Bengaluru: The Supreme Court on Friday said that Karnataka will get additional 14.75 TMC of cauvery water, while Tamil Nadu will now get 177.25 instead of 192 TMC water.
A three-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice gave its order on Karnataka’s Special Leave Petition (SLP) against the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal’s grant of a water-sharing formula between Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry – where the two states Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have primarily been caught in a tussle for more water from the river for decades.
The court said that Bengaluru will receive an additional 4.2 TMC of water. "The pre-independence agreement is valid. Karnataka gets additional water keeping in mind the water shortage that Bengaluru is facing. A Cauvery Water Management board will be set up and they will have control over water allocation, and not the states," said the apex court.
The Supreme Court has also decided to set up a Cauvery Water Board to look into the allocation and timely release of the water to all parties concerned. The Karnataka counsels, while talking to the media, are saying that the judgment is very favourable to them. Especially taking into account the water shortage in Bengaluru.
This has been an emotive issue for farmers on both sides for many years, and 2017 in particular saw some desperate protests by the Cauvery Delta farmers of Tamil Nadu going all the way to Delhi to demand more water after being affected by a drought unseen in 140 years.
The issue had also boiled over in September 2016 in Karnataka, where riots broke out after an interim order of the apex court asked Karnataka to release water to TN. Karnataka activists had also hit the streets to protest the order and the Karnataka Legislature had even passed resolutions against the SC’s interim order.
This is how the 2007 order shared water between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu
Total water available in the Cauvery basin – 740 tmc (thousand million cubic feet)
Tamil Nadu share – 419 tmc
Karnataka’s share – 270 tmc
Kerala’s share – 30 tmc
Puducherry – 7 tmc
(In a normal water year, Karnataka has to release at Biligundlu in the border – 192 tmc from June 1
In a distress year, allocated share to be proportionately reduced among the states)
Why has this water battle gone on for so long?
KS Puttanaiah, head of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, says, “This fight in the court is between two governments. We are supposed to give 192tmc as per verdict (after monsoons). Now there is a review petition. Difficult to give 192tmc now. Monitoring committee must also be formed, but that is also before court. We hope for a positive verdict.”
The matter first reached the courts when the Supreme Court ordered in 1990 that a special tribunal be set up to decide on the water share.
That tribunal gave its final order in February 2007. But Karnataka was unhappy with this order and questioned it in a special leave petition in the SC again. It is this petition whose verdict is awaited now.
“There are issues which are pre-Independence agreements – some done prior to Independence. The validity of these is a basic question. We have been let down there. 192tmc is supposed to be given to Tamil Nadu. Out of that, it is all between four months. It is very difficult. Also, two-thirds of Bangalore gets drinking water from Cauvery and that is not been given (accounted). Karnataka should naturally get more water — meaning what we give TN must be reduced. Also, the monthly schedule should also be according to what we receive. There is no distress formula too. The formula should include what we get and what we should give accordingly,” says Water Resources Minister MB Patil who has steered Karnataka’s efforts in the SC.
All said and done, this is also a legal battle that touches emotional chords among vote banks – and hence has been politicised to the hilt. That is perhaps another reason why it has been an issue for so long.
On ground, farmers on both sides have made attempts to shake out of political and legal battles to try and carve their own fates. In 2003, a bunch of farmers, water experts, economists and other stakeholders decided to come together as the ‘Cauvery Family’. They held meetings, discussed problems of different regions, visited each other’s problem areas, did ground-assessment and almost came up with possible formulas to solve the issue – many still believe a scientific approach to the cropping pattern is key.
As Mannargudi-based ‘Cauvery’ Ranganathan, one of the people who spearheaded the ‘Cauvery Family’ initiative points out, “River banks on either side should be one crop of paddy and cotton. If such a cropping pattern is made possible we can easily manage with available water.”
Water experts also believe it is time to assess the actual capacity of water and only farm that many acres.
“The river is stretched beyond its capacity. Tamil Nadu’s share is only 192 tmc feet even in a good year. The average calculation is that one tmc of water can irrigate about 7,000 acres. So we can irrigate 13.45 lakh acres with our share, if we get it fully. But we have brought in over 24 lakh acres into irrigation in the Cauvery region. I have been pleading for so long, don’t go for paddy and sugarcane in the upper regions,” says Ranganathan.
But these efforts by the ‘Cauvery Family’ did not find political backing – and soon collapsed leaving farmers bickering -- each side suspicious of the other as before. As Vaiyapuri, farmers’ activist in Salem, points out: “We need better policies in cropping, in water management. But there is no government, we only have political parties that pursue selfish interests.”
Environmentalists also say that uncontrolled destruction of forests in Karnataka and uncontrolled sand mining in Tamil Nadu have both affected the quantum of water available.
“Over decades what has been in focus is that how much water is there and how do we share it and in the process we have missed the woods for the trees. We are not seeing the watershed and what's happening in Coorg. The watershed is being devastated and most of the tress are being felled. When there is forest loss, then the water that falls doesn’t stay, it just runs off and takes precious soil with it,” says Bengaluru-based environmentalist Leo Saldanha, adding that industries in Tamil Nadu too are destroying the river.
Whatever be the verdict of the Supreme Court though, there will be unhappy faces on both sides as the river’s water is clearly exploited beyond its limit. The areas under irrigation from the Cauvery are nearly double than that is possible with this limited water. The verdict on how best to use this water then, is with the people.