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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Kaveri dispute - Supreme Court chides Central Govt

It is considered more sacred than the ‘Ganges’ itself – it is not mere river – but the livelihood of millions who have lived and earned a living on its banks – once existed a ‘rice bowl’ – whose farmers are fearing threat to their existence these days.  It is river Kavery also spelled Cauvery. The origin of the river is traditionally placed at Talakaveri, Kodagu in the Western Ghats in Karnataka, flows generally south and east through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and across the southern Deccan plateau through the southeastern lowlands, emptying into the Bay of Bengal through two principal mouths. The river has supported irrigated agriculture for centuries and served as the lifeblood of the ancient kingdoms and modern cities of South India.

The sharing of waters of the river Kaveri has been the source of a serious conflict between the Indian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The genesis of this conflict, rests in two agreements—one signed in 1892 and another in 1924—between the erstwhile Madras Presidency and Princely State of Mysore.

The state of Karnataka contends that it does not receive its due share of water from the river as Tamil Nadu. Karnataka claims that these agreements were skewed heavily in favour of the Madras Presidency, and has demanded a renegotiated settlement based on "equitable sharing of the waters". Decades of negotiations between the parties bore no fruit. The Government of India then constituted a tribunal in 1990 to look into the matter. After hearing arguments of all the parties involved for the next 16 years, the tribunal delivered its final verdict on 5 February 2007.

More than 5 years have passed since the final verdict of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal but not much water has flown under the bridge.  According to the verdict, Tamil Nadu  is to get 419 billion ft³ (12 km³) of Cauvery water while Karnataka  would get 270 billion ft³ (7.6 km³). The actual release of water by Karnataka to Tamil Nadu is to be 192 billion ft³ (5.4 km³) annually. Further, Kerala  is to get 30 billion ft³ and Pondicherry 7 billion ft³.

Everyone would speak of ‘rule of law’ but most Governments do not have the political will to implement the orders even – as exhibited by the Central Govt - the government of Karnataka, unhappy with the decision, filed a revision petition before the tribunal seeking a review – and what would happen is anybody’s guess !!

A look back at the history would reveal that the Tribunal pronounced  an interim award on 25 June 1991. Going by the same, the average worked out to 205 billion ft³ (5.8 km³) which Karnataka had to ensure reached Tamil Nadu in a water year. The award also stipulated the weekly and monthly flows to be ensured by Karnataka for each month of the water year. The tribunal further directed Karnataka not to increase its irrigated land area from the existing 1,120,000 acres (4,500 km2).  Karnataka deemed this extremely inimical to its interests and issued an ordinance seeking to annul the tribunal’s award. The Supreme Court now stepped in at the President’s instance and struck down the Ordinance issued by Karnataka. It upheld the tribunal’s award which was subsequently gazetted by the Government of India on 11 December 1991. Widespread demonstrations and violence broke out in parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu following this. Thousands of Tamil families had to flee from Bangalore in fear of being attacked and lynched.

Now into 2012 and in the month of September, the  Karnataka government before the Court,  maintained its position that it had time till December to ensure adequate release of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu at the inter State-border, Biligundlu. In its rejoinder to Tamil Nadu’s reply in the Supreme Court, Karnataka, however, made it clear that it did not have any reservations about the convening of the Cauvery River Authority by the Prime Minister, but wanted the meeting to be held at the end of September.  It sought to claim that it  strongly disputes the estimation of a deficit of 36 tmcft made by the State of Tamil Nadu in its rejoinder calling it wrongful estimation.  In its application, Tamil Nadu had  wanted a direction to the Centre to convene a meeting of the CRA immediately to perform its statutory obligations and approve the distress-sharing formula evolved by the Cauvery Monitoring Committee for sharing flows of the river in view of the distress situation in the State.

Tamil Nadu earlier described as reprehensible and inhuman Karnataka’s stand that it will enjoy all water in the Cauvery basin during distress and use all surplus water even for summer irrigation in a surplus year, to the detriment and agony of the lower riparian State.  Tamil Nadu said a distress-sharing formula had been eluding for over 10 years due to the “obstructionist” attitude of Karnataka. Tamil Nadu, therefore, wanted the court to direct the Cauvery River Authority, headed by the Prime Minister, to comply with the order dated September 3, 2002 passed by this court and finalise the distress-sharing formula so that the waters of the inter-State river Cauvery could be shared in accordance with the said formula in the current year, where Tamil Nadu was subjected to grave injustice by the non-release of water.  The available water in the river system had to be shared amongst the riparian States and the denial of Karnataka to the direction for release of water was wholly unjustified, Tamil Nadu said and prayed for a direction to Karnataka for release of water.

The case came up for further hearing on September 3. The Supreme Court pulled up the Centre for not showing any interest in the Cauvery issue and wondered whether the Prime Minister’s Office was aware of its orders. Justice Jain told the ASG: “The [three-page] affidavit takes us nowhere. Perhaps your officers have not read our earlier order. Have you [Centre] fixed a date for the CRA meeting?”  Justice Jain  is quoted as telling the ASG: “It is shocking and strange. For fixing a date for the CRA meeting, you seek the convenience of the States. It is the PM who has to see his convenience for the meeting. For fixing a date, you see the convenience of the PM or the States?”  It is sad that there were earlier references to CRA being a toothless body and by their act, the Centre is trying to render it so. 

With the strong exceptions of the  Apex Court – the ASG assured the court that he would take proper instructions, and sought adjournment till September 7. Accordingly, the Bench posted further hearing to that day.

One only hopes that there is ever-lasting solution and peace – of course, implementation of the orders of Apex Court and the Tribunal. It is not simply water-sharing but on it hinges the livelihood of delta farmers.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
4th Sept 2012.

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