The biggest gain from the Union government’s welcome decision to notify the final award of the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal is that it may be the first and most significant step towards a permanent solution to the persistent conflict over sharing the inter-State river’s waters. A positive feature is that implementation of the final award will involve the formation of a Cauvery Management Board to regulate the supply of water and a Water Regulation Committee, which will post representatives in each of the eight reservoirs in the basin States, to ensure that the decisions are carried out. Giving finality to the award through the notification may help take the issue away from politics, and place it in the hands of a technical, expert body. Of course, depoliticising an issue that involves two principal antagonists is no easy task. The February 2007 award has been questioned by way of clarification petitions before the Tribunal itself as well as suits in the Supreme Court by both parties and sceptics may wonder how useful the gazette notification may be now. The parties are still free to pursue their clarification petitions and appeals, but in the larger interest of a long-term solution and to end seasonal acrimony, they would do well to give the award a chance.
The fact that notifying the award has been a long-pending demand of Tamil Nadu should not make one believe that the action redounds to one party’s benefit to the detriment of the other. It was the Supreme Court that made the suggestion that the final decision be notified and counsel for all the basin states have agreed that it could be done. It may be argued that gazetting the award will not resolve the present standoff over judicial and administrative directives to Karnataka to release water to save standing crops in Tamil Nadu. The Cauvery Monitoring Committee, while asking Karnataka to ensure 12 thousand million cubic feet of water to Tamil Nadu in December, has itself admitted that its decision is unlikely to satisfy either party, given that both States have less water in their reservoirs than in previous years. Yet, it has opted for a pragmatic solution under which both States will be in deficit of approximately 47 tmcft. It is in the same spirit of pragmatism that both States must now approach the larger problem of sharing water as per a judicially determined solution in both normal and distress years. The two should not let posterity say of them that long after equitable distribution has entrenched itself as the most acceptable doctrine in riverine jurisprudence, they did not allow a judicially determined system for sharing to work.