Karnataka seems to be finally getting justice when it comes to Cauvery water. In a landmark verdict that is expected to have a political impact, Tamil Nadu’s share of water from the river Cauvery has been reduced by the Supreme Court and Karnataka will receive a bigger share. Karnataka will now release 177.25 TMC – thousand million cubic feet – to Tamil Nadu instead of 192. Kerala’s share is unchanged.
Three judges of the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Dipak Misra, said that the river does not belong to any particular state and that states must share water. During the hearings that ended last year, Tamil Nadu had asked the top court to make a “fundamental change” in the water sharing pact and set up a Cauvery Management Board. “The river is perennial, but the litigation should not be,” Tamil Nadu’s lawyer Shekhar Naphade told the court.
Karnataka argued that it was unfair to require the state to release a fixed amount of water irrespective of the availability of water. “It is like the tribunal ordering god to send rain to the State,” Fali Nariman, who appeared for Karnataka, said.
The water tribunal which delivered the 2007 award was set up in 1990 on the orders of the Supreme Court. The 765-km long Cauvery river, also called the Ganga of the south, is considered the lifeline for Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The river originates in Kodagu district in southern Karnataka and flows into Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.
The appeal was filed against the 2007 order of the Cauvery Water Tribunal that allocated, in a normal year, 270 TMC, or thousand million cubic feet, 192 TMC to Tamil Nadu at its Mettur Dam, 30 TMC to Kerala and 6 TMC to Puducherry. Karnataka wanted Tamil Nadu’s award to be slashed by half to 132 TMC. Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, demanded that it should get 325 TMC water.
Karnataka referred to agreements in 1892 and 1924 between the then Kingdom of Mysore and the then Madras Presidency. The state also argued that there wasn’t enough supply in the four dams built on Cauvery for the drinking water needs of cities like Bengaluru and Mysuru.
The Supreme Court had asked the centre to form the Cauvery Management Board but the government declined, insisting that only parliament could create such a body. Political leaders in both states are expected to harden their stance on the water dispute that is already an emotive issue, particularly against the backdrop of assembly elections in Karnataka. In Tamil Nadu, the Chief Minister E Palaniswami government, on the other hand, is also struggling to consolidate its support, particularly after sidelined AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran’s success in the RK Nagar assembly by-election.
“”The verdict is welcome as far as Bengaluru is concerned but we are not happy with a board being formed. When there is water, we can give, but we should not be pressurised to do so if we don’t have water. These boards should not force us,” said Congress leader DK Shivakumar.
This verdict will surely have positive impact for Congress, as they will claim it as their moral victory. But will voters be influenced. We will have to wait and see.