Cauvery Row: Whose arguments hold water?
- October 28, 2016
- Posted by: admin
- Category: General Knowledge
The inter-State water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu involving use of water from the river Cauvery has been raging on for months now and it has unfurled massive violence in its wake. Buses have been burnt, stones thrown, and people and property hurt by unruly elements in the name of the ‘cause’.
The Cauvery river is an inter-State river that runs for 802 km., passing through Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Union Territory of Puducherry. The Cauvery dispute differs from other inter-State water disputes in that the latter involve utilization of untapped potential while in Cauvery’s case, the available water potential has already been utilized beyond its limit. During a deficit year, Tamil Nadu is at the mercy of Karnataka, however, Karnataka argues that it cannot release water at the expense of water required for its farmers. Karnataka justifies its rapid and massive irrigation programme by citing historical injustice meted out to it by being denied its rightful share in the Cauvery for many years. Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, is the lower riparian state and feels that it has had to and continues to bear the main brunt of floods, drought and pollution. Tamil Nadu does not feel that it is asking for charity. It believes that it is the well-established right of the people of Tamil Nadu since centuries.
The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal had issued an interim award in 1991, whereby 205 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) of water had been allocated to Tamil Nadu. A final award was declared in 2007. Tamil Nadu sought direction by the Supreme Court on release of Cauvery waters and another 2 demands- 1. Printing the final award in the Union Gazette; and 2. Constitution of the Cauvery Management Board (CMB). The first demand was met in 2013. The order included mention of the CMB- “An inter-state forum to be called ‘Cauvery Management Board’ (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Board’) shall be established for the purpose of securing compliance and implementation of the final decision and directions of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (hereinafter referred as the ‘Orders’).” (p 224, Volume 5, Chapter 8, the Cauvery Water Tribunal Final Award 2007). In an order of September 20, 2016, the Supreme Court directed the Government of India to constitute the CMB within 4 weeks.
In India, the Interstate Water Disputes Act, 1956 (the Act) was enacted as per Article 262 of the Constitution. This act was amended in 2002. The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal was constituted on June 2, 1990. Interestingly, the provisions of the Act bar the intervention of even the Supreme Court in the adjudication process. In the case of the Cauvery water dispute, after the declaration of the final award in 2007, the contending states had the right to go back to the tribunal with a review petition for a supplementary award. However, they approached the Supreme Court with a special leave petition (SLP), and the Supreme Court admitted the SLPs, despite the express bar on its jurisdiction under the Act. The Supreme Court could have directed the SLPs to the tribunal.
However, a middle route has proven to be more effective in this regard. The Multi-Stakeholders’ Dialogue (MSD) initiative began in the Cauvery basin in 2003 with the participation of farmers and farmer leaders from both states. Subsequently, a committee called the Cauvery Family was constituted with 12 members from each state with the former water resources secretary, Ramaswamy Iyer and Bhavani Shankar from Karnataka as advisers. Since then, the Cauvery Family has met 18 times, the last one being in 2012. The committee could arrive at five water-sharing formulae that were finally reduced to one. While the initiative lost steam due to lack of political patronage, the Cauvery Family played a key role in suppressing violence during all deficit years during the period 2003–12 when it was active. Also, no violence of the kind that was witnessed in 1990 (when the interim award was announced) was repeated in 2007, when the final award was declared.
As the states are on the cusp of seeking solutions to this long-standing dispute, it would serve them well to consider the interests of farmers, people and the environment of both sides. Mindless violence in the name of asserting rights is yielding no results. It is only through sorted and balanced initiatives like the Cauvery Family that some resolution might be reached.