With the Congress-JD(S) combine set to form the government in Karnataka, the Centre’s hopes of bringing the curtain down on the 150-year-old Cauvery dispute may be far from being realised. This issue is particularly important for the Congress-JD(S)’s choice of Chief Minister, H D Kumaraswamy, who has a stronghold in the Old Mysuru region. In fact, the Cauvery dispute was a factor in 49 constituencies in the recent polls, of which the JD(S) won 27, and the BJP and Congress 11 each.
Three months after the Supreme Court’s February 16 order apportioning the Cauvery waters amongst four riparian states in Southern India, the Ministry of Water Resources last week submitted a draft scheme, the ‘Cauvery Water Management Scheme, 2018’ to the apex court. The final scheme was approved on Friday with some modifications suggested by the court. The Centre plans to notify it before the monsoon.
The scheme has two components: Cauvery Water Management Authority and Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC).
What’s in a name?
The Centre told the SC that discussions with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka had revealed that “name of the authority” to be established under Sec 6A of the Inter-State River Water Dispute Act, 1956, “is a very sensitive issue in both the States.” It had asked for “guidance/directions” on the name of the authority. The SC directed the Centre to name the authority.
Isn’t the dispute more than the name?
The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) had recommended a Cauvery Management Board (CMB) along with a regulatory committee, both of which the Government of Tamil Nadu favours. However, the Government of Karnataka is opposed to a CMB and suggested a different two-tier system along the lines of a Cauvery Decision Implementation Committee. It is conceptualised as a “dispute resolution” mechanism which seeks to restrain states from approaching the Supreme Court directly. In other words, the committee will approach the apex court when states differ.
How has the Supreme Court modified the Tribunal’s award?
The CWDT in 2007 allocated Tamil Nadu 419 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) of the 740 tmcft/year available in the Cauvery river basin. Karnataka received 270 tmcft, Kerala received 30 tmcft and Puducherry 7 tmcft. In its February order, the SC increased Karnataka’s share by 14.75 tmcft to meet Bengaluru’s drinking water needs. Karnataka will now be required to release 177.25 tmc ft to Tamil Nadu every year, as against 192 tmcft earlier. The shares of Kerala (30 tmcft) and Puducherry remain unchanged.
What is the states’ position?
Tamil Nadu has favoured the recommendations made by the tribunal for setting up a CMB-like structure since such an authority can put pressure on Karnataka for releasing water to the state. TN has argued that Karnataka has failed to release the exact quantity of water due to it as directed first by the tribunal and later amended by the SC.
Karnataka has stated time and again that the SC has not endorsed or approved the CMB in its February 16 judgment, and the creation of such a board was “clearly ultra vires of the federal structure on the division of powers envisaged in the Constitution.” Further, it is opposed to the scheme requiring it to submit an “indent” for supplies to be drawn by the state whether in a “normal year” or a “distress year.”
What is the Management Board?
The CMB is an independent body recommended by the tribunal comprising central technical officers and representatives from the riparian party states. Since the implementation of the final award of the tribunal would involve regulation of supplies from various reservoirs and other nodal points, the CMB was entrusted with the function of supervision of operation of reservoirs and with regulation of water releases with the assistance of Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (to be constituted by the board).
How similar is the authority proposed by the Centre?
Apart from the composition of the authority and the CWRC — the Centre has attempted to make it more “broadbased”; in other words, more bureaucratic and less technical — the basic difference is how disputes will be dealt with. The tribunal put the Centre in more of a consultant role; the Centre’s draft scheme made itself the “final” arbiter. It did not specify what would happen if there is a difference between the authority and the Centre apart from stating “the authority will comply with any other directions that the Central Government may provide time to time.” Five of the nine members that make up the authority are central appointees. However, the SC asked the Centre to remove the clause that made it the final arbiter.
How does the scheme address water management?
The authority is tasked with maintaining an account of cropping patterns, and information on area cropped and area irrigated for each state, and with maintaining an account of domestic and industrial water usage by each state. It will advise states to take measures to improve water use efficiency.
How will this play out politically?
The 765-km river has always been the focal point of politics across state boundaries. While the river primarily served the needs of Tamil Nadu’s farmers, Karnataka’s attempts to dam it to use the water to expand its own farming activities has led to dispute between the two states over the last century.
The ruling ADMK in Tamil Nadu which spent a considerable amount of time in March stalling Parliament demanding a CMB, has sought time to go over the Centre’s draft scheme. Meanwhile, the Centre had used the Karnataka polls to delay submitting the draft scheme. From an initial deadline of six weeks, the Centre finally submitted a scheme that closely mimics the CMB, two days after Karnataka went to polls.
Karnataka’s objections were dismissed by the SC last week while approving the final scheme. However, questions arise on how exactly the scheme will be implemented in times of dispute between states, especially since Karnataka is opposed to the idea of submitting indent which it says “does not, and should not arise” for consideration.