The Central government will have the final say in inter-State disputes over the Cauvery water and its decision will be “binding.”
This is the crux of the draft Cauvery water management scheme filed by the Centre in the Supreme Court on Monday during the short pause between polling and counting of votes in the Karnataka Assembly elections (May 12 and May 15 repectively).
With the Centre facing the threat of contempt of court, the apex court saw Union Water Resources Secretary U.P. Singh, with copies of the draft scheme in hand, present in the courtroom in response to a summons issued on May 8.
The draft scheme originally proposes as final any decisions taken by the implementing authority under the proposed Cauvery Water Management Scheme, 2018 in furtherance of the Cauvery Tribunal award as modified by the Supreme Court verdict of February 16.
But in a situation where the riparian States of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala or the Union Territory (UT) of Puducherry do “not co-operate”, the authority would turn to the Centre for help. The decision of the Centre “in the matter will be final and binding on all parties concerned.”
A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said the court would not get into “the propriety or legality” of the scheme. It said it did not want to trigger another round of litigation among the three States and the UT.
But while thus leaving the Centre as the final arbiter of inter-State Cauvery disputes, the draft scheme does not mention if an aggrieved State can approach the Supreme Court in appeal against the Centre’s decision itself.
Centre open to any nomenclature of authority
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal asked the court to name the implementing authority. He said the Centre was open to any nomenclature — board, authority or committee.
However, the Centre wants the authority to be headquartered in Bengaluru. From there, the authority would monitor the storage, apportionment, regulation and control of the river water. It shall supervise the operation of reservoirs and regulation of water releases with the assistance of a Cauvery Water Regulation Committee. The authority would also decide the “distress formula” in water-sharing. Mr. Venugopal submitted that the riparian States and the UT could be given copies of the draft.
After the scheme is discussed by the parties, the court could direct the Centre, through the Union Cabinet, to finalise the draft scheme under Section 6A of the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956, Mr. Venugopal said.
The draft said the chairman of the authority would be appointed by the Centre. He would be a serving officer, who is an eminent engineer or a Secretary-rank officer. The Chairman would have a proposed tenure of five years or till the age of 65, whichever is early.
Besides, the Centre shall appoint two whole-time members and two part members, equally drawn from water-engineering and agricultural fields of expertise. The Centre would appoint a Secretary from the Central Water Engineering Services.
The draft scheme gives ample voice to the three States and the UT. Four part-time members would be nominated by the States to the authority. They shall be administrative secretaries in charge of the water resources departments of the respective States and the UT. Decisions would be taken on the basis of a majority. All members would have equal powers.
Among its duties, the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee would collect data of daily water levels, inflows and storage positions in the Hemavathy, Harangi, Krishnarajasagar, Kabini, Mettur, Bhavanisagar, Amaravathy and Banasurasagar; ensure 10 daily releases of water on monthly basis from the reservoirs as directed by the authority and data of the water released; prepare seasonal and annual reports of the water account and submit them to the authority.
Reservoirs would be operated in an integrated manner under the overall guidance of the authority. In June every year, the authority would gauge the residual storage capacity.
Karnataka and Tamil Nadu would share 40% each of the expenses of the authority. Kerala would provide 15% and Puducherry 5%.
The court ordered the Centre to provide Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducheery with the draft scheme copies to check whether it is in conformity with the February 16 judgment of the Supreme Court. The court scheduled the next hearing for May 16.