. The immediate order of business has to be to set up the Cauvery Management Board, an inter-State forum as envisaged by the Tribunal for securing compliance and implementation of its final orders, and a Cauvery Water Regulation Committee to act in accordance with the directions of the Board. Were it not for the direction of the Supreme Court, the notification might not have been done even now, and Karnataka and Tamil Nadu would have continued to engage in litigation year after year. But along with the two States and the Centre, the apex court too should take some of the responsibility for the inexcusable delay in the notification. By admitting Special Leave Petitions by the States against the final award overlooking the bar on the jurisdiction of the courts included in the Inter-States Water Disputes Act, the Supreme Court paved the way for a seemingly never-ending cycle of pleas.
Of course, the notification will not automatically end all disputes. In distress years, farmers on both sides will suffer, but at least now there is a readily available mechanism to ensure equitable sharing of the waters. The tribunal had noted that distress caused by diminution of water flows will be shared by the States “after the distress conditions and their extent is determined by the [Cauvery Management] Board” keeping in view the allotted water shares. Fixing of the monthly flows to Tamil Nadu on a pro rata basis is an oft-discussed, but never-implemented, equitable solution. The final award — 192 tmc ft of water to reach Tamil Nadu at the inter-State border point of Biligundlu — is kinder to Karnataka than the interim award of 1991, which required the State to ensure 205 tmc ft at Mettur dam, well within Tamil Nadu. All the States party to this long-standing dispute should realise that there is no escape from distress-sharing during bad monsoon years, and that the carefully thought-out award of the tribunal is the closest to a scientifically-determined apportioning of the waters of the Cauvery. As is evident from the statements of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu is happy with the final award and the notification. Karnataka too should realise its responsibilities as an upper riparian and not seek to start another round of litigation over the much-delayed notification.