T. Ramakrishnan

CHENNAI: The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, through its final award, has accommodated some of the demands of the two major riparian States Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Any perusal of the history of the dispute before the Tribunal for the last 15 years reveals that Tamil Nadu all along contended that groundwater availability in its territory should not be taken into account while apportioning the total yield in the Cauvery Basin. This was because the groundwater table was influenced by surface flows in the river and was not independent of the latter. Another reason adduced by Tamil Nadu was that there was no scientific method evolved to measure groundwater availability.

At the same time, the Tribunal has conceded the case of Karnataka that Biligundlu should be the reference point for measurement of flows. In fact, this aspect kept figuring, ever since the Tribunal, in its interim award of June 1991 and in subsequent orders, declared that Mettur was the reference point. The topic also figured in the bilateral talks held during 1996-1997. At that time, the two States stuck to their respective positions. But, now, the Tribunal has resolved the matter in favour of Karnataka.

Another issue that bothered Tamil Nadu was that the schedule for the water release should broadly conform to the model framed in the interim award. The interim award prescribed that during the southwest monsoon Tamil Nadu should get 137 thousand million cubic feet of the total 205 tmcft. In the final award too, the State's share has been granted at 134 tmcft (total releases to be made by Karnataka: 192 tmc ft).

Three factors weighed the demand of Tamil Nadu. One, the southwest monsoon does not benefit Tamil Nadu as much as the rest of the country because the State lies in a rain-shadow region. Two, it is during the monsoon that the Cauvery, particularly in the upper reaches, experiences heavy flows. Three, the months of July to September are crucial for farmers of the Cauvery delta in the State as they are engaged in raising the short-term kuruvai and long-term samba crops.

Tamil Nadu argued for the adoption of 75 per cent dependability while Karnataka wanted 50 per cent dependability. The Tribunal endorsed the position of Karnataka.

While 50 per cent dependability means that the assured quantity will be more but available for two out of four years, 75 per cent dependability means that the assured quantity will be less but available for three out of four years, according to a water expert.