Cauvery Dispute Verdict Expected on 16 Feb – All You Need to Know

Why is the Supreme Court deciding on the Cauvery Water Dispute between Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala?

4 min read
The Cauvery Water Dispute will finally be resolved by the Supreme Court on 16 February.

On Friday, 16 February 2018, the Supreme Court of India will pronounce its verdict on the appeals filed by the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala against the allocation of water by the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal in 2007.

Here’s all you need to know about the big decision, which will hopefully settle a dispute that’s been around since 1892:

Why is the Supreme Court passing a judgement about allocation of Cauvery water?

In 2007, 16 years after it was set up under the Inter-States Water Disputes Act, 1956, the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT) passed its final award on how the waters of the river Cauvery were to be allocated. The CWDT ordered the sharing of 726 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) of Cauvery water between Kerala (30 TMC), Karnataka (270 TMC), Tamil Nadu (419 TMC) and Puducherry (7 TMC). 14 TMC was also reserved for environmental protection and escapages into the sea.

Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala, who had been arguing over the allocation of water from the Cauvery river for decades, filed appeals against this decision of the CWDT in the Supreme Court as none of them was not satisfied with the CWDT’s award. One of the main bones of contention has been how much water is to be shared during a “distress year”, when the amount of available water is lower. The tribunal only said that the allocation needs to be proportionately reduced in such years.

In December 2016, the apex court held that it had the jurisdiction to hear the case, rejecting the central government’s objections. Arguments on the merits of the case concluded in September 2017, after which the bench consisting of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices Amitava Roy and AM Khanwilkar reserved their judgement. In January 2018, while hearing a case about the supply of drinking water to Bengaluru, they announced that they would release the judgement within four weeks.

How did this whole dispute begin?

The Cauvery river originates in the Kodagu district of Karnataka and flows through Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. The dispute over allocation of its waters arises because of this, as several districts in these regions rely on the river for irrigation, and the city of Bengaluru also gets its water supply from the river.

In 1892, the erstwhile princely state of Mysore (roughly the precursor to Karnataka) and the Madras Presidency of the British Raj (roughly the precursor to Tamil Nadu) signed an agreement on how to share the river’s water. When the two territories could not resolve new disputes which arose subsequently, the British mediated a further agreement between them in 1924, which included rules regarding dams, which were being constructed by both sides.

If there was an agreement, why is there still a dispute?

Nothing significant happened in the dispute till Independence. However, after the reorganisation of states in 1956, it flared up again because of the way in which the terms of the 1924-agreement translated to the new states: modern day Tamil Nadu and Puducherry get 75 percent of the Cauvery’s surplus water, Karnataka gets 23 percent and Kerala gets 2 percent.

Karnataka was not happy with this arrangement and started to build dams on the river in the 1960s. They argued that these would not be restricted by the 1924 agreement, since various conditions listed under it would expire in 1974, by when work on most such dams would be complete. Karnataka said the majority of the water (94 percent) should be shared equally between them and Tamil Nadu, with the remainder going to Kerala and Puducherry.

A fact-finding committee was set up in 1970, which submitted its report in 1972. After careful examination and study by experts, the stakeholders reached a consensus in 1976 that they would continue to use the water as before. However, the Tamil Nadu government changed, and with it, the consensus collapsed.

How did the matter reach the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal?

Over the years, both the states saw protests regarding the water allocation. In Tamil Nadu, the farmers had come to rely on the river for irrigation and couldn’t risk the amount being reduced. In 1986, a farmers’ association from the state filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking for a tribunal to be formed to adjudicate the dispute under the Inter-States Water Disputes Act, 1956.

After negotiations between the two states failed in 1990, the court directed the central government to set up the CWDT. In 1991, the CWDT gave an interim award in which it directed Karnataka to ensure that 205 TMC reached Tamil Nadu, every year, and also ordered them to not increase its irrigated land area.

Karnataka tried to circumvent the interim award with an ordinance, which the Supreme Court struck down. The Centre notified the interim award, but Karnataka still refused to follow it, which has been a pattern over the years. In an attempt to mediate the dispute the Cauvery River Authority was formed in 1998. It was headed by the prime minister.

What has happened since the CWDT order in 2007?

Even though the CWDT passed its order in 2007, it was only notified by the Centre (by the then-PM Manmohan Singh as head of the CRA) in 2012. Disputes have continued between the two states, especially whenever there have been years with scanty rainfall. This proved to be the major point raised during the Supreme Court hearings, with the Karnataka arguing that it had to provide for its own people in times of such hardships first, and only then look to share water.

(With inputs from Aashraya Sharma)

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