Experts raise questions on Indian SC judgment on The Cauvery

Experts raise questions on Indian SC verdictt on Cauvery


New Delhi, Feb 18 – The SC Judgment raises a large number of questions. Here are some, based on a quick reading of parts of the Judgment, notes eminent Indian water activist Himanshu Thakkar who also coordinates the South Asia Network on Dams Rivers and people (SANDRP). He writes:  Unfortunately, like all Tribunals and earlier Judicial orders about interstate river disputes, this Supreme Court Judgment also sees the dispute as sharing of water, and river has practically no place. But river is not just a channel of water, which is the world view of our governments and water resources establishment, one expected the SC to take a more river friendly view.
 The discussion about environment flow is welcome only as a first step, but the world has gone far ahead both in terms of science of rivers and practices in dealing with rivers.
 SC also considers only the states as legitimate stakeholders and assumes that the states represent all the interests genuinely and adequately.
 It is surprising that the SC takes, for calculating domestic water needs in Urban and rural areas, the population of 2011 (e.g. see para 384 for Kerala) the order in 2018, applicable till 2033. Should it not have at least taken the projected population of 2021?
 It is also surprising that the SC keeps referring to National Water Policy of 1987 (para 372-375) and 2002 (para 376), but not to the NWP of 2012, the latest one and applicable now?
 Similarly, the SC Judgment refers to Helsinki Rules (para 366), Compione Rules, Berlin Rules, among others frequently, but does not refer to the UN Convention on Non Navigation Use of Water, which is already in force now.
 The Supreme Court also said that its order on Cauvery water allocation will continue for next 15 years. One hopes that this will mean a review of the allocations after 15 years.
 In para 396 the Judgment says: “With the evolution of the principle of equitable apportionment which is really to ensure equal justice to the basin States, the concept of prescriptive right or right to the natural flow of any inter-state river has ceased to exist.”
If this means right to natural flow of any inter state river ceased to exist, this seems like death-knell for our inter-state rivers?
Importance of Catchment, Rain and Local Water Systems The SC also seems to ignore some key aspects like the state of Cauvery catchment (e.g. see: Save Kodagu, Save Cauvery), role of local water systems, soil water, and groundwater in overall dynamics of a river basin.
For example, the Local water systems are the answers across Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Tamil Nadu has 41,127 such small water bodies according to a government census. From 9.2 lakh hectares of the total 10 lakh hectares in the 1960s, these small water bodies irrigate just 4 lakh hectares today (2015). “With a water holding capacity of 17.9 lakh million cubic feet (all dams in the state can hold 21.6 lakh million cubic feet), revitalising these small water bodies has become a critical endeavour for local farming communities in the Tamil Nadu.”
Some comments The verdict by the three-member Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal headed by Justice N P Singh on February 5, 2007 failed on some crucial tests of equity, efficiency, technology and science. In a recent report, the Central Water Commission (CWC) shows that from 1971 to 2004, rainfall in the Cauvery basin has been constantly declining. Moreover, as recent researches by the Indian Institute of Science show, the water flow in the Cauvery river is also displaying a declining trend, primarily, as an impact of the climate change. A recent analysis of rainfall data of coffee growers in Kodagu district of the upper Cauvery basin shows that number of rainy days are on a decline too. Evidently, forestry practices are changing for the worse in the Cauvery catchment area, which contributes the maximum amount of water to the Krishna Raj Sagar reservoir.
The biggest lacuna in the CWDT award is the absence of specific formula for water sharing in distress years. That absence was supposed to be taken care of by the Cauvery Management Board (CMB) as the CWDT award recommended. But the CMB is yet to be formed.
In Conclusion Expectedly, the Chief Minister and others from Karnataka are happy, and the Tamil Nadu lawyer is expectedly not happy. Other reactions are only filtering in. As Vishwanath Srikantaiah said today, “This is about the best distribution that is possible… It is a victory for both sides.”
However, this may not change the situation on ground significantly. Karnataka is already using more water than what Cauvery can provide, so the increased allocation should not lead to any increase in water use there. In fact, Karnataka should curtail rather than increase water use in the basin. Karnataka certainly needs to reduce area under sugarcane and paddy in its area. Tamil Nadu is also using more groundwater than what the SC Judgment provides, so it may help if it curtails its water use by improving cropping pattern and both states going for more water efficient cropping methods like SRI (System of Rice Intensification), also applicable for crops other than rice.
Considering the history of this dispute, the role of the Supreme Court may not end here, both states are likely to approach the apex court for implementation issues, and one hopes SC will use those opportunities to curb unjustified and unsustainable water use in Cauvery basin. There is also need for better information gathering, including hydrological data, putting them in public domain promptly and involving the people in decision making processes rather than having a top down management system as envisaged now.
Himanshu Thakkar ( judgment-on- cauvery-dispute- does-it-change-anything/


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