Declaring, the Cauvery river a “national asset”, the Supreme Court on Friday reduced its allocation of water to Tamil Nadu to 177.25 thousand million cubic feet (TMC), down from 192 TMC allocated by a tribunal in 2007. Karnataka will now supply water, a reduction of 14.75 TMC, from its Billigundlu site to Mettur dam in Tamil Nadu.
Referring to its answer to the Presidential reference on the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT), a bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that “waters of an inter-state river passing through corridors of the riparian states constitute a national asset and no single state can claim exclusive ownership of its water”.
While largely upholding the water-sharing arrangements finalised by CWDT in its award on February 5, 2007, except for the reduction in the share of TN, the SC said “we are of the view that having regard to imperative of economy of consumption of water, the final determination of irrigated area arrived at by the Tribunal for TN cannot be declared incorrect or fallacious”.
While reducing the share of TN, the SC said the tribunal had not taken into account TN’s stock of an “empirical” 20 TMC of groundwater. “In totality, we deem it appropriate to award Karnataka an additional 14.75 TMC of water, ie, 10 TMC (on account of availability of ground water in Tamil Nadu) + 4.75 TMC (for drinking and domestic purposes, including such need for Bengaluru),” the apex court said in its order.
“We, while keeping in mind the risks associated with over-extraction of underground water, deem it fit that 10 TMC of the said available groundwater in Tamil Nadu can, in the facts and circumstances of the present case, be accounted for in the final determination of its share,” the court said.
“Keeping in mind the global status that the city (Bengaluru) has attained, an addition of 4.75 TMC is awarded to Karnataka,” it said.
“Drinking water requirement of the overall population of all the states has to be placed on a higher pedestal as we treat it as a hierarchically fundamental principle of equitable distribution,” said the CJI.
Allocating 4.75 TMC to Bengaluru, the judgment said that Karnataka could use the increased allocation for irrigation and industrial purposes by marginally increasing its area under crop. The SC upholding Bengaluru’s rights over the Cauvery water has come as a huge relief for the Siddaramaiah-led government.
However, political parties in TN expressed shock over the verdict. “The Cauvery verdict is a setback. We will study the entire order and take appropriate action,” said AIADMK’s A Navanatheekrishnan.
The DMK, the main opposition party in TN, also showed its disappointment. “We are shocked. Reduction of share is unjust to the state. The AIADMK government failed to present its case properly in the SC, whereas Karnataka engaged the same legal luminaries both in the tribunal and in the SC,” DMK’s S Duraimurugan said.
DMK working president MK Stalin also blamed the state for foregoing the state’s rights in the dispute.>