Underlining that “drinking water requirement” has to be placed “on a higher pedestal”, the Supreme Court Friday increased Karnataka’s share of the Cauvery waters by 14.75 thousand million cubic feet, raising it from 270 tmc ft awarded by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal in February 2007 to 284.75 tmc ft.
This means that Tamil Nadu will now get 404.25 tmc ft, as against 419 tmc ft awarded by the Tribunal. But Tamil Nadu has been compensated by being allowed extraction of 10 tmc ft groundwater.The share of the other two states in the decades-old dispute, Kerala and Puducherry, remains unchanged at 30 tmc ft and 7 tmc ft respectively.
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In the 14.75 tmc ft hike for Karnataka, Tamil Nadu’s 10 tmc ft groundwater has been factored along with 4.75 tmc ft on account of Bengaluru’s emergence as a “global city” with growing water needs. Karnataka will now be required to release only 177.25 tmc ft water to Tamil Nadu every year, as against 192 tmc ft earlier.
Delivering its verdict, the three-judge bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Amitava Roy and A M Khanwilkar also asked the Centre to frame a scheme within six weeks to implement its decision.
Partly allowing an appeal filed by Karnataka against the Tribunal’s decision, the bench agreed with the state’s contention that the city of Bengaluru needs more water for its domestic needs — the state had said that the Tribunal had accounted for only one-third of the city in the Cauvery river basin.
“The Tribunal had drastically reduced the share of Karnataka towards domestic and industrial purpose for the reason being that only 1/3rd of the city of Bengaluru falls within the river basin and also on the presumption that 50% of the drinking water requirement would be met from ground water supply. The said view taken by the Tribunal ignores the basic principle pertaining to drinking water and is, thus unsustainable. Keeping in mind the global status that the city has attained, an addition of 4.75 TMC is awarded to Karnataka,” the bench said.
On Bengaluru, the bench said that the city “has burgeoned over the years and has grown today into a progressively sophisticated, sprawling, vibrant and a much aspired seat of intellectual excellence, particularly in information technology and commercial flourish. It has transformed into a nerve centre of contemporaneous significance and its population is daily on the rise, thus, registering an ever enhancing demand for all civic amenities”.
“Having regard to its exclusive attributes, it is incomparable in many ways not only to other urban areas in the state, but also beyond. The requirements of its dependent population as a whole for drinking and other domestic purposes, therefore, cannot justifiably, in the prevailing circumstances, be truncated to their prejudice only for consideration of its physical location in the context of the river basin.”
The court 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”.
In arriving at its decision, the court followed the “principle of equitable apportionment” recognised by international rules on water sharing like “the Helsinki rules, Campione rules and Berlin rules”. The court noted that the spirit of these rules had also been incorporated in 1987 to National Water Policies and “have been regarded to be the guiding factor for resolving disputes qua apportionment of water of an inter-state river”.
The Tribunal was constituted on June 2, 1990 following a complaint lodged by Tamil Nadu with the Centre in July 1986.
The bench did not agree with the findings of the Tribunal that the data on availability of groundwater in Cauvery basin in Tamil Nadu was based on conjecture and allowed the state to extract 10 tmc ft, out of 20 tmc ft groundwater.
“The admission of facts along with the confirmatory empirical data suggests that around 20 tmc ft of groundwater is available beneath the surface in Tamil Nadu which the Tribunal has not taken into account citing it as a conjecture. We, while keeping in mind the risks associated with over-extraction of underground water, deem it fit that 10 tmc ft 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,” it said.
The apex court found nothing incorrect in the final determination of the irrigated area arrived at by the Tribunal for Tamil Nadu. “We do not find any perversity of approach in the Tribunal’s findings with regard to the allocation of water for domestic and industrial purposes in the State of Tamil Nadu. Hence, the same requires no interference,” it said.
The bench said that in view of the “acute scarcity of the water resources” and the intensely contested claims of the states, it is expected that the allocations hereby made would be utilised for the purposes earmarked and accepted and “no deviancy is shown in carrying out the verdict of this court”.