The Supreme Court on Friday, in a verdict on the Cauvery river water dispute, reduced the allocation of water from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu.
Karnataka will now supply 177.25 tmc instead of 192 tmc - a reduction of 14.75 tmc, from its Billigundlu site to Mettur dam in Tamil Nadu
A Special Bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, which declared the Cauvery a “national asset” and largely upheld the water-sharing arrangements finalised by the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT) in its award on February 5, 2007, said Karnataka was entitled to a "marginal" relief.
The judgment, authored by Chief Justice Misra, concluded that the CWDT did not take into account Tamil Nadu's stock of an “empirical” 20 TMC of groundwater. The court held that it would take into account at least 10 tmc of this groundwater and reduce this amount from the 192 tmc supplied to Tamil Nadu.
Bengaluru’s drinking water requirement
The court observed that Bengaluru had attained the “global status” and its drinking water requirement had increased multi-fold. Need for drinking water was at the top of the hierarchy. The Tribunal did not consider the growing needs of Bengaluru and thought the city could make do with its 60% groundwater supply. But groundwater had dried up with the burgeoning population of the city.
Thus, the court allocated 4.75 tmc to Bengaluru, even though the city is located outside the Cauvery basin.
The court rejected an argument by the Centre that Section 6A of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act of 1956 bestowed upon it discretion in framing a Cauvery water sharing scheme. It said the argument did not stand to reason and a scheme had to be framed under Section 6A as per the Tribunal award.
Not to be changed for next 15 years
The court said that subject to the formulation of a scheme, the water allocation arrangement should stand unchanged for the next 15 years.
The court upheld the award of 30 tmc water to Kerala and allowed Puducherry's request to grow a second crop. However, cultivation should be limited to 43,000 acres. It did not allow any enhancement in the water allocation to Puducherry from the 7 tmc allotted by the Tribunal in 2007.
The court warned the States to not deviate from the judgment or use the allotted water for other than the designated purposes. It held that the Tribunal was right in basing its water-sharing award on the basis of equitable utilisation of river water. The Tribunal was correct in basing its decision on equitability and reasonableness, it said.
Equal status to all States
The Constitution had bestowed equal status to all States. An inter-State river is a "national asset" and no one State could claim full rights over its waters, it noted.
The court disagreed with Karnataka's argument that it had no bargaining power in the 1892 and 1924 post-Mettur dam agreements on the Cauvery water allocation between the erstwhile princely State of Mysore - now a part of Karnataka - and the Madras presidency, which included Kerala.
The judgment said the “principle of paramountcy” did not apply to the 1892 and 1924 agreements. They were not political arrangements but based on public interest. The court dismissed arguments that the bar under Article 363 of the Constitution hits judicial review of a pre-Constitution treaty or agreement as in the case of the 1892 and 1924 agreements.
Questions Karnataka government
The court, in turn, asked Karnataka why it chose not to denounce the 1892 and 1924 agreements post Independence and the coming into existence of the Constitution in November 1949 or even after the States Reorganisation Act of 1956.
It held that the 1924 agreement expired in 1974 after a 50 years and now the allocation of inter-State river water was governed by equitable apportionment.
The judgment comes after almost four months after the Supreme Court reserved the verdict on appeals filed by Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala against the final award of the Tribunal i.
Karnataka had complained about the lack of clarity in the Tribunal award about water allocation during distress years. It told the Supreme Court its inability to supply Tamil Nadu 192 tmc.
“It is like the Tribunal ordering God to send rain to the State,” Fali Nariman, representing Karnataka, illustrated in the court in the July 18.
Refuses Centre's stand
On December 9, 2016, the court delivered a verdict refusing the Centre's stand that it lacked the jurisdiction to hear the dispute.
The Centre had argued that the parliamentary law of Inter-State Water Disputes Act of 1956, coupled with Article 262 (2) of the Constitution, excluded the Supreme Court from hearing or deciding any appeals against the Tribunal's decision. The Centre had claimed the Tribunal award was final.
The court, however, held that the remedy under Article 136 was a constitutional right and it cannot be taken away by legislation much less by invoking the principle of election or estoppel.
The total availability of water in the 802-km long Cauvery basin is 740 tmc in a normal year.
The CWDT allocated Tamil Nadu 419 tmc , Karnataka 270 tmc, Kerala 30 tmc and Puducherry 7 tmc.
Besides this, the tribunal reserved 10 tmc for environmental purposes and four tmc for natural outlets into the sea.